To attempt to summarize or categorize Kim Sweers is an exercise in frustration, if not outright futility.
No matter what you say, it’s bound to be reductive. Marine industry leader, mother, social media guru, philanthropist. Most people would be happy to achieve half of that, but when you’re talking about the one and only Boat Boss, that doesn’t even scratch the surface.
Sweers didn’t start her career in the marine industry; she came to it a bit by accident. Born and raised in Miami Beach, she earned a business degree from Florida International University® in Miami, and then eventually moved into the tech industry, building data networks for behemoths such as Sprint®. As the dot-com bubble burst around the turn of the century, she found herself looking for a new opportunity. In 1999, Sweers became an investor in a fledgling dealership, FastBoats.com®, now doing business as FB Marine Group, in Fort Lauderdale, where she immediately began applying what she learned in the corporate world.
“I built data networks all around the world for big conglomerates, and I loved it,” Sweers said. “Around 2000 I didn’t have anything to do so I started hanging around the dealership and making suggestions about things that I would improve. Corporate America affords you so much knowledge, and I brought everything to FB Marine Group. I’m a tech person, and it’s been a passion of mine to bring what I learned in that industry into the marine industry.”
In 2001, when FB Marine Group was doing about $3 million per year in total revenue, she became the managing partner and has since steadily strived to refine and improve the business in every facet.
“Now we do a 30-minute pre-maintenance inspection on every boat we work on,” she said. “So we can look after the best interests of the client, find safety issues and fix them. We’re not just addressing what the customer asked us to fix. We’re going above and beyond and trying to find things that might be a hazard.
“So basically, I brought processes and procedures, being proactive rather than reactive, over-communication, building a work family rather than just having employees, standardization of work, etc. We surpassed $32 million in sales last year, and for a small dealership we’re really proud of that. None of that would have happened without defining, measuring, standardization of work and treating our people like, you know, humans and not machines.”
However, success has not been easy and not always linear, Sweers said. During the Great Recession era of the mid-2000s, the downturn was severe and lingering in the marine industry, and FB Marine Group was not immune to its effects. In 2020 and 2021, the COVID-19 pandemic also presented a unique set of challenges, financially and operationally. Sweers considers such hardships as valuable learning experiences that make for a leaner, more efficient operation.
“It was tough for us personally, but it built character and taught us to be good stewards of our money,” she said of the hardships of 2008-10. “We learned the lessons well: Don’t bite off more than you can chew, live within your means and grow slowly. We came out of it more value focused as a business.
“A lot of businesses didn’t make it. But I guess it was just our pride; we didn’t want to stick it to the people who had stood by us – our partners, our vendors and our employees. We did the right thing. We stayed open, and perseverance and true grit got us through it.”
Today, FB Marine Group, which was founded by longtime offshore racer Randy Sweers, is a premier dealer of Contender and Statement Marine boats, and is a sales partner for Intrepid Powerboats, in addition to Mercury Marine® and a variety of other brands. It also deals in pre-owned boats and has a thriving yacht brokerage business. During the pandemic, Kim Sweers picked up the nickname of Boat Boss, and she has embraced it fully. She not only wears the moniker on her apparel, it’s also a common thread throughout her formidable social media presence. She has a whopping 310,000 followers on Instagram, almost 26,000 followers on LinkedIn, as well as a robust presence on YouTube and other platforms. Her Boat Boss® podcast on YouTube is popular and well known among industry insiders as well as recreational boaters.
She’s also the proud mother to 17-year-old Chase Sweers, who is an avid rower and honors student with college scholarship potential in both academics and athletics.
But things haven’t always been easy for Sweers from a personal standpoint, and almost a decade ago she was faced with a series of health challenges that might have broken a lesser individual.
“The signs were there,” Sweers said. “I’d had some pains and some issues. I was aware that things were not feeling right in my body. Finally, I went to the doctor and said I’m getting these certain feelings in my body so let’s look into this.
“They said yes, it does look like cancer and assigned a BI-RADS® score of 5.”
The Breast Imaging Reporting & Database System, or BI-RADS, scale ranks cases from Category 0 to Category 6, which indicates a biopsy-proven malignancy, according to Breastcancer.org®. A Category 5 is highly suggestive of cancer and calls for an immediate biopsy.
“It wasn’t really even on my breast; it was up really, really high,” she said. “I like to call it ‘chest cancer.’ They said they couldn’t really biopsy it because there’s a vein in close proximity and if we biopsy I’d probably bleed a lot, so let’s just watch it.
