New Orleans Chapter Of WISTA Hosts Leadership-Focused Panel Discussion

The New Orleans chapter of Women’s International Shipping & Trading Association (WISTA) held its first Leaders in Maritime Panel June 19 at the Jones Walker Law Firm in New Orleans’ central business district. Three stalwarts of the Gulf Coast maritime community—Merritt Lane, president and CEO of Canal Barge Company; Turn Services President Mario Muñoz; and Cherrie Felder, vice president of Channel Shipyards and a WISTA member—offered their insights and advice on what it takes to be a leader in the maritime industry.

“I asked each of our speakers to discuss their experiences [and] the challenges they faced as technology, innovation, and rising customer expectations and regulatory requirements have changed the way we work and connect,” said Hannah Chotin Macgowan, corporate communications manager for Canal Barge Company and president of the New Orleans chapter of WISTA. “I also asked them what attributes they look for in future leaders.”

Lane focused on the qualities of a true leader, which he described as thoughtful, principled and authentic. Lane added that an effective leader will be an “ideal team player” who is humble, hungry and has people smarts. Offering a cautionary message, he warned that past success can become an obstacle to future success, adding that future leaders will have to be resilient and unstoppable.

Felder, as the only woman on the panel, offered invaluable insight for WISTA members gathered.

Sign up for Waterway Journal's weekly newsletter.Our weekly newsletter delivers the latest inland marine news straight to your inbox including breaking news, our exclusive columns and much more.

“I loved hearing that she has never experienced a time where she felt held back or denied opportunity based on her gender,” Macgowan said.

Felder said it simply never occurred to her that her being a woman should matter with regard to her professional ability or opportunities. She encouraged WISTA members to be enthusiastic, hardworking and conduct themselves in a way that demands respect. She also encouraged people to seek out peers who can serve as mentors and impart knowledge.

“This is great advice for us all to keep in mind as we grow in our careers,” Macgowan said. “How can we be that positive mentor or advisor for the next generation coming behind us?”

“It was an honor to join Merritt and Mario on the panel,” Felder said. “I always enjoy sharing my experiences in this wonderful industry, and I very much appreciated WISTA including me. When I started 40 years ago, I was the only woman in the room, so it is very exciting to speak to a room full of enthusiastic, talented women who are part of the future of the towboat and barge industry.”

Macgowan said a distinctive message Muñoz shared was the importance of servant leadership and the willingness to be honest about experience level and always willing to learn from subordinates. He also stressed that a leader should be able to communicate with diverse groups, from deckhands to executives.

“His experience starting as a green deckhand right out of college and moving up to become the president of Turn Services has granted him the opportunity to engage with all levels,” Macgowan said.

For more information about WISTA membership or future events, visit or contact Hannah Macgowan at