Member Profile: Vicki Abernathy, AERE Marine Group July 26, 2017
Vicki Abernathy was born and raised in Washington, D.C. She attended the University of Maryland, and worked briefly on Capitol Hill. She has considered herself a political junky ever since she was a young girl and went with her father, a JFK precinct chair, to work on the campaign stuffing envelopes. Eventually, Vicki attended Georgetown University Law Center at night, part-time, while raising two kids and working full time.
Her career originated as a technical recruiter in human resources, when it was still referred to as Personnel. Working her first job at a big insurance company with 900 people in a data center, Vicki was responsible for hiring (and firing) data entry staff, data librarians, data technicians, and data programmers – mostly because she knew what a computer was back when they filled an entire room.
She became the Chief Administrative Officer at DirecTV in D.C., where she honed skills she still uses in her business today. She remembers a time in 1989, a year before the first satellites were launched, when her four-year-old son posed for a photo while holding a satellite dish in his hands. At that time, the fact that a satellite dish was small enough to be held by a child was considered quite radical. For the nine years she worked there, DirecTV continued to develop its services and products, merged with other companies, and formed new opportunities. It grew from a subsidiary of Hughes Communications into a satellite television service able to receive 175 channels using just a small 18-inch dish.
Vicki also spent a chunk of her career, 30 years in fact, working in human resources for Marriott Hotels. To this day, every time she checks into a hotel the front desk clerk thinks she is a member of Bill Marriott’s executive team and she gets an upgrade. Her husband, Gary, loves this.
Vicki enjoyed the people aspect of her work, but had grown up in an entrepreneurial family and wanted to work in her own business. Although “people” could be considered the most important part of an enterprise, she wanted more. Late in her corporate human resource career she had a chance to work in the telecommunications industry and worked in mergers and acquisitions, started a company, and even launched an IPO.
Meanwhile, Vicki’s husband Gary, who had been working in the family business with her dad in West Virginia, took advantage of an opportunity to buy PRAKTEK, Inc., a South Florida company focused on developing “practical technology” products, at the same time Vicki was recruited to Florida by an international communication contracting company. Gary was the only employee, if you don’t count their daughter Cynthia and son Daniel, and Vicki kept the books. Gary came upon the idea of creating inflatable boat fenders for small boats with limited space on board, but the product took on a life of its own and they were being asked to make inflatable fenders that were big enough for mega yachts before they even knew what a mega yacht was.
In 2012, they changed the company name to AERÉ, (a fictitious word that was a specific brand of fender) and today, 60% of AERÉ’s business is fenders for vessels that are 100’ and up – they were recently commissioned to create fenders for a 450’ ship. As the boats get bigger and heavier, so do the fenders. The largest fenders they produce are 8’ by 20’ and are sold to the U.S. Navy. AERÉ has three product divisions: docking solutions, marina solutions, and fire solutions.
True to her inherited entrepreneurial spirit, Vicki sees the next generation of inflatables in small boats, kayaks, docks, and work platforms, and Daniel, now 30, keeps the tradition alive by running the Fenda Sox manufacturing division in Coral Springs. As for that “bad habit” she picked up from her father: these days, she flexes her political muscle by annually attending the American Boating Congress and advocating on behalf of the marine industry.