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Leading Ladies of Transportation

Reprinted from The Florida Shipper - November 5, 2007

Team SDUSA: Michelle Danoff Merlin, President; Karen Webb, Sale & Purchase Broker; Melissa S. Lobree, Chartering Broker, S. Danoff USA Ltd.

The nomination letter could not be denied: Ana M. Castillo, 20-year administrative manager at SDUSA, wrote, "I would like to take the title of the edition you call 'Leading Ladies in Florida Transportation' literally with my recommendation of not one but three leading ladies who make up the ship brokerage team here at S. Danoff USA Ltd.

"All three women have succeeded in a business dominated by men and are respected, admired and sought after by clients worldwide, including clients from countries generally thought to be male chauvinistic! In fact, I believe we are the ONLY ship brokerage company worldwide that is entirely woman-owned and - operated."

Indeed, she said, SDUSA's team of talented brokers enjoys the support of the area's best vessel operators, including Crowley Liner Services, Seaboard Marine, Tropical Shipping, Antillean Marine, Bernuth Lines, Interocean Lines, Trinity Shipping and Hyde Shipping, to name a few.

"There is no doubt in my mind who the Leading Ladies in Florida Transportation are," Castillo said.

There is no doubt that European men and the Greeks have dominated the world of ship brokerage whether they are involved in the secretive search for a thrifty charter or the very competitive hunt for the right ship at the right price. And there is no doubt that the team at SDUSA is exceptional.

Michelle Danoff Merlin, president of S. Danoff USA Ltd., learned the ropes from her father, the late Stuart S. Danoff, who founded the company in Miami in 1979.

Merlin assumed the presidency of SDUSA Ltd. in 1992, after a long internship (as one of two women among 700 male delegates at a 1981 industry conference in Hamburg, Germany). Since then, she has followed her father's mantra: "We don't boast of success, nor do we sell a big image. What we do pride ourselves on is being respectable and ethical - things that seem to be becoming extinct in today's world."

S. Danoff USA Ltd. acts as an intermediary, representing ship charterers, owners and operators in transactions valued at many millions of dollars each year.

Merlin joined her father's company shortly after earning a master's degree in international economics from the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University in Washington, D.C., the same university from which she earlier had received a bachelor's degree in international studies.

Merlin recalls her first sale involved selling an Egyptian-Syrian-owned vessel to Venezuelans in 1982. Delivery could not be in Syria because she was then an unmarried woman and unable to travel unaccompanied in Syria.

She has been married for 24 years to attorney Robert J. Merlin, and they have three grown children. She is active in the Propeller Club, Johns Hopkins University Alumni Council and various arts organizations.

Karen Webb, the ship broker in the sale and purchase department, brought a marketing background in home and office equipment with her 19 years ago. Since then, she has specialized in buying and selling any type of oceangoing vessels including container ships and bulk vessels, tankers and 'tween deckers, tugboats and passenger ferries. Contracting of new ship construction is a key component of this department with orders placed in Europe and the Far East for tugs and container vessels. For her efforts, Webb has received a certificate of achievement from the Association of Ship Brokers & Agents (USA) Inc., New York.

Melissa S. Lobree joined the firm 18 years ago after graduating from the University of Miami with a marine affairs degree. She is a ship broker in the chartering department. Lobree received a certificate of achievement from the New York-based Association of Ship Brokers & Agents (USA) Inc., as did her colleague, Karen Webb. She then went on to complete the three-year accreditation course of the Institute of Chartered Shipbrokers, based in London, earning her M.I.C.S. degree.

Lobree is a member of the Institute of Chartered Shipbrokers, London. She has been married for nine years to H. Baird Lobree, and they have two children.

A former member of the University of Miami's student Propeller Club, she remains active in the Propeller Club, the Junior League of Miami and her children's schools.

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