Coming Ashore Podcast Episode 2 – About the Mentor Paul Naranjo-Shepherd.
Posted on 13 March 2020 by Andrew Cowderoy
Andrew Cowderoy interviews Paul Naranjo-Shepherd a former Seafarer Master Mariner turned entrepreneur of tutoring company Whitehorse Maritime.
In this episode, Paul discusses how he launched a successful business ashore with no formal structures in place at the time to help his transition. You’ll hear what he learnt in the process.
Click here to find out more about the Coming Ashore programme. Where you'll find professional guidance, mentorship and work experience opportunities for transitioning to a career on land.
Hello ladies and gentlemen and welcome to the Coming Ashore podcast. My name's Andrew Cowderoy and I'd like to introduce you to our guest today, Paul, who is a former Seafarer Master Mariner and has travelled around the world doing some exciting projects and work. I'll let him explain, and let's jump into why did you first go to sea Paul?
Paul: Well, it's a long story, so I knew way back before, I think most people knew what they're going to do with their lives. We had a small boat in the family on the Solent and the Solent Boat Show of all places. And there was a yacht there, a big yacht, small by the standards of what I know now but huge by the standards of what I knew then, and dad being dad bribed our way on board and we had a look around this thing. And that was it from that day onwards I was going to sea, I guess the logic being if you enjoy driving small boats, you'll enjoy driving big boats more I guess. So there you go.
So you went through the traditional cadetship program. You'd qualified as a master mariner. So what were the last ships, and the work that you did at sea?
Paul: Well, I started on cruise ships. Did the cadetship as you said, and then I ended up working on a research vessel, did a few other bits and bobs along the way. But then I was master Mariner there, chief officer, kind of thinking, "I wonder what's next." Went on a yacht for a winter season and it wasn't really for me. And then I had a bit of a sabbatical, just took some time off because I could and it was important to take a bit of time for yourself as well. And in that time, transitioning into working, working out what I want to be doing with my life for sure. I just met my now wife as well, and the calculus started to change and I was thinking, "Well do I want to be away for as long as I am at the moment?" Is that what it wants to be for the future? how can I fulfil the life objectives rather than just working, working, working?
So was it a very black and white decision that you wanted to come ashore? Or was it that slow career change?
Paul: Well, it was a really difficult one because Monica, my wife, she runs her own company. And she's run her own company for 12 years, and she does lots of different, goes on often expeditions, does filmmaking and stuff. So she has a completely unusual job, not nine to five in the slightest. So that posed a problem because, on one side of the spectrum, I'm away at sea six months, a year, two months, either way. And then to move to be nine to five, which is what it would have been if I'd come ashore and got a job, then that wouldn't have meant I'd see her more than it would have with how I was actually at sea. So, I don't want to be at sea, but I don't want to have a nine to five because the objective of me coming ashore was definitely to spend more time with Monica, that was the thrust of it. So what's in the middle there? And I'm not going to pretend to you that there was some huge strategy, or that I'm some business wizard or anything else. I fell into it and step by step by step, I ended up founding Whitehorse.
So when you were during that period onboard a ship, was there any guidance, and support to help you move ashore? Or did you speak to anybody in particular? Did somebody help you through that period?
Paul: Not particularly, no. And that's why I think this project is so, so important because I've been through it and I understand that there are lots and lots of people out there who, if you ask, they will help you. And I think that's one of the beauties of the maritime ministry is that there are always, we seem to be very supportive of each other. Probably more than other industries. And that's nice, but there isn't, there aren't the formal structures in place to make sure that everybody has equal access to that support to help them move ashore. And it doesn't just matter about who your mate is, or whether your dad's friends with a captain somewhere who's ashore. And that's not the way it should be, we need to have that more structured approach to say everybody has that support.
Can you explain, and share with our colleagues at sea or home, that process that you went through knowing where you want to take the business, how you can use the skills that you've already got, and turning that into essentially a revenue stream cash flow to be able to support the life that you've got today?
