Ed Severino chose sunny Florida over snowy Connecticut almost 30 years ago and has watched the company grow from the inside out.
By Hilary Reeves
In 1989, Ed Severino received a call that would change his life forever.
“It was a Saturday night in January, two weeks before my daughter was born,” he began. “I was living in Connecticut, and. I got a call from the owner of one of the terminals letting me know there was a major oil spill in New Haven Harbor.”
Severino had spent the previous nine years working for a company specializing in environmental cleanup. He and his crew worked for days in the freezing rain to contain the spill. Weeks later, at home with his newborn daughter, a single thought crystallized:
“I thought, ‘there’s got to be something else out there.’”
Severino is the Director of U.S. Terminal Operations at Tropical Shipping in West Palm Beach. He grew up in Schenectady, New York and graduated with honors from Siena College outside Albany. He majored in accounting, and interviewed with several New York City accounting firms, but ultimately chose a career in logistics.
“I had a brother-in-law who owned a trucking company,” he said. “I worked for him when I was in college, loading and unloading the trucks for some extra spending money. I enjoyed the transportation industry more than accounting.”
Severino went to work instead for East Coast Environmental, a New Haven, Connecticut environmental company tasked with containing chemical and oil spills. There was physical labor, of course, but his background in accounting made him invaluable to the small shop.
“I was involved in every facet of that business,” he said. “I did the scheduling, the billing, I went out on jobs, and I worked with the Environmental Protection Agency in Connecticut and the Coast Guard. I had a lot of ties with a lot of different regulators, and a lot of experience hands-on in that field, as well as using my background in accounting to assist the back-office.”
But trudging out into that freezing Connecticut night after nine years of cleanup jobs left Severino dreaming on greener pastures – certainly warmer ones.
“I had taken two weeks off to be at home with (my daughter),” he continued. “During that time off, I wrote up my resume and sent it out. I sent it to my sister in Florida, and my brother-in-law at the time was friends with a guy who was the Director of North American Receiving and Handling at Tropical. He had just sent out a notice of a job opening to cities all over the country. Timing was everything – he was looking, my resume hit his desk.”
Severino flew to Florida in the spring on 1989 for an interview. He was eventually offered the position and sold his house in two weeks. His first day at Tropical was June 12, 1989.
“It took me about 30 seconds to adjust to the weather,” he joked. “I realized that if the temperature never dropped below 70 degrees in my lifetime again, I would be happy.”
Severino began his career at Tropical as a transfer facility supervisor before spending eight years as the Stevedoring Manager, managing the port operations for loading and unloading vessels.
“I had some transportation experience, but it was mostly on the trucking side,” he said. “Ocean transportation is just a totally different concept.”
Severino’s accounting and operations experience led to him being among those chosen to help streamline the company’s purchasing and inventory system. Instead of a different purchasing system for Fleet, Marine and Procurement, the three were combined into one central purchasing department. The success of that project led to another in 1999 to fully automate terminal operations.
“It was our first stab at automating our terminal operations,” he explained, “and I had to explain it to the stevedores who were used to doing things on paper with pencils.”
At the time, the company had office computers, and there was some automation at the terminal gate to track the trucks in and out. But the most challenging part of the process by far wasn’t implementing the technology – it was teaching people how to use it.
“I had a staff of 40-plus, and there were maybe three of four people who even knew how to log onto a computer,” he explained. “It was a three-year process. Spending that time in the Information Services department – the IS people have their own language. Everything’s an acronym. At the beginning, we’d go out with our spouses and halfway through the night I’d realized I had no idea what anyone was talking about. Three years later, I could understand and visualize it. For me, it was a great learning experience.”
When Severino went back to operations, he was armed with firsthand knowledge of the inner-workings of the company’s systems. He managed the company’s rail activities for four years before moving into his current position as Director of U.S. Terminal Operations in 2005. The two projects currently vying for his attention are building out the company’s footprint at the Port of Palm Beach, where Tropical has been a presence for more than 50 years, and once again updating the company’s computer system.
“We just finished out new corporate office center and moved out of our building at the Port,” he said. “We’re going to be working with the Port to get that building demolished and add that space to our terminal footprint. And we just started work to replace the terminal operating system I helped put in 18 years ago. That system served us well during the years, but because of the platform it’s built off of, we need a new one.
“We want the new system to do everything the old system did, just take advantage of the new technology and streamlining available. It got to a certain point where we couldn’t modify the existing code for fear of crashing it.”
Severino’s decades with Tropical have turned working for the company into a bit of a family affair. He married his wife Linda, then an HR manager at Tropical, 17 years ago. The couple has a dock, but no boat yet – just looking at retirement on the horizon.
“I played on a men’s softball team for 20 years,” he said. “I had some injuries and I had to stop playing. I always said when I stopped playing softball, I’d take up golf. I just took a few lessons. Now that my wife is the Director of Human Resources for PGA of America, I think I need to get better.”
Severino said Linda comes back to Tropical every year as a volunteer for a Thanksgiving dinner put on for the employees working that day.
“We have it catered,” he said. “It’s during out busy season, so we have the dinner the night before (Thanksgiving) at, like, 10 p.m. and again at 11:30 on Thanksgiving Day. People from all over the company volunteer. When the guys come in for dinner, everyone’s there helping to dish it up. We still have the feeling of being a family, even though we’ve grown so much.”
Severino’s three children and three granddaughters all live in Florida. While his eldest son, Jason, owns his own air conditioning business, and his daughter, Amy, works in a dental office in Jupiter, Amy’s fiancé Rob joined Tropical in August 2012 and is currently an Inland Operations Coordinator. And Severino’s middle son, Marc, works as a refrigeration mechanic, or “reefer tech.”
“I actually wanted to grow up to be a garbage man,” joked Marc Severino. “I liked heavy machinery. I always saw the garbage truck go by, and the guys who drove it always seemed friendly. It looked like a cool job for an adult to have.”
As a refrigeration mechanic, Marc works as a “pre-tripper,” which means he preps the containers for the customers.
“I used to do Port maintenance. An old boss of mine strongly encouraged me to go to trade school. What I like most about my job now is the people I work with. In a couple of weeks, I’ll be moving into the shop, where I’ll be repairing damaged or broken equipment, among other things.”
“Unless I’m out in the yard, I don’t see him at all. And that’s fine,” Severino added. “It’s enough to know that some of the projects I’m working on now are going to set them up so that they can retire here, too.”
“My dad is the kind of man that I want to be,” Marc concluded. “He’s very family-oriented and wise. He’s definitely the same person at work that he is at home – very respectful and congenial. Growing up, we spent a lot of time together. He volunteered for my sports activities, and we played catch often. He’s always had my back, no matter what, and I like that we work for the same company.”
Severino counts the decades invested in Tropical Shipping as the best decision he’s ever made.
“I remember that first fall, in 1989, Hurricane Hugo came through and destroyed St. Croix,” he concluded. “I saw the compassion, and the way people pulled together. Just like a family. I watched the way they continue to take care of these islands. And I know I made the right choice.”