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Miami Warehouse Manager says future is bright for Tropical

Abel Ortiz: ‘(Tropical Shipping’s) customer base keeps growing, volumes keep increasing, and it’s directly linked to our people and their commitment to our customers.’

By Hilary Reeves

Abel Ortiz grew up alongside the swaying palm trees of Carolina, Puerto Rico, not far from San Juan. He attended Catholic school at Colegio Calasanz, and graduated from Carvin, a local bilingual high school.

Ortiz sits at his desk. “My childhood was fun,” he said. “My grandmother’s Elida’s house was right behind Colegio Calasanz, so she would always pick us up from school and spoil us, taking us to wherever we wanted to eat after school. She would take care of us every day until my parents finished work – my mom, Marilyn, worked at the Puerto Rico Telephone Co. for 26 years as a customer service representative, and my dad, Abel Ortiz, Sr., owned his own trucking company. We would do homework first, and then go out and play with all the kids in the neighborhood. There were a lot of kids to play with, and we were all in the same age range. I was very into sports, so I would play basketball, baseball, or volleyball all afternoon with my friends until my parents came back from work. My grandmother would cook a meal for everybody, and we would all eat together as a family. Those were the good old days.”

Ortiz wanted to be a professional athlete, but two bad ankles derailed his dream. His first job, as a paperboy, led to a summer position working alongside his father and grandfather, Jorge, at the trucking company, making daily deliveries to customers.

“This was my first step into logistics, and I was blessed to have a family that helped me and showed me the way into a business that grew into a career,” he said. “By the time I was 18, I already had exposure to multiple aspects of the logistics business, since most of my family was involved in it. My uncle, Inior Ortiz, was the General Manager at Airborne Express in Puerto Rico, and my dad and Grandpa Jorge had the trucking company. My experience helped me land a job as a warehouse supervisor in a small warehouse that only sent freight to the Dominican Republic. It was a very small operation and crew, but it was my first step into leadership, and it gave me additional exposure since I was loading and offloading aircraft, plus leading my first team.”

Ortiz has worked in logistics for 20 years.

“I think my career actually started when I join Airborne Express,” he said. “I started there from the bottom so I could experience everything one does in a warehouse, from offloading the aircraft, sorting, scanning, driving, customer service, up to dispatch manager. It gave me all the tools to successfully understand warehouse operations, which both prepared me and gave me the drive to pursue bigger opportunities.”

Ortiz’s “bigger opportunity” was a Warehouse Supervisor position at DHL Global Forwarding. He began as an Ocean Warehouse Supervisor, and rapidly started moving up. He was promoted to Warehouse Supervisor for Special Accounts, and six months later, he was the Warehouse Supervisor for the entire facility.

“At the time, DHL has three warehouse facilities, and an opportunity presented itself at the bigger facility where all the airfreight and big accounts were handled,” he said. “I was promoted to Warehouse Senior Supervisor for that facility, in charge of the overall operation with 10 supervisors under me and more than 100 employees. This was the turning point of my career, since previously all my experience was with smaller teams. I had to deal with diverse people from different cultures and different motivations.”

Ortiz points at the screen for a Tropical employee.Ortiz stayed with DHL for seven years, but started looking for a new challenge, something that motivated him. Enter Tropical Shipping.

“After several interviews and tours of the Tropical Shipping warehouse in Miami, I saw the potential for career growth and decided to accept the position of Quality Manager for the warehouse,” he said.

After two years, another opportunity presented itself in one of the company’s Non-Vessel Operating Common Carrier (NVOCC) facilities: Caribtrans Logistics. The company was moving to a new facility and needed a warehouse manager who could change the structure of the warehouse. For the next two years, Ortiz’s team worked hard to improve the service and quality of the work the warehouse was providing.

“I think that’s what caught management’s eye, how this operation was transformed,” he said, “that’s what led to me coming back to Tropical’s Miami LCL facility as the Warehouse Manager. What I love most about my job is that I’m able to interact with different kinds of peoples from different backgrounds and cultures, I’m able to know their stories and experiences while connecting with them, sharing our goals and values. It’s rewarding when I can share my experiences in order to help them grow in their careers. I think the biggest challenge is trying to make everybody understand your vision, why we want to get there, how we’re going to get there, and how this benefits everybody involved. Everybody has their own agendas and goal, but the real challenge becomes aligning them all for the success of the team.”

Ortiz’s day usually entails meetings, conference calls, trainings, e-mails, etcetera, but he always walks the floor to talk to his team and make sure everything is okay.

“Since we have two shifts I always spend some time with the night shift crew, and make sure they have what they need and that I make myself available to them,” he said.

Professionally, Ortiz is most proud of the accomplishments made by his team in the last two years.

“Changing the entire dynamic and structure of the Caribtrans warehouse gave me a sense of accomplishment that I never had before,” he said. “I was able to enjoy every moment of this journey with a wonderful group of people.”

Personally, he’s most proud of his wife Vanessa and three children – a 25-year-old son in the U.S. Army, a 24-year old daughter who works as a medical assistant, and a 22-year-old daughter who works at a plastic surgery clinic.

“My family motivates me every day, and makes me want to get better. It was a long road full of sacrifices, but my family always supports me, and that’s why those tough decisions were easy to make.”

Ortiz loves sports, especially basketball.

“Of course I follow the Miami Heat as much as I can,” he laughed. “But what I enjoy more is spending time with all the family together having fun. Most of my family still lives in Puerto Rico, so when they come to visit we spend the time together. I have two siblings – I’m the oldest: my brother, Christian, works in real estate, and my sister, Jennifer, works in communications at AT&T. Most of my wife’s family lives here in Miami, so we try to make time to spend together and have a barbeque, play some dominoes, and enjoy each other’s company. We love to go to dinner together as a family, watch a movie, or just sit around and talk for hours.”

Perhaps most surprising about his career to date is the fact that Ortiz still keeps in touch with former work colleagues.

“This makes me feel like the time we spent together was beneficial for both of us, and the experiences that we shared will be there for many years to come,” he explained. “Relationships were build and we still share our experiences. This is a difficult career path with a lot of ups and downs, but I have been bless with the people I have met during this journey, and I only hope that I have the opportunity to connect with more people.”

According to Ortiz, the sky is the limit for Tropical.

“Every year, the company’s customer base keeps growing, volumes keep increasing, and it’s directly linked to our people and their commitment to our customers,” he concluded. “I see Tropical Shipping adding to its schedule in the Caribbean, and maybe Central America. With the new ships coming in later this year, we’ll increase the capacity of the freight we can deliver per sailing and increase the destinations we serve. I see Tropical incorporating more technology into our processes so we can set the tone for years to come.”