The Journal speaks with Monique Hamaty-Simmonds, assistant managing director of Tortuga Rum Company who was recently named in the Top 50 Women Business Leaders in State of Florida by The Commonwealth Institute and FIU.
Please give us an idea of your career background.
I graduated from FIU with a Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration
Did you always have an idea that you would become part of your family business or did you have aspirations to be anything else?
My father always included me in his businesses and at the age of 13 I worked for him in a restaurant he owned which was called Jamin Smoke House, I can recall helping him set up his cash register and then working part time in the summer as a cashier. I have to tell you I really enjoyed collecting the money and from that moment on, I knew I wanted to be in business.
How did you begin your career at Tortuga?
Following graduation, my father & step-mother Carlene Hamaty said they thought it would be best that I remain in the USA to build & develop the Tortuga Rum Cakes in North America. At first I was a bit nervous but then I quickly regained myself by my father’s praise in my ability. From there the sky was the limit.
How did it develop?
Almost immediately I knew that I had to obtain a few large customers to keep the business going and so I sought out a strategy to get the cruise lines as my customer. It took five years to get on-board the cruise lines but once they tried us there was an immediate re-order. In fact I recall the buyers exact words “Well you know we don’t keep too much inventory on-board, so I will try two cases on two ships.”
The first day of the sailing on the two ships it sold out within an hour and today Tortuga Rum Cake and gourmet products are available in 109 cruise ships sailing the world. Aside from this large customers I attended six trade shows per year and today we attend over 12 dozen shows per year catering to different industries such as the gift basket industry, gourmet food market, grocery market, liquor market, restaurant market in addition we support our independent sales representatives by attending shows that cater to the individual markets of designated territories. In saying that Tortuga quickly realised that supporting your representatives was also an important factor to the success, so we developed special displays and marketing material specific to the marketplace. For example the East coast of the United States dominates a very large percentage of the chocolate sales in the US and therefore Tortuga Chocolate Rum Cake sales and marketing strategy reflects this as well.
Another major milestone for our company has been our partnership with Home Shopping Network (HSN). Over the last three years Tortuga Rum Cake has been a great success for HSN and each winter season I head up to their headquarters to sell Tortuga Rum Cake live on their show. To give you an idea of the volume the show creates, in five to eight minutes of live air time I will sell approximately 4,000 rum cakes. It is absolutely astonishing. Each year they require that the owner come to sell because their customer base demands the facts from the inventor and I am sure this is a big part of their success.
What were your and your husband’s (husband Marcus Simmonds is vice president of Tortuga Rum Company) main goals while working in the States for Tortuga?
Our main goal was and remains the development and marketing of Tortuga Rum Cakes & gourmet products across North America.
And your priorities here now in Cayman?
Our priority here in Cayman is to continue to develop our company’s distribution portfolio as well as provide stores with competitive pricing in the duty-free & retail sector. In doing so we have a dynamic team here at Tortuga and we look forward to working smarter to achieve our goals while ensuring our customers are 100 per cent satisfied with our product selection & service. Additionally we continue to make deliberate efforts toward making Tortuga a household name for the people of the Cayman Islands.
How well do you feel Tortuga has done in positioning itself locally and globally as a brand?
I feel very confident about our progress locally and globally, but I know that in such a small island it is extremely important to monitor your growth and ensure you achieve your goal. In this economic environment I have found that we must re-focus and be innovative to meet the challenges. Our company has never been stagnant and always seeks new opportunities to grow. Having said that, the sky is the limit when it comes to global growth opportunity.
One good example of this would be the assignment of importing and distribution rights for Tortuga Rums within the United States which is being handled by a very large multinational importer & distributor known as Gemini Spirits & Wine which is now owned by Sazerac. We look forward to seeing Tortuga Rum in every liquor store across the United States. This in itself highlights the Cayman Islands as well and I am very proud of that.
Where would you like to see the company go in the medium to long term?
I want to see Tortuga’s brand around the world. As our brand increases its global recognition we have identified ways to use our intellectual property rights as an asset, additionally we have plans to expand franchising as well as plans to enter the Canadian market.
How do you juggle your responsibilities as a working mother?
It is an extremely hard balance, but I have a very supportive husband and family and together we JUST DO IT! Good scheduling, Blackberry always in hand but setting aside family time only! More importantly my husband and I try not to talk business when we are at home. It is hard at times and we catch ourselves doing it but quickly remind each other that it is family time. I also try to reserve special times that I tune out completely. I won’t answer the phone or check the Blackberry. One good example of this is I put my kids to bed every night with a story and I won’t allow anything to interrupt it.
Do you hope your children will continue in your footsteps at Tortuga?
I do hope so, but the path they choose will be 100 per cent up to them, I don’t believe in guiding them in a direction or path that is my own. They must be free to pursue their own dreams. My parents never tried to influence the career path of my brother or myself. My brother Basil is a pilot with Cayman Airways, my father was also a pilot, yet it should be known that Basil and I chose our own career paths. It really was a remarkable coincidence that we ended up following the same career path as our father. I would like to add that the unconditional love & support of my parents & husband continues to make my path to a successful business a reality.
Anything else you may want to add?
Yes, the loyal and enthusiastic team of employees at Tortuga Rum Company & Tortuga Imports Inc. (Miami Florida) has been an inspiration to me & makes the tough times easier. I want to thank them all for their unswerving dedication.