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In our latest Women in Yachting interview, we speak to a lady who has defied the odds to establish herself – and her business – at the forefront of yachting in Mexico.
Allow us to introduce Yolanda Espinoza, the owner of respected yacht agency Eco Naviera, who is a multi-talented and inspiring figure within her home country. Despite the many obstacles that stood between her and her dream of becoming a recognised agent, she was not perturbed. By her own admission, “when I want something, I work until I get it” – a phrase that perfectly encapsulates how she has accomplished so much during her career to date.
Espinoza discusses her varied interests and numerous professional qualifications, both in and out of yachting, and shares her top tips on how to make it within the international world of yachting.
Honestly no, I have always been interested in law. Since I was a child, I dreamed of becoming an Attorney. For university, I applied for Law School at the National University in Mexico City and studied there for three years. I then decided to abandon the school and come back to my hometown. I did not finish my career at that time but I never gave up. Finally, in April of this year, I finished it and I am an attorney after 28 years! I am still working on protocols to obtain the license but the school is finally finished.
I used to work for the Shroyer Family, who owned the first marina in our state and probably one of the first marinas in Mexico. First, I worked at the marine chandlery for four years. After that I started to work part time at the chandlery and part time at the marina office. I didn’t know it at the time, but it would become my job for the next 18 years. In the meantime, I learnt a lot about vessel documentation and legalities in Mexico.
I had two children as well. Being a single mother pushed me to try to find an extra income, plus I also wanted to capitalise on what I had learnt in the previous years.
I must say that the maritime world has fascinated me since the beginning and one thing I learnt while working with vessels, and the Shroyer family, was that everything about vessels had to be of great quality. With this, I noticed there were complaints about the only agent in town who used to work with yachts – and at the time it was only small yachts. There was an untapped market, so I started my research about what was necessary to become a yacht agent.
I start my day at 6:30am, making coffee and checking my emails and WhatsApp. I answer the most important messages and leave some of them to be answered in the office. If we have an international arrival or clearance I spend two to three hours preparing paperwork, another hour or two aboard, and then finish it on land with the Mexican authorities. After that, I keep working on phone calls, emails, WhatsApp... there is always a new yacht trying to come and asking many, many questions.
Plus, I check any other legalities regarding our office operation or other yacht arrivals or departures. I deal directly with captains and pursers to solve all of their problems. Also, I frequently have to attend meetings with the Port Operations Committee.
Leaving aside the yacht agent activities, I’ve been doing real estate for about 15 years now. I studied and obtained my license as a realtor, and I was the founder president of ASPI, one of the Realtors Association in our State. However, I’m currently doing around 50% of what I did in the past. Before I finished my Law School back in April 2021, I used to study during my free time to prepare for the exams.
Another important activity for me is taking my German language course, which I take on Saturdays and Sundays, really early in the morning as there is not much free time during the week.
Living in a complicated country like Mexico, the challenges are in two main areas. The first challenge is compliance, trying to keep our clients out of trouble and happy in the area, for which we do tons of paperwork every day – and trust me, following and catching up with the rules in Mexico can be exhausting.
The second challenge is to maintain good-quality products and services. It has been so difficult for the local suppliers to understand that we sell quality, and that’s what we need from them. We understand; we are in a desert with 40 degrees Celsius in the summer and it’s hard to keep good-quality products, like flowers for example.
When we got our first superyacht, captained by Paul, in 2008, everything changed and started to go crazy... and to be honest it is still crazy. From captain Paul, I learned something that I have appropriated and used as a work motto: ‘For the owner of this yacht, perfect is barely enough’ – and finding the requested quality or availability has often been difficult. We are almost like an island with extreme hot weather, so every time a yacht has left the port and they left happy and thankful, I know we have honoured our motto.
It is so rewarding when they leave and tell us they did not expect such high quality in provisions and that everything went smoothly. Many say they will come back, and certainly many of them do.
Through the years we have been able to put together a great team of suppliers and personnel in the office. They’re amazing! Unfortunately, or fortunately, five years ago when more superyachts started to visit the area, we started to have problems with the local florists. They didn’t understand how important quality was for us, in terms of the flowers and also the service.
Tired of this, I decided to send someone from my office to get training as a florist, but then I thought ‘how can I run a floristry business if I don’t know anything about it?’. So I decided to become a florist too! I took courses with an excellent Mexican florist and discovered a passion for flowers. Since then it has been my hobby and a good business too. I never imagined I could create such beautiful arrangements. To be in contact with the beauty of flowers is amazing.
Yes, there were. The first one was how to obtain our permit as an agent. I took a plane and went to Mexico City, directly to the main offices. There were many obstacles locally but I had decided to do it, and usually when I want something, I work until I get it!
Once I got the permit, when I started to work as an agent, I gave some advice to my customers [small boats at that time] and they did not take me seriously. They always asked somebody else, a gentleman, to confirm if I was telling the truth or giving them good advice. That was frustrating for me because I knew I had the experience and was honest with them.
One example happened years ago, when someone came into my office and asked about the charter permits. I explained the process and he said that it was too complicated and that somebody else had offered him an easier way to do it, so he left. A year later he came back asking for help because he never got his permits and the other person took advantage of him. I started to work with him and he has become one of my best clients.
Another time, a client told me that he didn’t want to work with me because I was, and let me quote, ‘too honest and wanted to do everything according the book… you are a tough lady’. Yes I was, and I am, and that’s why I am about to get my lawyers’ degree, which I’m very proud of.
To create a good reputation and be respected as a woman in Mexico is very difficult, but to be part of the maritime industry is even harder. After many years of really hard work obviously this has changed. Now the people look for our company and our reputation is ‘they do everything according the book’. I feel we need to amend this sentence… our reputation of ‘doing everything by the book’ stands for itself?
Do not stop dreaming, work hard to make the dreams come true. You can achieve them.
Be prepared, no matter what. You will have to work hard. Learn at least two languages – it helps. Take as many courses as you can as it’s important to be up to date.
Do not consider it a competition and work as a team. The yachting industry is like a clock with many cogs that interlock with each other; everything needs to be perfect.
Eco Naviera, based in La Paz Mexico, is a leading yacht agency offering a full range of services, including berthing, customs clearance and immigration procedures to visiting superyachts. Led by Yolanda Espinoza and her expertly trained team, it has become one of the most reputable names in yachting.
Many prestigious superyachts opt to work with Eco Naviera on a visit to Mexico, which underlines its reliability and capabilities.
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