Running a Tight Ship
Michael Rodriguez, B.S. ’94
Michael Rodriguez, B.S. ’94, gained a global perspective on business from Day One in the working world. “The day after I graduated from the United States Merchant Marine Academy in 1979, I shipped out to West Africa,” he recalls of his first job as an officer on a merchant marine vessel.
“It was an unusual path, but everything I learned at UB I apply in some way.”
After 17 years as a mariner, Rodriguez, now deputy administrator of the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Maritime Administration, decided to alternate stints at sea with semesters in Baltimore to earn a degree in business administration.
“It was an unusual path, but everything I learned at UB I apply in some way,” he says. “I didn’t speak the language of business, and that’s what I needed and achieved.”
After graduating from UB, Rodriguez held positions at his merchant marine alma mater, administering its internship program and preparing students for their shipboard assignments, then worked to represent the interests of men and women who make their living on the sea at the International Organization of Masters, Mates & Pilots. Rodriguez says his business knowledge enhances his continuing journey in the maritime industry.
“[Effectively representing the maritime labor force] requires knowledge of contracts, business plans, accounting, communications skills—all enhanced by my business education,” he explains.
At the Maritime Administration, Rodriguez’s role involves promoting the maritime industry—including the U.S. fleets trading in foreign markets and within the United States and its territories—responding to national emergencies and providing humanitarian aid. Maritime Administration ships were used to transport supplies and to support rescue workers in the wakes of hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Sandy and also retrieved and neutralized chemical weapons from Syria in 2014 to comply with United Nations Security Council agreements.
One of Rodriguez’s current priorities is the Marine Environmental Technical Assistance program, which works with the shipping industry to identify and implement environmentally friendly practices, such as making sure water from the enormous ballast tanks that provide stability to huge merchant vessels is not contaminated with invasive organisms.
Rodriguez says he thrives on the variety he finds in his work at the administration. “After 36 years in the industry, I still enjoy working with people who operate ships,” he says. “Every day, there’s something new, and I begin every day happy to be here.”