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Hamaty-Simmonds finds the right blend

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Monique Hamaty-Simmonds is president and chief executive officer of the Miami-based Tortuga Imports.  Also known as the Tortuga Rum Cake Company, the organization handles worldwide distribution, mail order and online sales for the Tortuga Rum company based in the Cayman Islands.

Born in Kingston Jamaica, Hamaty-Simmonds came to the United States in 1980, and in 1996 she earned a degree from Florida International University (FIU) in business administration. She is a second-generation entrepreneur. Her father Robert Hamaty and his wife Carlene started the Tortuga Rum Company in Grand Cayman in 1984.

In 1997, Hamaty-Simmonds and her husband Marcus Simmonds, chief financial officer for Tortuga Imports, started their company to bring Tortuga’s “authentic taste of the island” to the American market.

“I have always wanted to be self employed,” she said. “At times, it can be challenging, but it is possible to balance family and business.” Hamaty-Simmonds explained that had it not been for a flu virus that her father contracted at the age of 45, the business would have not been founded.
“He was an airline pilot,” she said. “He lost his license after catching a flu virus that attacked his heart muscle.

“He had the drive and foresight to start his own business, which was the birth of Tortuga Rum and Rum Cake.”

STRUGGLES

Hamaty-Simmonds said among her struggles was that in 1996 women were not welcomed in the buyers’ circle, and approaching buyers who had the perception that women did not belong or deserve their time was quite common.

“I was determined however to overcome this flawed view,” she said. Being the tough business-minded person, she constantly sent letters, samples and requested meetings with a key buyer for the cruise lines. She said it took her five years to get a meeting with him.

“I was able to convince the buyer that Tortuga Rum Cake was perfect for his business,” Hamaty-Simmonds said. She said after placing the first order the cake sold out in less than one week. Hamaty-Simmonds said that company is now one of their top customers. “This is a true testament to the saying, ‘never give up’,” she said.

CHALLENGE

Another “challenge,” as she calls, it happened when the business was just starting. They landed an order a for 40-foot container of rum cakes, but there was no warehouse to store the product. Hamaty-Simmonds said they rented a refrigerated container for three days, locked it at night, and hired a night duty security guard to watch the container.

“When the orders kept coming,” she replied, “we quickly realized that we had better get a bigger warehouse.” They ended up renting another 3,000 square feet to facilitate the orders. Today the Tortuga Rum Cake company warehouses measure 24,000 square feet, with office and warehouse space. The company employs 20 people during the fourth quarter and maintains a staff of 15 throughout the year.  Tortuga Imports Inc. also offers an array of Tortuga-branded gourmet products, such as rum flavored coffee, rum flavored fudge. Many more products are offered online.

The rum cakes are baked in The Bahamas, Barbados, Cayman and Jamaica. They are shipped to 70 countries and sold in gift and specialty stores throughout North America and the Caribbean and on over 100 cruise ships.

HONORS

Tortuga Rum Cakes have been named “Best Cruises Souvenir’ by Porthole Cruise Magazine for seven consecutive years. In 2002, Monique and Marcus were recognized by Gourmet News with the prestigious, biennial “20 Under 40 Award”. Monique has been recognized as one of the Top 50 Women Business Leaders in the state of Florida by The Commonwealth Institute and Florida International University.

In Mar. 2011, she was honored with the Charles E. Perry Young Alumni Visionary Award from the FIU Alumni Association. Hamaty-Simmonds thanks God for her success, strength and wisdom.

“He has blessed me,” she said. “I also thank my staff for their support and hard work. They make a profound difference towards the success of the Tortuga Rum Cake Company.” She also thanks her family and her husband who motivate her.

“(Marcus) believes in me, but more importantly, I believe in him,” she said. “We are a team.” In 10 years Hamaty-Simmonds would like to see Tortuga become a $100 million global business. Even though the business woman lives in Grand Cayman with her husband and three children, she confessed that her mind is often back home (Jamaica) and she visits often. Yet, she admits, “if you don’t embrace change then you will be a victim of it.”

Judith Hudson is a freelance writer for Caribbean Today.

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