Paul: Yeah. Well, I think that the first thing in terms of people who are thinking that I'm some business superhero and that they could never do it themselves is that A, I'm not, and B, they could, and C, is that there was no plan at all. It's all happened almost by accident. And so what happened two a bit years ago now, I'd been playing around with that and doing some tutoring for the oral exams for a little while. And so I just, I went on LinkedIn and messaged a few cadets, and long story short, I ended up doing a couple of hours of tutoring with one cadet before Christmas. Earned a few quid, paid for Monica's Christmas presents. Dropped out. That was, as far as I was concerned, it was by no means the plan. And actually, at that time I was very, very set on being a Solent pilot and I'd been working for Red Funnel there, and starting to get more experience, I did my PEC, but I didn't have the full range of the qualifications they wanted. Master Mariner but not command experience, some Solent experience, but not that much in the grand scheme of things. And then so two things happened at once, one is that after Christmas, the tutoring side of things, more and more people start coming. Completely informal at the time, I'm thinking, "Maybe there's something here, I don't know what's going on." And then at the same time as that, I didn't get the job with pilots, and I was gutted about that because that was very much, that was the vision, that was the mission. But that's what I was doing. And I'm a bit like that, I don't have selection options, that's what I'm doing. And so I was a bit gutted about that. But at the same time, there was a little bit of tutoring and we're talking a couple of hundred pounds here and there, we're not talking big money at all. And then at the same time, the Arbour Company Master Mariners wanted somebody to do their professional development consultant thing with them. So there are two things happened at once there which was, well now maybe there's a consultant business thing somewhere developing here. And so I just followed it and helped a vulnerable company out. And that was also really valuable for connections and contacts and all those kinds of stuff, and then the tutoring side of things. And from there, two years later, the tutoring business has taken off.
So can you explain, share with our colleagues some of the people that you're working with, the companies that you supported?
Paul: Yeah, there's different strands to that. So there are individuals, everybody from all the various yacht tickets, the cadets, up to Master Unlimited, always prep. And then also companies as well, so the RFA and V-Ships.
So you get to work with a whole plethora of individuals going through their orals, and supporting their career progression?
Paul: Absolutely. And I love it, honestly, if you've done six or eight hours in a day it can get a little tedious, but meeting such an amazing array of people, and we have some very, very talented offers in our industry. It is great.
Is there now a team at Whitehorse?
Paul: Yeah. So I lead it but then I refer out some of the tutorings to different people, which is great because it enables them to support the tutoring element of things and also they enjoy it as well, and it gives the actual, the students an array of different people. So rather than only having one person tutoring them, they can have a selection.
So on this, you've been at sea, you've worked a fairly standard routine at sea, you're away at sea, you come home, you have some time, you go away to sea again, fairly set standard. Rather than going down the traditional path whereby nine to five, in an office, becoming a superintendent, DPA.
Paul: Any of the normal jobs.
Any of the normal jobs a Master Mariner can do, you've now created a lifestyle business around what you want to achieve out of life, which is to spend more time with Monica, have the flexibility to travel internationally, back to Costa Rica and anywhere else. And you're still able to run the business and support the lifestyle, and use the skillset that you've learned over your entire career to be able to say, yeah, you know what, I still get to do what I love to do.
Paul: Well, exactly. And that's the tutoring bit is the stuff that we all know, and we've all done the exams right? But the other parts of the business have been very challenging in the sense of me having to learn stuff. So there's the consulting element of it, and also training development, training consultancy. So and that's been, I had to learn a whole bunch of new stuff to try and tackle those, and I'm not entirely sure why people gave me these projects, but they did. Well exactly, and going from there. But that's, I think that working for yourself thing, it is a very unusual choice I think, it's not necessarily the easiest one. Being disciplined with yourself is something that I've struggled with, I'm not the best at being right upper wind, seven o'clock here we go, working. I want it considering I've spent my entire working life eight to whatever other gradient and the rest of the time. So that's a challenge. You've got to be very, very disciplined and be able to say no to, now I'm working, now I'm working on this project, now I'm doing business development and going for lunch with this person, now I'm doing this with that person. That's a challenge, and also and along in the nine to five job, you get to five o'clock, you close your computer, you get back in the career, you drive home. Whereas we have the issue of, that you could be working seven days a week, all the hours that God gives, and that isn't healthy, and actually that isn't actually giving you what you wanted from it in the first place. So balancing that is a challenge.
So how do you balance that? Do you have a method?
Paul: Not very well, honestly. Not very well at all. So I'm getting better at it, and honestly, I've been, I've got my informal business mentor in Monica really, who has done this for 12 years now, so 10 years longer than I have. And she's been amazing because she's done it for a lot longer and she knows when, "No, you've worked too much today." Or, "Right, today I'm going to be working." And so that kind of support is just very, very helpful. I'm not, I wouldn't have been able to be doing that without, especially without her support in that front.
