Carlos Diaz was in the big leagues just long enough to have one MLB basehit, and now he’s knocking a metaphorical homerun as an ocean carrier executive with World Direct Shipping, a Florida-based line with an expanding presence in weekly services across the Gulf of Mexico.
Recognizing the importance of a quality education, Diaz passed up his first professional baseball offer to get a college degree in accounting – a skill he now applies to spearheading a rare upstart in an era of mega-alliances and as an elected leader of a small Central Florida city.
Following 3 1/2 years of successful weekly cross-Gulf service to Port Manatee, Diaz, as director of World Direct Shipping, is overseeing addition of the Port of Pensacola on the U.S. side while augmenting calls at Coatzacoalcos in Veracruz by serving a second Mexican port.
In an interview with AJOT, Diaz shares his journey from pro baseball catcher to shipping executive and city vice mayor.
What challenges – and advantages – have you encountered in starting and growing a small independent carrier in this time of mega-alliances?
The advantage we have over major shipping lines is being customer-focused and very personalized. We don’t charge our customers with surprising fees once we have control of their cargo, and we pick up the phone and take accountability when something goes wrong with any customer.
We also are cost-conscious and have the confidence in our vendors in order to give quick and fair pricing, unlike major shipping lines that have placed themselves at the mercy of large terminal conglomerates and high overhead. We are true partners with our vendors and our customers.
Disadvantages that we have, as with many small businesses, include getting accepted in the market by larger businesses. Larger companies tend to be more conservative and apprehensive to start with a small company, even if it has a clear benefit to their company.
Our successes with larger companies usually come from individuals in that company who are outliers and who have an objective outlook.
How did the concept for World Direct Shipping develop from a notion for getting Mexican produce swiftly to US consumers?
The concept evolved from our principals’ efforts to fulfill their own need for their own products. The principals – the Blazer family – own Your Dekalb Farmers Market, in Decatur, Georgia, just outside Atlanta. World Direct Shipping was formed as its own separate company.
This is the old-fashioned way to start a shipping business – out of one’s own need. The cross-border route by truck between Mexico and the U.S. was not reliable, not cost-effective and low on quality, so our principals decided to put things in their own hands for U.S.-bound shipments of refrigerated produce, benefiting from a transit time across the Gulf of Mexico of just 2 1/2 days.
WDS was created out of need, but that was not enough to maintain the high costs of all the assets needed in maritime shipping. Therefore, we have targeted businesses with similar issues, and it seems that we timed everything well, especially with the truck issues that keep growing in Mexico and in the U.S.
What is behind your recent expansion efforts – adding a second vessel and calls at a second Florida port, Pensacola, effective Feb. 1, and beginning calls at a second Mexican port in the service you’ve had since 2014 between Coatzacoalcos and Port Manatee, where WDS is headquartered?
The second Mexico call, which at the moment is at Tampico and which we are in the process of putting at Tuxpan, shortens the trucking distance to markets in the more central part of Mexico, including Mexico City. We do door service primarily in Mexico, so the call farther north than Coatzacoalcos shortens the number of kilometers the shipment has to go over the road by truck.
Of course, we’re only a speck on the amount of cargo that’s going between Mexico and the United States, as the vast majority still goes cross-border by truck.
Pensacola opens a new market for WDS and will help us increase exports into Mexico. Coatzacoalcos and Port Manatee remain as has been since inception. We’d been calling Port Manatee for 3 1/2 years, but there wasn’t enough business going south from there to Mexico to balance our equipment going in and out of Port Manatee with all the imports.
Pensacola gives us a nice export route from the U.S. into Mexico, for things like raw materials, paper products, linerboard, plastics and other goods going down to Mexico, both breakbulk and in containers, for processing. Then adding Tuxpan will also give us the closest entry point to Mexico City. So Tuxpan and Pensacola go hand-in-hand.
How have you transitioned from pro ballplayer, having reached the major leagues in 1990 for nine games with the Toronto Blue Jays, to shipping line executive, and are there any similarities between the two jobs?
I prepared myself with a good education during baseball.
Yes, I see that, rather than signing when you were initially drafted in the seventh round of the 1982 amateur draft by the Cleveland Indians, out of St. Mary of the Assumption High School in Elizabeth, New Jersey, you instead went to Oklahoma State, then signed in 1986 when drafted by the Blue Jays.
I look at a lot of my ex-teammates and guys who, like me, didn’t make the real big money, and they were just unprepared. I think their path in life is a little more difficult.
I got my degree in accounting, so I’ve been able to apply that to a lot of what I do.
Kids now are getting so much money out of high school that I wonder what I would’ve done had I been offered that money out of high school. But it’s not all about money, right?
With that, good work ethic and strong passion is important in sports and in logistics. In both scenarios, you can’t just punch a time clock.
I transitioned into shipping through accounting and through the support of my superiors who pushed me and challenged me until I learned enough that I became vital to create opportunities for the company.
Do you find time anymore for playing ball and/or what other nonwork activities do you enjoy?
I have played on local old-man baseball teams in recent years. Nowadays, I have no time. I keep in touch with baseball by coaching my daughter in softball.
I also keep busy serving as a commissioner in Safety Harbor, a desirous place of about 17,000 near Clearwater, the type of town where everybody knows each other. I got re-elected last March to a second three-year term.
I’ve been in politics since before World Direct Shipping, when I was running my own NVOCC [non-vessel-operating common carrier] and doing business consulting. The mayor was just chit-chatting with me one day and encouraged me to run, and my wife, after first saying no, said I should run. I enjoy being up there and trying to keep the city in the right direction.