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Mercury dealer dares the world to try and stop her
Amanda Latham’s life strategy works because it’s simple.
She prepares meticulously for every endeavor, stays unwaveringly true to herself and stiff-arms all doubters. She doesn’t lie, cheat or steal and seems incapable of beating around a bush. She answers all questions – like it or not – with brutal honesty.
To say she is laser-focused seems somehow inadequate.
Latham, a month shy of 35, is the sole owner of Man O’ War Marine in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, a blossoming Mercury repower and service center she opened two years ago. Integral to the success and growth of Man O’ War is Latham’s relentless drive and Google-like knowledge of marine engines gleaned from 10 years of hands-on experience – not to mention being born and raised in the heart of the marine industry.
Latham and her team will soon complete Mercury Marine’s comprehensive V12 Verado Certified Dealer training program, a critical step in certifying Man O’ War as a high-horsepower, high-caliber Mercury dealership. That certification will enable the shop to fully support all Mercury 2.5hp to 600hp outboards, though Man O’ War will focus on engines 300hp and higher.
Despite her no-nonsense approach to business, Latham’s goals and hunger run deeper than cash.
“I want Man O’ War to be highly regarded for its integrity and its quality,” she said. “I grew up hearing that my parents were well-respected in the industry, and nobody talked badly about Bob and Kathy Latham. I guess I want to have that reputation, too.
“I also want to be known as somebody who has your back as long as you do right by them, but also somebody you don’t want to cross or disrespect.”
Her vision for Man O’ War is to place it at the physical center of several well-respected marine businesses that can provide a multitude of services.
“Right now, we have the shop and we’re expanding,” said Amanda, “and I’m building relationships with other contractors. For example, we currently have a 43-foot Midnight (center-console boat) in the shop with five 400Rs (Mercury Racing 400hp outboards) and there’s a guy painting the boat. I have no desire to get into painting. Instead, I’d like to make Man O’ War a one-stop shop. For the things we can’t do, we’ll bring in the best craftsmen that we can.”
Robert Moore, a Mercury technical account manager in South Florida who works frequently with Amanda, said her qualifications and motivation are impressive and rare.
“For Amanda, it’s not about the money,” said Moore. “This is her child, it’s got her name on it, and she wants to establish this all on her own. She’s super intelligent, she has street smarts, and she has a ton of common sense.
“I would never underestimate Amanda or put anything out of her grasp. She’s very cognizant of every step she takes and that people are looking at her, and she wants to build her reputation on hard work. She knows that she has to live up to the standard that her parents have put out there, and it’s a truly high standard.”
A Family Affair
Not surprisingly, Amanda said boats and engines are in her blood. Her parents, Bob and Kathy Latham, have owned and operated Latham Marine in Fort Lauderdale for more than four decades, and their business is renowned in Florida and beyond. Bob is a living legend in the marine industry for engineering and building ultra-reliable parts and components for boats of all applications, and Kathy helped build Latham Marine into a global leader through skillful management and effective marketing.
Their combined influences have shaped their daughter’s goals, decisions and actions.
“My mom and dad – my story pales in comparison to theirs,” she said. “They’ve worked very hard. I’ve been telling my mom for years that she needs a shadow writer so she can write a book about her life. My mom was the last of five children in her family, and they grew up very poor in North Miami – the last to get a TV, last to get a phone – yet she was the most successful of those five children.
“I like to say that she’s the right brain and my dad’s the left brain, and I call myself the corpus callosum – the tissue that connects the left and right sides of the human brain.”
Amanda said she constantly relies on the analytically driven talent she “inherited” from her father as well as the innate business sense handed down by her mother. But she points out that nothing in her life has arrived on a silver platter, and her path to the present was anything but a cakewalk. She has built every tangible element of her business and her life on her own, she said.
While Amanda wasn’t the first woman in America to open a marine dealership, that puts her in a club with few members. When “old timers” bark that running a marine shop is no job for a woman – and they do – she smiles and proves them wrong.
“Amanda doesn’t dwell on difficulties like that because once they see her abilities, they no longer doubt her,” said Kathy Latham. “She’s never doubted herself, and she has constantly shown that she is knowledgeable and strong.
“I’m not surprised that she’s doing well – she’s very determined and driven. We never pushed her. She just always worked hard. She’s also a quick learner with a great memory, and having a great memory is half the deal in this business.”
Though Amanda carries a good-sized chip on her shoulder, her mother respects the woman her daughter has become.
“She wants to be successful and own her own business – she doesn’t want to work for someone else,” said Kathy. “She’s making a living by doing what she knows. She wants her business to become a one-stop shopping experience – everything in one place – and I believe she’ll make it happen.”
Amanda doesn’t deny or regret the negative forces that have pushed her to climb so far so quickly.
“I do have a chip on my shoulder, and I’m proud of it,” she said. “If I didn’t have that chip on my shoulder I wouldn’t work as hard as I do, and it’s not necessarily something to be upset about. I have something to prove. I have a purpose. It’s the fuel for the fire.”
Searching for a Map that Didn’t Exist
Challenging life to a head-butting contest came naturally to Amanda.
“I was always that kid who said, ‘Let me do it. I don’t want help. I can do it.’ I played by myself, I entertained myself, I was always independent,” she said.
Following high school, Amanda bounced from one college to another in search of a strong education and a meaningful career. She studied at schools in Boston, Ireland and Florida, testing the waters in global business studies and entrepreneurship before embracing psychology. She graduated with honors and a degree in psychology from Lynn University in Boca Raton, Florida – just 19 miles from home.