So essentially again, correct me if I'm wrong, you've had an incredible experience coming ashore whereby you've had the support of the industry, your maritime colleagues, perhaps mentors within the industry. You come ashore, you've said, "This is where I want to be. I want to have the life that I want. I don't want to be stuck in tradition, nine to five, working on somebody else's time. I want to be able to travel." And through that process of coming ashore, you've also had an additional mentor in your wife Monica, to help you establish that business. It's a phenomenal story where you've had this huge amount of support from family, and the industry, to help that process.
Paul: Yeah, but I think that in that, because the people listening to this, and I'm sure that if I was to listen to, A, another person telling a similar story to this, the thing is, "Oh well I couldn't do that. I don't have X. Right now I'm doing consulting projects for a major port company, and how did that happen? I can't imagine how I would have got from there to here mentioning it two years ago. So what I want people to understand in this is that I'm not some superhero who's gone and done something special here. It's the fact that I had an objective, I've been fairly resilient because there are months when you don't have as much as you want to. Yeah, exactly, you know. You've done businesses too, right? So that's the thing, it's difficult, there are weeks when you think this is entirely pointless, nobody's ever going to value what I can offer as a business or as a person. This is stupid. Why am I doing this? I should get a job. And there are other times when you're working far harder than the nine to five and you think, well, why don't I go and do that because then I can work less doing a nine to five and not worry about that over the weekend. But there's that, think about what you could offer and then do it. Do you know? And follow that up and allow the paths to change as people offer you new things and you open up.
There are a couple of points there. One, keep a very open mind as there is a huge amount of opportunity out there. So again, you've taken that opportunity and you said, I don't want to go down that traditional route. And also you've asked for help, and I think that's critical in men being men to a degree, internationally we sometimes shy away from that ability to say, I need help in whatever scenario that is. And I'm sure, I know it myself through business, you're always asking for people to help and support you, and guide you, and mentor you through the process. So I think that's another valid point. Whilst you have an objective, you wanted to get to that, but you've had your mentor group, and you've had those people around to support you. I mean you constantly have spoken and asked for that support. And again, that's a crucial thing that we're doing, I'm becoming mature process and yourself included, is we are here to support our colleagues who are coming ashore to help that career change. Whether it is into a traditional nine to five because that's what they want to achieve, or indeed, if it's wanting to come ashore, establish their own small, medium enterprise, small business, become a director, work for themselves, or travel around the world and do something completely different.
Paul: Open a hostel in the Philippines or something. Have a wonderful time.
Andrew: Nonetheless, we're here as an industry to support our colleagues.
Paul: Absolutely, and that is the networking element of it I think is vital, and this project's all about that. But also just from A, I think from a finding the right job for you and also if someone does end up doing their own thing in a small business, then the network, the people, is everything.
Paul: You cannot get any clients if you just sit there on LinkedIn and say, "Now we are doing this, and we reveal this." Whatever. No, you need to take the time to go to events, go to lunches, go-to drinks and just talk to-
Andrew: Press the flesh, get out and network
Paul: Yeah. But then don't expect that to come off then. I've just recently got a new project which is going to be fantastic, but it's been two years in the workings. Two years ago when I very first started, I had a conversation with somebody, built a relationship, and it's taken two years for that project to come off. And obviously, you can't go into each conversation with, and here's a contract signed.
Paul: It needs to be a case of, let's build a relationship because people invest in people, people don't invest in your business.
Andrew: And that is also something very specific about our industry as well, is it is, despite the organizational structures, the branding, it is still very much that human-driven industry where, as you say, get out and meeting people and building that network is extremely powerful, building those long-lasting relationships as well, because at the end of the day those are the people that you can pick up the telephone to and say, "Can we have a chat? Can we have some lunch and have a chat about coming ashore?" For weeks and months, and long story short, we ended up working together and continue to have a phenomenal working relationship. And that is that power of the network.
Paul: But if you'd gone into that conversation with, "Give me a job, I need a job." You would have come across weird and desperate and he would have stepped back very quickly.
Paul: Whereas if it's a case of, let's talk, let's discuss, let's build a relationship. And then he might, then he sees the value that you can offer as a person.
Paul: Then that's how it works.
Andrew: And also touching on that contract that you've just started working on with the port pilot, or the port organization, or whomever that you built over the last two years, is also a reflection on the achievement in the process that you've made over the last two years. And also your entire career at sea is, there is that process, but you're here because of everything else that you've done in the past. And that's also very important for our listeners, is that you have got a huge amount of experience you're sitting on, or a colleague of mine would say it's a mountain of value, and it's being able to see that, understand that value that you are sitting on, but not become overly confident and expect it to happen.
