Meet one of the ‘Top Women in Shipping': Mary Carmen Barrios
Growing up in Panama, Mary Carmen Barrios spent her childhood watching vessels crossing the Panama Canal locks and has been fascinated by the world of shipping ever since. After helping to launch Wallenius Wilhelmsen’s Manzanillo office in 2005, she’s now taking on a new role in the company, managing stevedoring, port and terminal operations in Europe, the Middle East and Africa.
You were recently ranked 17th in All About Shipping’s top 100 women in shipping 2020 – what does this achievement mean to you?
It is such an honour to be acknowledged among this group of admirable women, which includes my colleague Karolina Kjellgren, all of whom were out there even during the challenges of 2020 helping to keep the maritime industry running, which is vital in delivering so many services to people around the world.
How did you get involved in the shipping industry?
It was right after I graduated from college. A new marine terminal had started operations at the Atlantic entrance of the Panama Canal and they were recruiting local talent in Colon. I joined as administrative assistant to the port director and eventually I worked my way up into the role of operations manager.
You joined Wallenius Wilhelmsen in 2005. Tell us about your first role.
I was hired as operations manager in Panama and was tasked with starting the Manzanillo office dedicated to overseeing transshipment operations within our own ocean service and transshipment carriers. I recruited and trained staff and was responsible for ensuring smooth cargo connections.
I was then promoted to Latin America general manager to support the company’s ambition of creating a hub in the Americas to optimise our service network. Panama was traditionally used for the transshipment of containers and not RoRo, but our vessels were already transiting through the Canal so we saw an opportunity to use the waiting time in Panama waters to carry out cargo operations. Very quickly we increased our vessel calls in Manzanillo from 6 a month to 24.
You recently started your new role as senior vice president of port, stevedore and terminal operations Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA). What are your main responsibilities?
I oversee cargo operations, marine terminal activities and stevedoring across these regions. My main focus is ensuring smooth vessel arrivals and departures, and safe and efficient cargo operations to create a cohesive customer experience. This role is all about communication – with the business unit managers, service providers, port authorities and government officials.
After all, customers want to work with carriers they can trust – ones who they know are making a positive contribution to sustainable shipping solutions.
What are the advantages of overseeing port, stevedore and terminal operations collectively?
Being responsible for all three operational areas allows for more seamless communication, single accountability for integrated services and improves operational efficiency for customers. Cargo and terminal operations are a crucial link in the supply chain and such an important part of our service. It’s where critical decisions must be taken, often in time-pressed circumstances to deliver solutions to meet the customers’ needs.
Your success in leading port and cargo operations in Panama helped drive growth in that region – what do you hope to achieve in your new role?
I want to find innovative ways of adapting to market conditions and identifying trends for continuous growth. The winds of change are blowing and we want to contribute to that change. After all, customers want to work with carriers they can trust – ones who they know are making a positive contribution to sustainable shipping solutions.
What are some of the most memorable projects you’ve worked on?
There have been many. In Panama we had to support a customer that needed to deliver mining trucks to Punta Rincon, but due to the product dimensions they couldn’t be driven to the site or transported fully assembled. We helped to solve their challenge by creating a shuttle service using third-party river barges up to the mine site and used stevedores from Manzanillo to do the discharge operation at the end destination. We also set up an assembly line at our equipment processing centre and every three weeks a new mining truck was fully assembled and delivered.
How do your skills help to deliver this kind of operational efficiency?
I am extremely detail orientated and incredibly passionate about what I do. I have had the privilege of being trained by some of the best mentors in different regions since I started in Wallenius Wilhelmsen and I have honed my problem-solving, negotiation and communication skills over the years – all of which are important in this role.