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THAT’S SOME DEBUT
August 24, 1992: If you lived in South Florida at the time, you remember it as the date Hurricane Andrew barreled in, wreaking havoc on anything in its path.
August 24, 1992 is also the date Carmen Castillo will never forget.
“That was my first day in business. I didn’t know what a hurricane was. I thought it would be like a little blowing wind, a little rain.”
Castillo had come to the U.S. from Spain to live out her American dream, to start her own business.
And then the Category 5 hurricane struck.
INDUSTRY: Global Supply Chain Management and Procurement
STARTED BUSINESS: August 24, 1992, but incorporated in early 1993
LATINO CONNECTION: Born in Spain, parents are from Spain
EDUCATION: Attended culinary school in Palm Beach County
DREAM JOB AS A KID: Become a business owner
BIGGEST GOAL YET: “I still want to continue growing my business. In the last couple of years, we were able to secure global agreements with Fortune 100 companies…So I want to get to that. I want to open in a couple more countries, including Australia…Once I get there, I just think I’ve done it all.”
Then, she wants to spend more time with her family.
“I miss my family [in Spain] more than ever. All that matters in life is family.”
THE VISION THING
The hurricane set her back, for sure. She couldn’t actually start operations of her company, SDI International, till the beginning of 1993. But that wasn’t going to stop her. Castillo was determined to own a business and be successful at it.
Castillo says, it starts with vision.
“One secret to be successful: Number 1, you have to have a vision. No question about it. But, number 2, you have to know how to sell that vision.”
BE READY TO DO IMPROV
And then you better be good at improvising, because that’s what you’re going to have to do in key meetings, according to Castillo.
And she clearly has a knack for it. Castillo says that combo of traits - vision, ability to sell and improv skills - is what separates those who succeed as business founders and those who don’t.
She should know. As the CEO and founder of SDI International, a global supply chain and procurement solutions provider, Castillo knows how to sell.
SELL, SELL, SELL
It’s a good thing she loves to sell, too. The company is one of the world’s largest global supply chain procurement providers.
Castillo believes it was inevitable – because she had a burning desire, even as a little girl, to be the boss.
“At six, I was already bossing everyone. All my siblings? I was selling them [what was worth] five cents for 25 cents and making them believe that was the bargain of the century.”
FINDING A WAY OUT
As the sixth child of 10 siblings, there were many opportunities for her to boss around her family members. Her family was very poor. When an American couple visited her family in Spain and later offered to host her for a visit to the U.S., she saw her way out of poverty. She returned the following year and got a student visa.
“I came with an empty carry-on suitcase. It wasn’t even large enough to check it. Totally empty and penniless.”
While she loved cooking and studied culinary arts for one year, the vision thing kicked in for her.
HER CALLING CARD
Castillo realized technology was her calling card. Not just for her, but for companies. She knew technology was going to transform the business world.
“I just knew that technology was here, and it was here to stay…And I knew that all Fortune 500 companies and all corporations, they would have to go through this transition of going from paper to computerized everything.”
She quickly realized companies would need many tech-savvy people, like programmers and engineers, to make the transition.
She would provide them staffing.
GOING GLOBAL – FROM THE START
Castillo also had another idea that made the difference for her: she resolved to be global - from the start.
With a $50,000 loan, she was on her way. Castillo quickly secured a contract with Dade County to secure engineers and programmers. Then, by getting her minority and woman-owned business certifications, she was able to get into IBM.
Securing those designations made a big difference. Companies needed supplier diversity; she was there to help them with that goal. Plus, she offered better prices and better solutions. That was the pitch.
It worked. But it wasn’t easy.
She comes across so confident, I asked her if she ever had doubts.
NOTHING + NOTHING = NOTHING TO LOSE
“Oh, I had many, many, many doubts. But, at the same time, you know what I always thought? It’s like, Carmen, you came here with nothing. And when you come from nothing, and you have nothing, you have nothing to lose.”
Sure, she made mistakes, like when she opened an office in London.
AN EXPENSIVE MISTAKE
“London was really, really pricey. I did it just to serve a few clients without really realizing how expensive the personnel are there.”
She says she lost a lot of money on that first office overseas, but it was a good learning experience. Castillo says she rebounded. And, now, the London office is doing well financially for the company.
While we hear about supply chain issues creating big problems for some industries, she says that has had minimal impact on her business because SDI International focuses on services and does very little work with respect to products. She says business still grew by 5% in 2020. For comparison, it usually grows by 20%-25%. The supply chain problems have overwhelmingly impacted those who sell products.