Paul: Yeah. Humble but equally confident.
Paul: I think that that's the thing, is going into it. and I think it's sometimes difficult for us to recognize the value that we have got, the experience that we have got. And I'm more experienced and I'm more qualified than the majority of people listening to this, or watching this thing. So I think that it's just saying, what can I do? Okay, well I'm a Master Mariner or maybe I'm a Chief Mate, or maybe I'm an Officer of the Watch. I've got experience in these things. And this can be whether you do your own thing or whether you come ashore and go and work in a company. But, so what skills have I got? And I think that to talk about that, going and getting that nine to five, and I don't mean to be dismissive about it at all, it's just different choice-
Paul: Lots of people do that, and it's the right choice for them. But say to, let's be honest about what you want to do, I mean everybody wants to earn as much money as possible I guess, but do you want to go and work in London? Is that the thing which would give you value? Because yeah, you're going to earn the most if you go and work in London somewhere, is that what you want? You're going to earn the most if you go and do an accident investigation for a law firm, and you're on 24 hours notice to fly all over the world. Glamorous for the first year, but in the long term, I know people that that has destroyed relationships, that they'd been sick of it. And so you're trying to be honest with what it is that you are trying to get out of that move ashore. And it isn't probably just trying to get the money back up to what it was when you were running at sea because you're always going to earn more at sea.
Andrew: Yeah. So a few points again, understand that mountain of value that you are sitting on.
Paul: For sure.
Andrew: And whilst we've got our entire maritime career, or careers at sea, there are also points that we all have to be able to remember that you may have other experiences before going to sea that must be remembered as well. And to almost set us apart from, if you do want to work inside an organization doing nine to five, and there's absolutely nothing wrong with that. There's a degree of consistency, sustainability, you know that you will get a Paycheque at the end of every single month. Remember it's setting yourself apart to making sure that you don't forget those little small bits. So if you worked in the outdoor industry for example, or if you worked in education before going to see, these are all nice little points that you can use to help make that career change.
Paul: Yeah, and be honest with yourself about what it is that you're looking for, and what you can do when you are coming ashore. But I think also on the whole nine to five thing, is that you could probably have more of that, more impact if you go... I'm a huge fan of P&I clubs, for example, I think the P&I clubs have a huge amount of sway in safety-related issues, and mental health stuff we've been talking about recently, all those areas, huge value. And an individual who goes and chooses to work in a P&I club because they are passionate about improving safety, that you're probably going to have more value, more impact working for the right company then you are doing me, and going off and doing the odd thing here and there and being paid for it. Right?
Paul: So you can actually, don't say, it's not by any means a cop-out.
Paul: Going for the nine to five.
Andrew: No, no. And it is, I mean P&I is fantastic, and it goes for the entire industry. If you are truly passionate about the commercial aspects of shipping, whether it's a brokerage, whether it's the SMP, new builds or the likes, there are those opportunities. So if you have that burning interest, that burning desire to understand more about segments of the industry, let's not forget that there is a huge plethora of opportunity out there. And I think there's a point also is, what are you passionate about? , Paul, you're extremely passionate about having that degree of flexibility, to be able to travel.
Paul: That's the primary thing for me.
Andrew: Yeah, I know it's the same with me when I started my businesses, where it's the opportunity to come down to Southampton and speak with a friend for a podcast, or travel up into Scotland and have a bit of time away, it's that opportunity that we're passionate about. And again, if you're passionate about any aspect of shipping, no matter how small or big it is, there is an opportunity out there for you.
Paul: Yeah, for sure.
Andrew: So on that, I think we might as well wrap up. We could go on and on and on and on for hours and hours, but we don't want to bore you guys too much. I'm sure you will be on the show again very shortly, so thank you very much, Paul, for joining us, and it's been a pleasure.
Paul: It's been a pleasure.
Andrew: And before we do leave, if there's only one piece of information that you would give for somebody to do today on board a ship, what would it be?
Paul: I think if somebody is genuinely thinking about moving ashore, I think that they should have a long, hard think about what it is that they're trying to achieve in that, rather than just trying to make up the money, or just trying to go for whatever it is. Think deeper than what it is you're trying to do and the why, and be honest about that. And then choose a business, choose a job which enables you to fulfil that why. That'd be my advice.
Andrew Cowderoy: Well, thank you very much, Paul. Once again, thank you for listening, watching from around the world. My name is Andrew Cowderoy.
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