She was born on the Spanish island of Mallorca – the sixth of ten children. She first stood out because of her natural blonde hair – her family warmly referring to her as the ‘blonde sheep’ of the family. The fact that her family was quite poor did not diminish her rich imagination. From a very early age she dreamed of life outside of Spain. She would study foreign languages, imagining what life would be like in those countries.
She became smitten with the U.S when in 1987 she visited friends in Florida. She determined that it was time to follow her dream and moved to America where she enrolled in culinary school in Palm Beach. Having been trained as a chef, headed to Buffalo, New York to visit friends. Once there, she spent months helping one of those friends – a woman who was both pregnant and battling cancer. That friend connected her with a new restaurant owner in need of a chef – a role she readily accepted.
One day a customer asked to meet the chef to pass on his praise for the food – a man who would have a significant impact on her future. That customer was the Chairman of the Superior Group, a national workforce solutions company based in Western New York and a regular at the restaurant. Impressed with her drive and sales acumen, he took on the role of mentor as the two forged what would become a long-term relationship. With his guidance and mentoring, she developed plans to launch a business in South Florida.
On August 24, 1992, she went to her new office for the first time. It was that day that Hurricane Andrew hit Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. Having one’s office devastated by a hurricane on the first day would deter most people – but not this transplanted Spaniard. She wasn’t about to walk away – rather, she started to build her business knocking on door after door. Her company, Superior Design International Inc. (SDI) offered Managed Services Programs and Independent Contractor Compliance Programs.
Her big break came when IBM engaged SDI for a major initiative in South Florida. The success of that project led to SDI being added to the vendor selection process, opening the door for further opportunities with larger clients. Business began to skyrocket. She was determined to build a global business and adopted a philosophy of “Build Globally, but Think Locally”.
Currently SDI has business operations in the U.S., Argentina, Belgium, Canada, China, India, Slovakia, and the United Kingdom. They employ well over 2,000 people and have revenue in excess of $1.3 billion. Clients include, IBM, Office Depot, Motorola, Dell and Lenovo to name but a few. It is said to be the largest Latina-owned business in the country. The company’s success is obvious but not what makes a fearless brand. This company was built by a fearless brand – Carmen Castillo – whose vision, passion, talent and drive made SDI what it is today.
Fearless Brands are the heart and soul of the companies they build
Carmen Castillo is the epitome of a fearless brand – and also the American dream. She embraced her vision at an early age. She studied and refined her talents. She was not going to be easily derailed – actually she wouldn’t be derailed period. Importantly, she understands that a successful CEO needs to be a visionary – anticipating new technology and trends and capitalizing on them before your competition. Castillo also believes that the head of a company needs to be the head of sales.
SDI holds multiple diversity certifications – woman owned, minority owned. Castillo believes in taking advantage of that status in order to help create a more even playing field. However, she is determined that SDI will be a corporation which is known for quality services and customer satisfaction that happens to be minority owned. Her company, like herself, will be successful based on its merit.
Carmen Castillo is an avid supporter of business diversity. She does so by proactively seeking qualified diversity businesses to fill SDI’s needs whenever possible. She also provides mentoring to those companies – continuing the practice of her own mentor from her days as a chef. That relationship remains active to this day – each benefiting from the other’s wisdom, insights and knowledge.
As with each Friday’s Fearless Brand – there’s much to learn about building your own brand when looking at Carmen Castillo.
Embrace your dreams – Perhaps the single greatest aspect of every fearless brand is that they discover – and embrace – their why. They are driven to achieve their vision – remaining focused on that rather than the material gains.
Remain teachable – Castillo recognizes the power and value of having a mentor – or mentors. There’s nothing better than receiving the wisdom, insights and perspective of someone who’s ‘been there, done that’ – especially when they have a genuine interest in you and your vision.
Pass it on – Being a mentor can be even more beneficial than having a mentor. Passing on your guidance and best thinking certainly helps those on the receiving end – but the satisfaction you get from helping others is a benefit by itself.
You needn’t survive a hurricane in order to become a fearless brand as Carmen did. However, there will always be challenges, road blocks and deterrents on the way to building your brand. The key is how you handle those challenges. Stay in touch with your why, be open to learning, help others and you will be successful and achieve dream results.