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TOTE Maritime Puerto Rico manager celebrates 15 years with company

Bob McMahon: biggest ‘game changer’ the additional capacity of two brand-new vessels

By Hilary Reeves

Bob McMahon grew up wanting to be a sportswriter.

“When I was a kid, we always had a least five daily newspapers from all over the place laying around the house. My dad loved to read the newspapers and, over time, so did I. Before electronic media, this was how one found out what was going on in the world,” he laughed. “Anyway, I loved reading the sports pages, and the different writing styles, so I decided in high school that I would give it a try.”

McMahon grew up on the move. He was born in Arlington, Texas, the eldest of four siblings, and spent his first 11 years there and in Houston before the family moved to Connecticut, then south Florida, then Georgia. His father was in sales.

“We lived in Newnan, Georgia for six years,” he said. “That’s where I graduated from high school. My first job was at the Kroger grocery store in Newnan. On my sixteenth birthday, my dad took me to the brand new grocery store up the road. He told me to go in and fill out an application. Wow – what I day. One minute I’m eating birthday cake, the next I’m trying to get a job.”

McMahon got the job at $4 per hour.

“At that time, minimum wage was $2.30 an hour,” he said. “They were going to pay me four bucks an hour to put groceries into a bag. I felt like a Rockefeller. I think that’s when I first learned why grocery prices are so high.”

McMahon’s father was transferred to Arkansas after McMahon graduated from high school. McMahon decided to attend the University of Arkansas, where he majored in journalism.

“I spent many more years at the University of Arkansas than I should have. While there, I worked at the student-run radio station, and I interned at a newspaper. And I worked at a liquor store where all the sororities and fraternities bought their ‘refreshments.’”

A career in journalism wasn’t to be. McMahon’s shipping career, however, spans three decades. He began at a shipping agency in Jacksonville, Florida.

“Working at a shipping agency and having little experience in the industry was like going to shipping school every day,” he said. “You did everything for the vessel while it was in port. You were the boarding agent, you ordered labor and tugs. You were the import manager, the export manager, you collected the bill of lading masters and SEDs, you created the bills using ghost masters, you collected checks and sent them to the line, and you filed the vessel complete with customs.”

After five years at the agency, McMahon spent five years at Crowley doing rating and bill auditing. He was later hired as a special commodities supervisor at Navieras in charge of reefers on the terminal, all hazardous on the terminal, tanks, and the dangerous cargo manifest, which evolved into vessel stevedoring and vessel planning. McMahon joined Sea Star after Navieras was acquired by the company in 2002.

“When I came to Sea Star (now TOTE Maritime Puerto Rico), I was a terminal supervisor, then a terminal manager,” he said. “I’m currently the manager of Regulatory Compliance and Cargo Support. I’m blessed to be surrounded by a great team of professionals who are truly good at what they do.”

Bob smiles in an office building, standing in front of maritime images.McMahon said one of the most challenging times of his professional career came with the vacuum created after Horizon Lines exited the marketplace.

“Shippers looked to us for a solution to the sudden lack of capacity,” he said. “Barges and additional equipment were acquired, and we filled the void. We were the only carrier nimble enough to execute a plan of this scope. But our biggest challenge by far was the El Faro tragedy. Staying focused on our tasks while grieving for the crew and their families was a challenge the entire organization experienced.”

According to McMahon, much has changed since Sea Star first acquired Navieras.

“It was chaotic (back then),” he said. “It was like going from the Jetsons to the Flintstones. Our need and ability to implement the latest technology is the thing that has, thankfully, changed the most. We have the tools to maintain data quality and properly serve our customers. The biggest game-changer is the two brand-new vessels and the additional capacity they bring. Otherwise, it’s boxes off, boxes on as safely and efficiently as possible.

McMahon has lived in Jacksonville, married to his wife, Clara, for 25 years. To him, family will always be the most important thing.

“As a child, we moved around so much,” he said. “I was always the ‘new kid’ wherever we were. This made our family closely knit.”

McMahon’s son, Robby, attends college in Jacksonville, where his mother and one of his sisters also live. He has another sister in Memphis, and a brother in Minnesota. His father passed away from Alzheimer’s disease 10 years ago.

“Growing up, my father was the greatest influence on me,” he said. “He instilled in me a sense of responsibility and the value of planning for the future.”

McMahon’s wife is originally from Puerto Rico, and he said he’s happily adopted the Puerto Rican lifestyle.

“Over the years, my home became the central gathering point for holiday celebrations, family gatherings and any excuse to have lots of people, food and music in one place. My regret is that even though I am married to a Spanish speaker and she communicates with her family in Spanish, my Spanish is atrocious.”

If he could do it all over again, McMahon said he would have taken his time in college a bit more seriously.

“Too much fun, not enough study makes for an expensive vacation,” he laughed.

He’s most proud of his son, Robby, who plays collegiate baseball.

“He gets good grades, he’s low maintenance and low drama. He’s very good to his grandparents, and he’s an all-around pleasure to be with. He’s shaping up to be a fine adult. I have my wife to thank for most of these attributes.”

McMahon’s future plans include traveling, and a shack near the beach.

“I’d like to start practicing now for my retirement,” he said. “If I could do anything else, I’d be a restauranteur – of the hotdog cart variety. I have a rum collection that I started years ago that I like to add to. I also enjoy cooking. I like grilling, making Italian food, and trying to copy things I’ve eaten before without a recipe. Did I mention I like to eat? Is eating a hobby?”