Tropical Traffic Director retires after 35 years

Annette Brophy moved from Detroit to Florida in 1981

By Hilary Reeves

Annette Brophy was a Midwestern tomboy, a recent high school grad working at a steamship agency, when she was offered a job in Florida.

“I jumped at the chance,” she said.

On July 13, Brophy retired from Tropical Shipping after 35 years with the company. Born and raised in the downriver Detroit area of Allen Park, Brophy graduated from high school in 1976. The youngest of three and the only girl, she described her childhood as a menagerie of sports: gymnastics, springboard diving, and cheerleading.

“I’ve been a tomboy all my life,” she laughed.

She wanted to be a nurse, briefly attending Henry Ford Community College, but soon changed her focus to logistics after working for Tolmar International, right out of high school.

“My career in the transportation business began in the Detroit area, working for an agency that represented many large companies and tramp vessels that called in the Great Lakes,” she said. “At the time, we represented international carrier companies like Zim Container Line, Waterman Steamship Line, Autoliners, and Ernst Russ. The tramp vessels were ships that called within the Great Lakes and hauled cargo, including chemicals for Dow Chemical.”

After leaving Tolmar, she was recruited by a freight forwarder looking for a Traffic Manager in a Riviera Beach, Florida office. Brophy moved to Florida in 1981 and was with them until they sold the company in 1983, when she walked over to Tropical Shipping to put in an application.

“As a freight forwarder, I worked closely with Tropical, and knew of its reputation early on,” she said.

Brophy began her career at Tropical as a Documentation Coordinator. A few years later, she was offered a manager trainee program and, after completing it, was promoted to Import Manager.

“During the late ‘80s, Tropical began service to Belize, Hondurus, and the Dominican Republic, which grew the import business beyond my dreams,” she said. “Our volumes grew by about 150 percent every year for at least two to three years. You could say Tropical and I learned the import business together.”

After subsequent positions that included Trade Support Manager and Customer Service Manager, Brophy spent four years managing a consolidating warehouse before she was pulled for a temporary assignment in Kearny, New Jersey in 1994, restructuring the company’s agency office.

“After nine months and a full New Jersey winter, I came back to Florida and worked in the Miami terminal with the night shift loading crew,” she said. “I had a lot of fun, and learned a lot about the loading of cargo, but it was a brutal physical experience. Good thing I was still a tomboy.”

Brophy still lived in the North Palm Beach area, more than an hour to the north, so her days were long. After four months in Miami, she became the company’s Training Manager, responsible for developing training materials and classes for all areas of the company, including the ports.

“We had a team of five trainers and myself, and we trained everyone everywhere on things like forklift operation, documentation, TRACE and TRANS – our logistics systems at the time – Microsoft products, and cargo handling and receiving,” she said.

During this time, Tropical began its search for a new logistics system.

“I was involved with the vetting of some of the companies, and heavily involved in the specification writing with the company they chose,” she said. “Tropical implemented a new terminal system (CATOS) along with an equipment-control and booking system (TLink) in 2000. The training team I led was responsible for learning the job responsibilities in the port so that we could work on the training material and teach all the operators how to work the systems. After the implementation became overwhelming for users, we pulled the plug, holding off on the implementation until after the season. I continued on the Genesis team, working on the in-house development of specific modules of TLink. It ended up being a six-year temporary assignment. It was very rewarding when we finally launched the entire system.”

In 2005, Brophy became the Windward Trade Support Manager.

“During the next few years, we as a team worked very closely with the ports in our responsible area to ensure they were all trained and comfortable with all aspects of the system, and understood all the company’s processes,” she said.

There were a few organizational changes, and the trade lanes became a single unit around 2008. In late 2009, Tropical decided to outsource the documentation process to an Indian Company called WNS to reduce the local headcount and save money. Brophy was recruited to lead the change, then promoted to Traffic Director.

“In May of 2010, we implemented the change, and have been working very closely with WNS as part of our team ever since,” she said. “It was not an easy transition, as many people were strongly against outsourcing to a foreign country. I wasn’t really sure how I felt about it. When I retired as Traffic Director, I was responsible for all documentation production and cargo release process throughout the company, and all imports into the United States. We had approximately 54 documentation personnel, including three managers and myself, until the changes that came into effect to cover my leaving.”

Looking back

Brophy said there are many things she’s proud of accomplishing during her career, most of all TLink.

“We worked very hard to make sure we covered all the needs of the company during the development,” she said. “As a whole, this system provides us with just about everything from start to finish that you would need to do an awesome job.”

She’s also proud of her involvement with the company’s Disaster Recovery teams.

“My first opportunity to work with this team was in 1989 when Hurricane Hugo devastated the Virgin Islands,” she said. “We flew into St. Croix on the company jet, and as we were approaching, I couldn’t believe what we were looking at. We spent many weeks there working with the local team, assisting them in getting ‘back to normal.’ After the main group left, I returned for about three months to continue work and help streamline processes. There were a couple other shorter times I was deployed to assist with hurricane relief: to the Turks and Caicos, where I ran the recovery team, and the Bahamas after it was hit.”

Brophy and her husband Bob plan to spend more time on the water, traveling and enjoying retirement.

When Brophy married her husband Bob in 2001, he was playing rugby at an international level, traveling to places such as New Zealand, Australia, Singapore, and Bali. While the couple has no children, they’ve enjoyed many adventures in their 17-plus years together, and expect many more to come.

“We boat as much as we can,” she said. “We have a 25-foot open fisherman at our home in Key Largo with direct ocean and bay access from our dock. Fishing and joy riding are our favorite things to do. We also enjoy sailing in the Caribbean. In the past 15 years, we’ve bareboat chartered about 12 times to some of the most beautiful places in the Caribbean. We love the islands of St. Vincent and the Grenadines. They are so non-commercial, beautiful aqua waters for snorkeling, and great beaches to relax on. Now that I’m retired, we plan on traveling around the United States pulling our travel trailer. Time to see the country that we live in for a change of pace.”

Brophy concluded that while she’s not a college graduate, the opportunities Tropical provided her allowed her to learn more that she every could from a professor.

“It’s been a very rewarding and most enjoyable career.”