Spring 2010 Issue

The perfect mix

Separate oil from water, add in a lot of hard work and you just might find yourself with a successful business

By Rebecca Dellagloria

Fresh out of Hialeah High, and the daughter of a strict “Greek disciplinarian” father, Alexandra Anagnostis-Irons ’89,’92 set out to find work.

She landed a job in the cruise line industry through the Kelly Temporary Services – in those days known as “Kelly Girls” temps. Little did she know then that her ‘temporary’ job as a purchasing agent would lead to a career spanning 16 years in the cruise industry – and another 10 as the owner of her own marine supply company.

“I got a scholarship for sports to Miami-Dade College,’’ Anagnostis-Irons said. “My parents said, ‘That’s great but with the older two in college, we can’t even afford the books, so if you could, go get a job.”

Anagnostis-Irons flourished as a purchasing agent with various cruise lines, including Bahama Cruise Line, Admiral Cruises and Commodore Cruise line, and, eventually, she rose to the head of technical purchasing at Royal Caribbean International and Celebrity Cruises. In that role, she made decisions for all purchases - everything from the “navigation equipment to main engine spares to all the supplies needed for ships being built.”

“When the captains of ships had questions, even though I was the boss, they would call her because she knew everything,’’ said Paul Grant, Anagnostis-Irons’ mentor and her boss for much of those 16 years. “She is a very outgoing and powerful woman.”

Soon, though, Anagnostis-Irons was faced with one of the “hardest decisions” of her life: leaving Royal Caribbean. “I loved what I did,” she said.

But she loved being an entrepreneur even more, and in 2000 Anagnostis-Irons founded Total Marine Solutions (TMS). The story of TMS really began while Anagnostis-Irons was at Royal Caribbean. When the cruise line received hefty fines for environmental transgressions, she was part of a team that found a product in the marketplace that was exactly what was needed in the cruise line industry: an efficient oily water separator, which is the piece of equipment used to separate and treat all the oil and water produced by engine room equipment and maintenance.

Anagnostis-Irons negotiated the purchase of this equipment for all the ships in her employer’s fleet.She realized that the manufacturer, Marinfloc AB, was small and wouldn’t be able to provide the after-market sales and service they needed to keep up with customer demand. Anagnostis-Irons suggested to company management that they find someone to do just that.

“I said, ‘I’ll help you. You shortlist it, I’ll put forward some interviews and contacts for you and even help to do interviews because we’re your biggest customer now,’ ” she explained. But it wasn’t working out, so Anagnostis-Irons put herself up for the job.

“And they said, ‘this is exactly what we wanted,’ ” she recalled.

n its 10 years of existence, the company has grown, working with cruise liners, cargo ships, tankers and private yachts. The job of representing manufacturers of oily water separators, sewage treatment systems and vacuum toilet systems is “nothing glamorous,” admits Anagnostis-Irons, “but [it is] essential.”

Her success, she says, comes from “just really believing in something, knowing there is a need for it in the marketplace and knowing that you’ll put that need, customer needs, before anything else. Our success is based on customer service.”

It takes discipline, too, Anagnostis-Irons notes, which she learned while attending college at night. She earned undergraduate degrees in accounting and marketing as well as an MBA from Barry.

“I know my MBA helped me advance in corporate America,” she said. “But so did balancing a job, classes and after-school work.”

She recently became one of five new members to join Barry’s alumni relations board, serving as an ambassador to the community – and the University – responsible for elevating the visibility of the school and cultivating new relationships with other alumni.

Sean Kramer, assistant vice-president of alumni relations, first considered Anagnostis-Irons a potential candidate for the board when they met at a dinner, and her perspective on real wealth struck him. Noting she could afford to buy a $1,500 purse, Kramer recalled, Anagnostis-Irons pondered why she would in lieu of donating the money to charity.

“It struck me as something typical of a Barry grad,” Kramer said, “not someone who cares so much about the material side of things, but someone who wants to go out and make a difference in the world.”

Rebecca Dellagloria is a Miami-based writer and community news reporter for Forum Publishing Group.