Gail Coleman: ‘(TOTE’s) integrity is crystal-clear.’
By Hilary Reeves
When Gail Coleman was in middle school, she wanted to be a veterinarian.
“I can honestly remember in eighth grade writing in my yearbook that I wanted to be a veterinarian,” she laughed. “I still find that hard to believe, since I’m terrified of most animals to this day.”
Growing up in East Orange, New Jersey with her three sisters and two brothers, Coleman was raised by a single mother whom she said took great pride in her children.
“I would say I had a very happy childhood,” she said. “We were a close-knit family. I played outside most days with my siblings after school. We ate breakfast and dinner together. All holidays were celebrated, along with birthdays. Our summers included day camp, local pool time, and spur-of-the-moment cookouts. We went to church on Sundays, and I remember being in the choir. My mom always had a full-time job, yet it seems like she was always there with us, when I think back.”
Coleman took some college classes after high school, but soon landed a full-time job with Prudential Lines in New York City as an accounting clerk. She joined the company in 1981, and stayed in Accounting for six months before she was transferred to the Equipment Control department, where she worked for five years until the company closed its doors. Her office at Prudential was located in the World Trade Center. Tower One. On the 37th floor.
“If I was still with Prudential, or the next two companies I worked for, I could have been in the World Trade Center on that fateful day, Sept. 11, 2001.”
Now a Hazardous Specialist with TOTE Maritime Puerto Rico (TMPR), Coleman has spent her entire career in the shipping industry.
“I’ve been in various roles, with a focus on logistics and hazardous materials,” she said “I’ve worked with international ocean carriers, freight forwarders, consolidators, trucking companies, and now with a domestic carrier.”
Coleman even met her husband on the job.
“I knew he was a keeper when I asked him for a dollar, and he gave me a $20 bill,” she said. “When I came back with the change, he told me to keep it. I said to myself, ‘this is the one I am going to marry.’ He was my boss. We had a very professional relationship until he left the industry to focus on real estate and property management. Then we got married. Edward and I just celebrated 20 years.”
Coleman’s current role at TMPR falls under Safety, a key measure and top goal.
“It’s a challenging role, and sometimes stressful, yet rewarding,” she said. “To prepare the dangerous cargo manifest and sign your name knowing that you have taken every precaution to confirm that every hazardous load has been properly declared and we are safe to allow these containers to sail on our vessel is a great end to the day. My greatest challenge is turning it off at 5 p.m. I always seem to be thinking of what I can do next, how I can change this report, or how we can begin this measure; turning it off is difficult.”
Since her beginnings with the company, Coleman has been at the helm of several improvements to the hazmat system, including automating the paperwork procedure for hazardous cargo via a new system called Cargo Wise, and leading a team of 10 to break down entire hazardous process, seeking improvements.
“We were able to incorporate some things during our project time – shift changes, and internal communications on where documents needed to be sent – that made significant difference right away at the gate,” she said.
In November of 2014, Cargo Wise crashed on a Friday night, and the company found itself without an automated Dangerous Cargo Manifest. Coleman tried feverishly to assist the terminal team with getting a manual report done by using all individuals on deck at the time. Fortunately, the IT team was able to get Cargo Wise up long enough for the DCM to be printed before the system went down again. The decision was later made to form a team of three hazardous specialists already employed at TMPR.
“The crash is the reason we have a hazardous team today centralized in Jacksonville,” she said. “Beginning in January of 2015, three individuals control the receipt of all hazardous documents, approvals and inputs, and any issues related to hazardous are now handled via this team. Having a hazardous dedicated team has changed the gate tremendously.”
Coleman aspires to management at TMPR, and wants to impact a new generation of workers.
“I plan to continue to work for as long as I can with the hope that I am finally with a company that I will retire from,” she said. “It’s my hope that one day, a younger employee will say, ‘hey, did you know Gail Coleman? She was really good at her job. TMPR was lucky to have her.’”
Coleman and her husband have three children.
“We have two grown daughters who we are proud to say are college graduates and thriving in life, and a 15-year-old son at home who is really making us earn our parental rights. We also have two grandchildren and three dogs.”
She said she’s most proud of the person she’s become.
“I know that I am a good wife, mother, sister, aunt and grandmother, because I have been told this,” she said. “Most of my family doesn’t really know what I do at work, so they see the good in me outside of what I think I do best, so I am proud to be a person that others love and respect.”
And after watching TMPR respond to Hurricane Maria, she’s even more proud to represent the company.
“While the hurricane that hit Puerto Rico is a test for TOTE, the company’s integrity is crystal-clear,” she concluded. “These days, every employee is stepping into the ring to take their best shot in the interest of the people of Puerto Rico, and TOTE as a whole. I can honestly say that being apart of the TOTE family is exactly where I want to be.”