In February 2019 I joined the Board of Junior Achievement (JA) of the Space Coast. It was my first interaction with JA, but then I made a surprising discovery. When I spoke to my father, he shared that when he started with Sears in the early 1960s, involvement with JA was part of the corporate culture and he participated with them for a year.

So that Board members receive first-hand experience with the impact of JA, part of Board Responsibility is participating in the various programs JA offers. One of those programs is the JA Leadership Speaker Series. This unique opportunity allows professionals from every imaginable sector of business to “inspire the next generation workforce with your story.” Practically speaking, most young people have no idea what a particular career entails, from being an electrical engineer to a CPA. I spoke at Theodore Roosevelt Elementary in Cocoa Beach at Mrs. Tomacari’s third and fourth grade class.

Since it was my first time, I was a little nervous, not speaking in front of people, but in trying to find the right message to motivate the students and to connect with eight and nine-year-old’s. Not only about my current role, but of the opportunities, risks and challenges I faced to get where I am.

However, when you have a great class of inquisitive, funny and smart students, who are genuinely interested, it is far easier than you can imagine. I started with a brief background of my work and life experience. I’m the General Manager for Seaport Canaveral Corp, the petroleum terminal in Port Canaveral. We provide most of the gasoline in the region, as well as Jet Fuel for Orlando International Airport, Bunker Fuel for various cruise companies in Port Canaveral and we also have several renewable fuels we distribute.

Sharing the Journey

I’ve been lucky enough to work with great companies and in several different countries. I’ve worked in Florida, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Aruba, Canada, Netherlands, Turkey and the U.K. during my career and each position contributed to my role today. I graduated with a Political Science degree, which usually surprises people, seeing as I became involved in the petroleum industry, in various roles, for more than 25 years.

I explained to them that as a young person, originally from Philadelphia, I went to Aruba, to work on the marketing side of the industry, as well at the refinery. As life evolved, I got married to a Dutch woman and have two beautiful children who are dual citizens.

The students had many questions. They wanted to hear about all the steps Seaport Canaveral is taking to remain a sustainable business, like installing solar panels, converting to clean burning fuels, preparing for regulatory changes for fuels for the cruise ships. I was pleased to see that the students (rightly so) are very concerned about the environment and how business needs to adapt.

There were plenty of fun questions as well. After I explained that my wife and children were Dutch, they asked me if I could speak it. I told them, “only nursery rhymes,” so I had to sing to them as well. I hadn’t laughed so much in a semi work-related activity in years.

That’s the great thing about JA, that students want to learn, listen and ask. Maybe what is most surprising is they are genuinely interested in you. They want to understand how to be successful, how to grow, find their niche and contribute. I will definitely do it again, as it is fun, it is exciting, it is different, it is JA.

What is more, you don’t have to be a Board Member to participate. Just be willing and take the plunge.