“I said you know what, the signs are there and I’m a firm believer in messages, so if we could let’s just remove it and then biopsy it.”
In February 2014, surgery was performed to remove the lump. One week later she was officially diagnosed with breast cancer.
“When you’re diagnosed with cancer you either become a victim or you become a fighter, so I became a fighter,” Sweers said. “It was only Stage 1 but with a high chance of recurrence, and I said then that if I got through this, I would devote the rest of my life to finding a cure for cancer, or at least facilitating it however I can, and lending my voice to the cause of early detection.”
Sweers went on to fend off that particular attack, but cancer wasn’t quite done with her as she’s since faced – and beaten – aggressive squamous cell skin cancer as well as adenomatous polyps on her colon.
“It was a long eight years,” she said. “But I’m free and clear of it and happy to say that I’ll live a long life. I just have to get checked religiously.”
And as you would expect, Sweers has followed through on her pledge to get involved and has served on the Foundation Board of the renowned Moffit Cancer Center in Tampa for five years.
She is also a board member for Junior Achievement® (JA) of South Florida, which is dedicated to “training the next generation of business leaders, employees and consumers by educating students about financial literacy, entrepreneurship and work readiness.” JA of South Florida serves some 70,000 K-12 students from diverse backgrounds in the region each year with programs and educational opportunities that can positively impact participants for life.
It was almost inevitable that Sweers would find a way to connect her passion for the marine industry with her commitment to helping young people via Junior Achievement.
“This was the brainchild of my friend Laurie Sallarulo, who is president and CEO of Junior Achievement of South Florida, and me,” Sweers said. “We started talking about how we could join Mercury, Junior Achievement and South Florida marine dealers together to create something big. I called Don DeMott and Robert Moore, my Mercury territory account managers, and they loved the idea.
“Laurie and I met with Don three years ago at Junior Achievement, and we showed him the space we had to offer and the outline of what we envisioned. He said, ‘I think this will work.’”
The idea evolved into the first-of-its-kind Marine Pre-Apprenticeship Program. JA participants 18 years of age or older can now take the Mercury Marine Service Technician (M-TEK) curriculum at the JA of South Florida facility. In addition to the M-TEK diploma, students earn certifications in forklift operation, CPR/AED/first aid and OSHA 10 workplace safety fundamentals as well as a Florida Boater Education Identification Card, giving them all of the basic prerequisites to begin a career as a porter/junior marine technician. The three-month program is free of charge, thanks to the Florida Department of Education (FLDOE), Broward County Commission, the Frederick A. DeLuca Foundation and other donors. From there, students can choose to enter an apprentice program, such as the FB Marine Group Apprenticeship Program, working for approved FLDOE employers in the area, including MarineMax®, Nautical Ventures and Intrepid Powerboats.
“The students also get a wealth of knowledge on dealerships and how they operate, financial management training, interview skills and overall business skills,” Sweers said. “We just graduated the first class of 19 people. Some of them decided to go on to college or into other fields, and some are employed at FB Marine Group and other dealerships.”
The program, which Sweers hopes to eventually pilot in other regions, will almost certainly address the critical shortage of qualified marine technicians, of course, but more importantly it provides kids – some of whom may not have had the best start in life – a clear and accessible path to a lucrative career. One of the apprentices Sweers mentioned was a young man we’ll call Alex, age 24. Formerly incarcerated for petty offenses, Alex had not been able to secure a good job due to his criminal record. After completing the Pre-Apprenticeship Program at JA of South Florida, he’s working at FB Marine Group every day doing things like fiberglass work, trailer repair or anything else that needs to be done around the dealership, and he’s well on his way to becoming a Mercury-certified outboard technician. In short, a young man with a challenging past is now marching steadily toward a stable and meaningful career in the marine industry, all because Sweers and the team at JA of South Florida had the vision and follow-through to make the Pre-Apprenticeship Program a reality.
“People ask me, ‘What do you want to be remembered for? What’s your legacy?’” Sweers said. “First, it’s for helping people prevent and survive cancer, and to eventually find a cure. And second, it’s my goal to break down the barriers of entry that prevent people from having a career in our industry.
“There’s a whole other demographic of people that isn’t being reached, and we need to get them into our industry. And if we train them, give them the tools and develop them, they’ll be our future.”
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