Q&A with Michele Smith

Michele Smith has co-owned Tanbark Marine with her husband Kim for 30 years. They also manage Spencer’s Landing Marina in Shoal Bay. Smith, who has a degree in psychology from California State University, Fullerton, began working in finance and banking in her early 20s. She has lived on Lopez Island since 1990.

Weekly: Why did you choose this career path?

Michele Smith: Growing up in Laguna Beach in the 1960s and 70s was such an extraordinary experience. At the time, it was a small eclectic town celebrating a bohemian all-inclusive population. The free expression of so many lifestyles and a large art community definitely shaped me to embrace and respect diversity. After high school, I spent a year in college, then decided I wanted to travel before returning to finish my studies. A friend and I decided to work for a year and save our money toward that end. My first job was in a bank, and my interest in that field was sparked.

After a three-month trip traveling through 14 European countries, I returned to college and graduated with a degree in psychology. I then found myself working in a bank once again. Working as the merchant teller, I saw all the business owners in town. A particular woman, Julie, who was a CPA working in real estate development, saw something in me that she wanted to nurture. She offered me a job and taught me every aspect of bookkeeping and business management over the next several years. I stayed with real estate development firms, until 30 years ago entering the marine business. In between, I took five years off to stay at home while raising my daughter, which hands down is my greatest joy in life. I feel very fortunate to have had a career that has served me well and that I love.

Weekly: How is being a woman in business today different than it was in the late 70s/early 80s when you started your career?

MS: Looking back, I see there were definitely obstacles for women working outside the home. I was not consciously aware at the time, likely because I was young and didn’t see it. Today I am acutely aware of how much harder women have to work to prove their competency. It’s such a shame. I think it puts a lot of women on the defensive, which is unwarranted. I feel it within the industry I now work because it seems the marine world has traditionally been a male-dominated field.

Weekly: What wisdom do you wish you could impart to your younger self?

MS: I might say “slow down just a bit.” But I feel incredibly lucky to be able to say that overall I don’t have any regrets about how my career has evolved. I think my drive, focus, integrity and business acumen are just in my DNA!

Weekly: What do you find fulfilling about your job? What is the hardest part?

MS: I really enjoy managing and organizing the business and controlling the finances. My husband and I make a great team that has grown a very successful small business. We feel very fortunate to have met and worked with a terrific group of clients. I’m very fulfilled when our customers are happy and grateful for our services.

I would say the hardest part has been when things have gotten super busy all at once, and we need to get multiple boats finished to meet our client’s time frames. This creates longer stressful days. We always want to do the very best for everyone.

After 30-plus years living on Lopez and growing our small business with my husband in addition to managing a 110-slip marina, I feel content and proud of my accomplishments. I’ve taken my own advice and now make time to enjoy boating and frequent travels to Walla Walla. Joining us on these excursions are our three amazing rescue pitties. I highly recommend adopting a dog, if you can. It will change your life in the most positive way.

Weekly: Who are some women who have or continue to inspire you?

MS: The one woman who continues to inspire me is my daughter, without a doubt.