Faces in the Industry: Aaron Leatherwood, RMK Merrill-Stevens September 26, 2018

Meet Aaron Leatherwood, one of MIASF’s newest Board Members and the president and CEO of RMK Merrill-Stevens.

Tell us where you are from, what brought you to Florida, and how long you’ve lived here.
I am originally from Houston, Texas and transplanted to Virginia Beach, VA at a young age. I returned to the great state to attend Texas Maritime Academy where I earned a bachelor’s in marine engineering and a USCG unlimited Third Assistant Engineer’s License. While sailing in the Merchant Marine I upgraded the license to unlimited Chief Engineer before transitioning ashore to vessel management and technical management roles. My shore career led me to earning master’s degrees in International Business and Project Management, as well as a Project Management Professional Certification through the internationally recognized Project Management Institute. I serve as an officer in the US Coast Guard Reserves specializing in Prevention and Incident Management/Response. Before moving abroad, I had the unique opportunity to work as a Project Engineer developing the most technically advanced container terminal in North America. The $500+ million APM Terminals project in Portsmouth, VA solidified my interest in professional project management. Working abroad included living in Yokohama, Japan where I oversaw ship maintenance and repairs including the care and custody of the US Army prepositioned assets. Supporting the US Coast Guard Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill for more than one year, I became intimately involved in extensive planning and coordination of response activities across five states and throughout the Gulf. I relocated to Florida in 2011 to shift focus to supporting and building the US superyacht industry.

What does your job at RMK Merrill-Stevens entail?
As the President and CEO of RMK Merrill-Stevens I have the distinct pleasure to restore an industry icon and re-create a brand. Greatly due to Merrill-Stevens, Miami once was the destination for yester-year’s superyachts. Today there is a massive resurgence of interest in Miami as a destination for mega-yacht owners, captains and crew as the Magic City experiences amazing growth and world-class development unlike any other destination in Florida. RMK Merrill-Stevens is perfectly positioned to re-establish high-quality yacht repair. We are currently in the process of reconstructing and modernizing the shipyard to accommodate haul-out of 70+m yachts and provide a clean and convenient facility that clients desire.

How did you get initially become interested in the marine industry?
My career in the industry began like many, washing and detailing boats, followed by rigging, repairs and boat sales… Freelance yacht maintenance and repair helped pay the way through college before sailing commercial ships as a merchant mariner. Now some years later I find myself in a position to help others seeking professional development and proficiency in their respective trades. My interest in the industry continues to grow daily as we continue to innovate and expand the capabilities of this industry in the USA.

What is your favorite or most valuable benefit of membership in MIASF?
Networking and advocacy are by far the most obvious benefits of MIASF. I don’t think either is more beneficial as these are very co-dependent. It is the collective body of the association that generates the means to drive advocacy and these like-minded people to follow-through for the benefit of the client, the economy and the community. Together we promote the development and expansion of the industry creating jobs and building the capabilities in the US for both small yacht repair and superyacht refit.

Has becoming a member of the Board of Directors changed your perspective of MIASF?
Joining a board of directors provides an opportunity to get closer to the critical issues impacting marine businesses, the industry and beyond in south Florida. It is a means to help support the members and help steer the ship to ensure that we continue to expand workforce and professional development allowing our industry to remain vibrant, and always growing to meet the needs of our US partners and global clients.

Describe some of the other community organizations or events that you are involved with or participate in.
I am a long-time member of the Propeller Club of the United States as well as the Project Management Institute. I am a member of IYBA and I currently serve on the board for the Miami Marine Council and US Superyacht Association as well as support the Miami River Marine Group. I volunteer with the Parkinson’s Foundation and routinely support the Fish to Make A Difference non-profit organization to help children with debilitating illnesses. Additionally, I continue to support the US Coast Guard as an active reservist responding to natural disasters and incidents of national significance.

Tell us about your hobbies and what kinds of things do you do for fun.
Projects of course!… Repair and maintenance of the house, boats, antique cars, etcetera… these hobbies keep me very busy when I am not supporting the marine industry or the USCG. My family and I enjoy traveling and exploring; we recently took up RVing and enjoy spending time in the FL Keys boating, fishing and diving. The RV is great for bringing our four-legged family members along for the trip. We look forward to a few opportunities to go snow skiing and visit out of town friends and family each year.

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Marine Industries Association of South Florida. 221 SW 3rd Avenue, Fort Lauderdale, FL 33312. Phone: 954.524.2733