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Rose Dority: ‘We’re all in this together.’

Rose Dority took her first French class in middle school. From that moment in her small, Pennsylvania hometown, a Francophile was born.

“I just fell in love with the language, the fashion, the food,” she said. “I didn’t know what I wanted to be when I was growing up. I had no real goals, but I knew then that I wanted to go to Paris.”

After graduating from high school, Dority decided on Penn State University because of its study abroad program. She spent her junior year in Strasbourg, France at the University of Strasbourg.

“It was eight months of studying and almost non-stop travel – I remember sleeping in a bed that had books underneath the frame keeping it level,” she laughed.

After graduation, Dority and a friend took a road trip to Orlando to visit another friend and she ended up staying.

“We got jobs,” she said. “I worked as a waitress at Disney World. But not long after I took a job as a curriculum specialist – my first professional job – for Orange County schools there in Orlando. I was developing ESL and foreign-language programs for adult education – it was my ticket in the door.”

The power of leadership

For Dority, learning and development is a passion.

“When I look back, I realize it was sparked by my dad,” she said. “He was a mechanical engineer who managed glass factories, like for bottling. He turned factories with quality control problems that were losing money into factories that were profitable and successful. I used to work on his assembly lines during the summers when I was in college, and I’ll never forget this one plant in Wisconsin. There was a day when our shift met its productivity goals, and my dad announced it over the loudspeaker. The whole place was just so excited.”

Dority said that her father never acted like he was a hero.

“He just brought out the best in people by getting them to believe in themselves. That day was the first time I truly experienced the power of leadership.”

Five years after joining the school district, Dority decided to make a change and went to the private sector. She worked for the Orlando Regional Medical Center for three years, then spent almost a decade at Lockheed Martin as the company’s Director of Leadership and Development. She went on to become the Vice President of Human Resources for Fiskars and then for Avborne, a Miami aviation company. And then, Dority decided to take her show in the road, literally, as an independent consultant.

“My husband is in sales and marketing, and he helped me with that side of things,” she said. “I would travel all over the country, meeting with companies and auditing their HR practices. A lot of them would then hire me to go in and fix any problems.”

But one January night in a hotel room in Toledo, Ohio, Dority decided that it was time to go home to Florida.

“I decided to move strictly into the learning and development realm of HR because that’s what I enjoyed the most. And then I was introduced to Tropical Shipping.”

Dority poses in front of a projector screen showing a Tropical ship.
Dority is committed to leadership development, introducing a program at Tropical that was adopted across the Saltchuk Family of Companies

Leadership in the age of COVID-19

When Dority joined Tropical, her first objective was to create a leadership program.

“The average age of Directors and above at the company at the time was 53 years old,” she explained. “It was very apparent that we needed to do something to build a pipeline of leaders. With my leadership development background, it was a perfect match.”

She started with the implementation of a three-day Leadership Development Program that all leaders – from supervisors to directors to vice presidents – were welcome to attend. Including three Human Resources leaders from Saltchuk Corporate Home, who attended the first three-day session.

“They felt like the program could resonate throughout the company, and we worked to tailor it to speak to all the companies.”

Another of Dority’s programs is the eight-month Tropical Shipping Mentoring Program that pairs six experienced mentors – “successful leaders in our company with a passion for mentoring” – with protégés who have the potential to eventually assume greater roles.

“Each pair is very unique,” said Dority. “The program is formal in its structure, but the relationships formed are informal. What’s cool is that we have a graduation ceremony at the end and pairs share what they learned along the way.”

Dority has been with Tropical for more than four years. Some 115 individuals at Tropical have attended the Leadership Development Program – 450 across the family of companies.

“I think the takeaway from the program is that ‘managers’ are stuck worrying about and managing the everyday things,” she said, “but leadership is a much bigger picture. Leaders are more engaged with improving – how to do things more effectively, more efficiently, safer, and in a way that garners more customers – while at the same time developing their people.”

In the age of COVID-19, Dority said, she’s found Tropical employees need each other more than ever.

“The mentors and I had a Zoom meeting a few days ago and what I got from that was how engaged all the mentors and protégés are,” she said. “They’re moving ahead, they’re focused, and they’re on-point with the goals they’ve set for themselves. I think the program is a lifeline right now because the mentors are helping the protégés feel more confident and giving them the sense that we’re all in this together, that they’re not alone.”

In general, Dority continued, leadership development remains ongoing.

“We’re doing virtual teambuilding sessions,” she said. “I think leaders now are really being called upon to communicate with their people. So many of them are acting as the “eye of the storm” right now. They have to figure out how to keep their teams together and motivated. It might be as simple as checking in with them emotionally and being authentic themselves – it’s not necessary to have all the answers. But there’s also a lot of creativity going on throughout Tropical.

“The silver lining, perhaps,” Dority said, “is the ability for leaders to reimagine themselves as companies, as leaders, as people.”

 “How do we want it to be when we go back to old ‘normal’? What do we want to keep from our old lives? What do we want to keep from our new lives? That’s what leaders think about. Leaders tell the truth about what’s happening, reimagine the future, come up with ways to make changes, and – above all – leaders support and encourage everyone at all levels. That’s exactly what Senior Leadership at Tropical Shipping is doing right now. I’m confident we will emerge even stronger than before.”

Development programs a “must-have” for Tropical

Dority and her husband adopted a daughter, Lia, from Guatemala when she was just four months old.

“We became parents later in life,” she said, “but time flies and now she’s a freshman at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.”

The Parkland, Florida high school is, unfortunately, best known as the site of an infamous school shooting that killed 17 in 2018. Dority said she is proud of her community.

“We’ve been through some really hard times,” she said. “I’m so proud of Lia and her friends. They’re resilient and are showing a lot of leadership. Their generation is going to change things for the better.”

Dority said she’s blessed to work for a company that values leadership development.

“This culture here and the senior leadership support it. They really believe these programs aren’t just nice to have, they’re a must-have.” she concluded.

“There’s a quote we say often in the mentoring program: ‘A lot of people have gone further than they thought they could because someone else thought they could.’”