PLOVER, Wisc. — Women In Trucking (WIT) has named Rochelle Montes as its August member of the month. Montes is chief import operations officer for Terminal Transfer Inc. in Portland, Oregon, as well as a military wife and the mother of two boys.
Montes gained an interest in the logistics industry as a child in Yakutat, a commercial fishing community in southeastern Alaska that was accessible to the outside world only by boat or plane. Because of this, she said, her hometown was frequented mainly by fishermen and locals, and supplies were anxiously awaited by the community.
“You grow up to do one of a few things if you are lucky enough — work for the cannery, the K-12 school, logging, the local (Alaskan) native corporation and a few other limited opportunities,” she said, adding that the opportunities seemed slim and her mother wanted more for her at a young age.
After relocating to Oregon, a whole new world opened up to Montes, an Alaskan Native who says looking “different” was an obstacle but that she found comfort in being a tomboy, something that she feels was an advantage while pursuing her career in a “man’s industry.”
At the age of 17, while still attending high school, Montes began her first logistical job in distribution, where she learned the basics of inventory, discrepancies, shipping, receiving, dock doors and trucks. In 2000, she took an entry-level job at Terminal Transfer, the company to which she ultimately would circle back to years later and discover her lifetime career. Pushing paper, answering phones and checking in drivers were part of her daily tasks as an entry-level worker, and she soon took on additional responsibilities. After moving into the international side of transportation, working hand in hand with Customs and Border Protection (CBP) for inspections and compliance on ocean import cargo became Montes’ new-found passion.
Montes was recruited by Nike World Headquarters at the age of 21, and it was there she gained a lifetime of experience and appreciation for logistics. Working with nationwide distribution centers, routing guides, transportation providers and retailers provided an incredible insight on the true-behind-the scenes consumer products timeline, she said.
“Not only was it a privilege to be a part of the Nike culture and surrounded by top athletes of the world, but Nike also helped me to embrace my heritage and feminism in a way I never had before,” she said. “Something I had often felt ashamed of had now become some of my strongest attributes.”
In 2006, Montes had her first child, who was born with several medical complications and required multiple operations. This forced her to leave her dream job at Nike to be with her son during a trying time. Montes said she tried to “find her identity” and a new career path that would be in line with her new lifestyle as a mother of a child with special needs. She became a massage therapist, but struggled to connect with this new industry.
Then, Montes was asked to help her father get his trucking company established. Before she knew it, she was running a full trucking operation out of her home in Spokane, Washington, in charge of dispatching four over-the-road trucks, processing oversize permits, accounting, payroll, mileage, taxes —the works. Montes said she “couldn’t get enough,” and was quickly drawn back into trucking. Once she got her father’s operation rolling, he was ready to take over the reins.
Shortly after this, in 2011, Montes was contacted by Terminal Transfer. The company needed her to come back and help while one of the company’s owners was ill with breast cancer. Montes relocated her family back to Portland to take the job.
“Given this huge new array of knowledge from the many new perspectives I had the blessing to obtain, I brought a significant piece of the puzzle with me and quickly moved up the ladder (at Terminal Transfer),” she said.
Montes is now celebrating nine years back with the company and has been an officer since 2017.
“I am blessed to have found a company who embraces and celebrates women in the industry,” she said.
In addition, Montes has had the privilege of taking part in regular speaking engagements at the Columbia River Customs Brokers and Forwarders Association (CRCBFA), Agriculture Transportation Coalition (AgTC) and Western Cargo Conference (WESCCON) annual conferences.
“I have been blessed to help inspire other women, women of minority and women without college education, that you can make something of yourself in the trucking industry. You can be a success if you have the right drive, mindset and willingness to do what it takes to do what others won’t. Be willing to get out on a forklift, lump boxes, ride with drivers, get all the certifications you can,” Montes said.
“Soak up every piece, even if you don’t think it would be of value, do it anyway. Get dirty, because that willingness to be a team player and show your integrity may just stand out amongst people who aren’t willing,” she continued. “It is our duty as women to help bring up the next generation of women leaders, coach them, prepare them and most of all change the stigma that this is a man’s industry.”