While Amanda was pondering her next move, Bob and Kathy “suggested” it was time to get a job, then told her, “You’re coming to Latham Marine.”
At Latham in Fort Lauderdale, with her psychology degree in one hand and not much in the other, Amanda worked hard to “prove myself not only to my parents, but also to every single employee there because my parents were never going to bring in their kid to be the boss right off the bat,” she said. “I had to be treated like everyone else, but I was held to a more extreme standard than their employees were.
“So . . . there I am, a fresh college grad, and what does Mom have me do first? Pull weeds in front of the building. Humble beginnings,” she said, laughing.
After working in Latham Marine’s front office just long enough to get her “business legs,” Amanda requested to “work in the back with the guys (in assembly), because I wanted to see what my dad did every day,” she said. “Frankly, because my dad worked so hard my entire life, I really didn’t get to see him that much. I didn’t get to know who he really was until I started working with him.”
Amanda was employed at Latham Marine from 2010 to 2017, with duties stretching from assembling parts and building hydraulic hoses to manual lathing and participating in product designing. But among her most valued lessons learned, she said, was realizing that she and her father were cut from the same cloth.
“People like to say that I look like my mom, and they might think I’m going to act like my mom, but I’m really a lot more like my dad,” she said. “I have some extroverted tendencies like my mother, but my brain is like my father’s.”
However similar they might be, said Amanda, she and her father experienced a significant falling out in the spring of 2017 that resulted in what she calls a “sabbatical” from her family. The next few years proved rough for everyone, she said.
“We’re fine now, but, you know, family business is not for the weak,” said Amanda. “It is what it is, and family is family.
“Before 2017, everyone in the industry knew about Bob and Kathy Latham, but they didn’t know anything about me. I just kind of stayed in the shadows and in the background. One day at Latham, Brian Davis (with Seven Marine outboards) called up and said, ‘We have a steering issue with a Seven Marine boat in Naples, and we need somebody to go.’ It was Memorial Day weekend. I begged my dad to let me go, and Brian said, ‘Absolutely, send her.’ I pushed and pushed and pushed and my dad finally agreed.
“It turned out to be something simple; it was changing a solenoid, nothing major. So, we fix the problem, and the guy gets to use his boat during his family vacation, so he’s super happy.
“My dad has, like, this black-art talent,” she said, “so I was constantly trying to download his brain into mine. But at the same time, I was trying to update it.”
However, instead of becoming the next generation of Lathams at Latham Marine, Amanda accepted the position of service manager at Seven Marine, a then-young company in Germantown, Wisconsin, that designed and built high-horsepower outboards.
“So, I packed up 10 boxes and moved to Wisconsin,” said Amanda. But, the Florida native added, “I told them I’d stay (in Wisconsin) for one year, not a bit longer.”
So Long Surf, Hello Tundra
In Wisconsin, Amanda coordinated the company’s warranty and service requests and orchestrated domestic and international support for factory-based technicians. Greater responsibilities soon followed, including the critical transfer of product knowledge to the service department of a company that had purchased Seven Marine in 2017. She also helped strategize the selection of dealers to support Seven Marine products in the U.S. and abroad.
Then, true to her word, Amanda packed up and headed home to Florida in October 2018, exactly 366 days after arriving.
In June 2019, Amanda, who was then working with a partner, traveled by herself to Europe to repair 25 engines sold to European boat companies. The engines were failing and required updates, she said, but the technician working on them had left suddenly without providing details on what he had or had not accomplished.
Amanda dived in physically and mentally, working 10 straight weeks in the Netherlands, Italy, Sardinia and Croatia. When she put away her tools after the 25th engine, she had resolved every issue.
“I did a little detective work on the engines, then I trusted my instincts regarding what was needed, and it paid off,” she said. “By the time I’d finished all five stops, every (boat company) was satisfied. That was far from the situation when I arrived there.
“When I went to school in Boston and in Ireland, I had purposely put myself in positions where I had only myself to rely on, to literally see what I was made of. Thanks to those experiences, I had the confidence to go over to Europe by myself and get things fixed.”
Nothing Amanda accomplished during those two and a half months – or in the two and a half years since then – surprised Bob Latham.
“She’ll take on things most people won’t even considering doing,” said her father. “Most people need to be told what to do and how to do it. That’s not her.
“I think her greatest strength is having the determination to solve every problem, to stick with something until she figures it out – and she’s smart enough to do that.”
Seven Marine ceased manufacturing and selling marine engines in 2021, but Amanda’s success story in Europe changed what she knew about herself, and it changed the course of her career.
“It gave me the courage to really believe in myself and to know that I can do this myself, that I don’t need a partner,” she said.
As if proving her point, Amanda struck out on her own and launched Man O’ War Marine in January 2020.
“Waking up every day owning my own business, I have stress now, but it’s the stress that I wished for – not the stress from before when I was frustrated and not in control of my own destiny,” she said. “Now it’s the stress that I’ve always wanted, and I’m actually happier than I’ve ever been.
“It’s great now because I have my own company, and its name, Man O’ War, is a tribute to my father. (Bob Latham drove a powerboat named Man O’ War to a national racing championship in 1981). Now we work together, and maybe one day we’ll combine, or maybe we won’t. Either way it’s really made our relationship stronger – me having my own thing.”
Although it’s mostly hidden by her full-bore devotion to business, Amanda has a personal life that is seen by few but is equally important to her. Accomplishing her next life step, she said, will be her greatest achievement.
“It’s always been a dream of mine to have a family,” she said. “I’m turning 35 in May . . . but I believe God has a plan for me. I have to finish getting my business and life together and, after that happens, the right person will present themselves naturally.”
All in good time, she says.