First Mate Yacht Care

The Inner Workings of Boats and Businesses

How a Summer Job Became a Career for Emma Kendro, ‘16

Written by Madeleine Jepsen

For Emma Kendro, ’16, what started as a summer job in the Bay Harbor area of Northern Michigan became a post-graduation career. Over the course of three years, Emma jumped from new hire to intern to manager, and now she is part owner of First Mate Yacht Care.

Emma first joined First Mate as a summer employee, working on the docks to clean and detail boats.

“We do all sorts of things. Some boats we’ll just clean weekly from the top down to the waterline, but we also will buff them, wax them, and we do a little bit of car detailing as well. We also will clean interiors. The boats we work on range from thirty feet to a hundred feet. They’re big boats. Sometimes they’ll have teak decks, and we’ll maintain that, whether it’s sanding it or cleaning it and resealing it.”

When the two owners, former economics professor Lewis Butler and alumnus Trevor Duke, asked her to return the following summer, she told them she was looking for an internship. They decided to make a business internship for her and a few other students in the company. While they still worked on the docks, this group also met weekly with Professor Butler to talk about different aspects of the business.

“Whether it was how to quote a job, how to write up an invoice, or the decisions that go into making a logo, he would give a mini-lecture on that, and we’d sit and discuss it together. We also got our own projects—whatever we were interested in doing—and we’d take that and run with it.”

Over the course of the summer, Emma’s projects included designing advertising kits for the workers to carry with them for potential customers, monthly marketing emails, and planning an open house when the company moved to a new location. They also worked to redesign the the logo of First Mate Yacht Care.

“The old logo was a pinup girl on an anchor, with a background; and a lot of the customers really liked it and recognized it. But it had five different colors; it was really hard to get embroidered; and it didn’t look good when you screen-printed it. It was a cool logo, but it was really hard to do right on a lot of gear. So we redid it, incorporated the same fonts and main colors, and made it a simpler ship-wheel design.”

Emma also gained insight into the best way to make decisions, balancing the need for both timely and well-informed choices. What may seem like a simple decision to an outside observer has many implications for the success of a business. Part of that is knowing when to mull it over and when to take action.

“One of the skills that I’ve gained is the ability just to make decisions,” she said. “It’s important to make timely decisions—yeah, you want them to be well thought-out, but there comes a certain point where you just need to decide.”

Last summer Emma became co-manager of First Mate Yacht Care, filling in when one of the owners took a job that demanded that he be away from the docks. After a successful summer season, the owners asked her to become the operations manager, and Emma accepted the position, along with an accompanying share in the company.

As an economics major, Emma has applied some of the principles she’s learned during her undergraduate studies to managing the business. For example, the concept of incentives led her to use a bonus system where employees give each other small rewards for going above and beyond in their day-to-day work.

“I also find myself doing cost-benefit analysis on things like an employee recruitment dinner and having a meeting,” she said. “We’ve talked about it. The cost of taking a couple kids out to dinner may be a hundred dollars, but if we get a great worker for the summer out of that, it’s worth it to us. So I’ve applied general concepts.”

Emma plans to continue working with First Mate after graduation for at least two years, helping take care of the year-round work and expanding some of the business’s other services.

“I like it. I enjoy the work,” she said, “but you never know what’s going to happen in life.”

First Mate Yacht Care is currently hiring students for summer work; if you’re interested, contact Emma at [email protected].

Madeleine Jepsen, ‘18, studies biochemistry and journalism. Outside the classroom, Madeleine serves as a reporter and assistant editor for the Collegian. She is also involved in Catholic Society.