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Almeida finds success by following passion for the water

Apr 6, 2015
by Jake Martin

They call her the “Boatanista.” Lisa Almeida, ‘80, said that was never her goal, but today she is living the life of a successful entrepreneur as the co-owner of two Freedom Boat locations in St. Augustine and Jacksonville.

At any given time, she’s on a boat, about to be on a boat, taking someone out on a boat, or talking or thinking about boats.

“I’m loving every single second of it,” Almeida said. “I get to bring my passion and love of the water to people and families who would not have that opportunity.”

But she took the scenic route to the job of her dreams. It only happened after making the decision to leave a 25-year career with BellSouth — only her second job out of Flagler College.

Almeida climbed the ladder to become director of marketing for the entire nine-state region at BellSouth, but at 49, she started getting bored.

“I couldn’t leave,” Almeida said. “What was I going to do? Who would hire me? She had only five more years until full retirement and considered toughing it out.”

Then in 2006 she took a safari in Tanzania, Africa, and Almeida said in one village the people had basically nothing, but were perfectly happy.

“I literally had a breakdown, crying so hard I couldn’t breathe,” she said. “I realized that they had so little and they were so happy, and that the money wasn’t fulfilling.”

So when she returned she decided to make a career change. “Did you get malaria?” her boss asked her when she announced her resignation.

“It would have been the right thing to do to stay,” she said. “A lot of people thought I was crazy, but I walked away.”

She read books about finding passion, went to the library, searched the Internet and prayed. Born and raised in Florida, one of her passions throughout life has always been the water and boating. Her parents were competitive water skiers, performing at Cypress Gardens. She still has a 1962 water ski magazine with her mom in it, setting a skiing world record.

“They would put me in a carrier, tie me up under the bow of the boat and I would go with them,” Almeida said. “My mom said, ‘The engine would start, you would go to sleep, when it stopped, you would wake up.’”

Almeida has owned her own boat since she was 24. Even in her BellSouth days, she would drag her boat to whatever city she was going to.

In 2009, she learned about Freedom Boat Club, an alternative to boat ownership, and the largest, oldest boat club in the United States. They were opening a location in Jacksonville, Florida.
Almeida got the job and helped turn around the struggling business. In four months it had become profitable, and in two-and-a-half years, it had grown from four boats to 16 and added a second franchise in St. Augustine.

In 2011, she purchased the two franchises with partner Kevin Seelig, and in 2014 both were named “Freedom Boat Club Brand Champions” as model franchisees for the club that has 87 locations coast-to-coast with a combined fleet of over 800 boats.

Almeida has advice for young graduates and seasoned professionals alike: “Don’t make a decision about a job because it’s the right thing to do,” she said. “Follow your heart. Don’t listen to others. Listen to you.”

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