Now, nearly 30 years after her debut on the day Hurricane Andrew hit, Carmen Castillo is still making an impact. She says SDI International is the largest minority, woman-owned business in her industry, by far. The company has around 2,000 full-time workers. SDI International has at least 37 locations, but services about 100 countries.
“BE MY OWN BOSS”
Carmen Castillo says, as a little girl, she always felt a little different. “I just wanted to be my own boss. Follow my dreams and make at least one of my dreams come true. And that was my business.”
The “bossy” little girl turned “boss” calls it the “best decision ever.”
THE TIP JAR (Tips passed out courtesy of Carmen Castillo)
STARTING OUT: “If you don’t think you are born with what it takes to be successful, don’t do it. Take a job first, become a more mature individual and then you’ll be ready to take a high risk starting your business. Many of us start a business because we have no other choice, or we think we have a unique idea that will be successful.”
STEEPED IN SKILLS (mid-career): “Always hire the smarter individuals and empower them to make decisions. Those individuals need to be smarter than you or as smart as you think you are.”
STARTING OVER: “If you start all over after…” having run or “…sold a successful business, then go for something you always wanted to do. Make a dream come true.”
Castillo adds, “If you start all over because [you have] no other choice…” then, she thinks you’d be better off working for someone else. That, is unless you genuinely learned from “past bad experiences and now are ready to start with a new, fresh idea and mentality.”
I’LL NEVER DO THAT AGAIN: Castillo says she’ll never “work so many hours that there is hardly any time for family and friends.”
BEST ADVICE FROM “LA CASA”: “Siempre tienes que ser muy humilde y tratar a [todas] las personas [alrededor] con esa humildad, especialmente cuando tienes exito.”
TRANSLATION: “Always be humble and treat the people around you with humility, especially when you’re successful.”
NO NEED TO GO IT ALONE
HELP ON THE OUTSIDE...because we can all use a helping hand:
WOSB CERTIFICATION AND ELIGIBILITY WORKSHOP
Something I’ve consistently heard over the years from women I’ve interviewed: Getting federally certified as a WOSB (Woman-Owned Small Business) has been critical in helping them get opportunities that improved their prospects and, ultimately, their sales. Interested, but don’t know where to start? No problem. Attend this FREE U.S. SBA (Small Business Administration) workshop to learn more about certification, eligibility requirements and recent regulatory changes. The webinar will also address the EDWOSB (Economically Disadvantaged Woman-Owned Small Business) certification program. Learn more about the workshop here: https://www.sba.gov/events/1688020
U.S. SMALL BUSINESS ADMINISTRATION
Tuesday, October 12, 2021
11 A.M. – 12 P.M. EDT
WORKING ON THE INSIDE...because, let's face it, our culture has a hard time asking for help:
PROCESS IMPROVEMENT & WORKING SMARTER
If you’re like me, as much as I try, I’m not always great at working smarter vs. harder. So this FREE SBA webinar sounded really interesting because it tackles process. The class description says it will help with using “lean” thinking to business processes, no matter the business or industry. The 90-minute webinar centers on problem solving and will provide examples from different fields. The way I see it, if we can learn a better process for being more efficient in business, that might be useful in helping us in our personal lives. Here’s the link to register:
U.S. SMALL BUSINESS ADMINISTRATION
Wednesday, October 27, 2021
11 A.M. – 12:30 P.M. EDT
THE INSPIRATION BEHIND THIS ISSUE: It’s always a tricky balancing act “thinking big”, but also not “biting off more than you can chew” when starting a business. For Carmen Castillo, she knew from the get-go that her company had to be global. For her, that ended up being the difference.
Of course, it depends on your industry, but I wonder how many people would have the gumption to just go global from the beginning? Now, let’s be honest. Having the internet certainly makes that decision much easier nowadays, especially during the pandemic. But when she started back in ‘92, e-commerce wasn’t even part of the equation. But Castillo still knew that’s how things had to be.
I also think it was interesting that Castillo believes entrepreneurs just know it from the start that that’s the path they have to take. She believes you have “to be born with it” and that there is “no university, no education…no one can teach you how to run a business.” Clearly, that was the case for her. Do you agree with her?
I think Castillo’s gut instincts and ability to spot trends and capitalize on them early make her stand out. What also struck me is that she said she offered IBM and other companies not just better pricing, but “better solutions.” And that’s why she always got the contract (To this day, IBM is still her #1 client and the company has now made her a partner).
I remember a corporate HR executive once describing someone this way: “There goes a solution looking for a problem to solve.” That stayed with me. There’s definitely something to that. That solutions-focused approach may not be unique nowadays, but the fact that she was able to instinctively pick up on that at such a young age so many years ago, I find noteworthy. She just has a natural instinct for business. So, just like that Maybelline ad, “maybe she’s born with it.”