For many Black Americans, the thought of swimming or boating in an ocean conjures up fear. It has been argued that these trepidations are historic, pointing to slaves who often drowned while being transported by sea to America.
This genetic trauma some believe has led to Black reluctance in terms of being comfortable around water. By way of example, it has been reported that former pro basketball star, NBA team owner, and billionaire businessman Michael Jordan’s fear of water stems from a tragic incident during his early formative years when a childhood friend of his drowned.
There are the deep waters of the business world which many Black American’s struggle to conquer due to the racial wealth gap and historic inequities. As reported in Wired Magazine, a 2020 report by Crunchbase showed that Black and Latinx founders raised a paltry $2.3 billion representing just 2.6% of the total $87.3 billion in funding that has gone to all business founders by Q3 2020.
Enter Sheila Ruffin, a Hampton and Howard Law graduate, who was born near the Chesapeake Bay of Virginia's Eastern Shore, where her grandfather, “Big Rich,” was an avid boater. At age 6, she gained an early introduction to the travel industry and water pursuits from planning family vacations with her mother.
Over the years Ruffin developed a familiarity with yachting while working on St. Thomas, Virgin Islands on yacht marina construction, impacts from boating pollution, public beach access, and port congestion. She also earned a travel agent certification from the Travel Institute.
While Tourism Manager for a Caribbean carnival company, Sheila made history by coordinating the first U.S. group to participate in a Cuban carnival — an event featuring 120 represented countries and 90,000 attendees.
With a law degree from Howard University, Ruffin launched and became “The Boss” of Soca Caribbean Yacht Charters in 2019, a business which has allowed her to, as she puts it, “honor her grandfather while making waves and rocking the boat” in the yacht industry.
Said Ruffin in a recent interview with Great Books, Great Minds:
“Yachting is an industry that has traditionally overlooked people of color. This was one of my inspirations behind my decision to start a yacht vacation travel agency that primarily targets this demographic.”
Ruffin admits that being a Black woman makes her an anomaly in a traditionally “white male” dominated industry. Asked about her biggest entrepreneurial lesson in starting and sustaining a business, Ruffin had this to offer:
“You’ve got to become knowledgeable in your craft through conversations with industry leaders, involvement in associations, and through reading books.”
With respect to the latter, Ruffin says that the following three books were the most valuable in helping her set sail with her business:
Blue Ocean Strategy, Expanded Edition: How to Create Uncontested Market Space and Make the Competition Irrelevant by W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne
Says Ruffin: “This book teaches you not only how to differentiate yourself from your competitors but also how to make them irrelevant.”
You, Inc.: The Art of Selling Yourself by Harry Beckwith and Christine Clifford Beckwith
Says Ruffin: “You Inc. taught me how to use the authentic ‘me’ as a Black, woman, millennial to sell my vacation services — My personality, cultural background, my desire to want to have fun, my love of travel...anything and everything that’s uniquely me.”
Say Ruffin: “Purple Cow gave me the playbook on how to distinguish myself from the rest of the industry by daring to be different and creating a unique niche.”