Charles Patrick Garcia
Founder of Sterling Financial Investment Group
Charles Patrick Garcia has incredible energy. He is known to begin
his workday at 5am and stay on task until almost midnight, and his intensity
is certainly one of the keys to his success. His company, Sterling Financial
Investment Group, has grown 3,000 percent since it inception only three
years ago. While cries of recession inspired hiring freezes and e-commerce
companies collapsed like houses of cards, Garcia's company "trounced
In January 2001, the University of Florida identified Sterling Financial
as the fastest growing privately held firm in the State of Florida and
the fastest growing minority owned firm.
But personal success is not enough for Garcia, a former Air Force captain
who has always been imbued with a keen sense of volunteerism and a desire
to give back to others. When Garcia takes an objective look at the circumstances
of Hispanics in Florida, he sees a national emergency. Garcia devotes
20 percent of the time from his marathon workday, as well as sizeable
chunks of his own money, to focus on one compelling goal---to elevate
the status and economic power of Florida's Hispanic community on a statewide
"My main focus is helping the Hispanic community and I do that
in a variety of ways. We are the fastest growing minority owned firm
in the state---if we can do it, others can do it too. I think it's a
tragedy that 40 percent of Hispanics do not graduate from high school,"
Garcia says. "We have such a low percentage of students going on
to universities and such a low rate registered to vote. One of the big
problems is that there aren't enough Hispanic leaders in positions of
power in government. There are a lot of administrators that don't understand
the problems unique to Hispanics, and we get lost in the shuffle. These
are nationwide issues."
In April, Garcia began serving on the Federal Judicial Nominating Commission,
and on June 6, Governor Jeb Bush appointed Garcia to the Florida Board
of Education. Is his involvement in state politics the beginning of
a political career? Garcia says, "No," and claims to have
no political aspirations whatsoever. He says. "I'd much rather
be the guy in the background, who whispers into the king's ear."
Garcia feels that he is a more effective force as a private citizen
than he would be in political office. "People don't question what
your motives are. I did my stint in Washington. The board of education
position is unpaid. I'm taking valuable time away from my work and I
take that very seriously. I prefer to go in and tell it the way it is."
plans to tell it the way it is while working in three separate, but
interconnected arenas---education, government and business---and he
calls the 40 percent Hispanic high school drop-out rate a "national
tragedy and a disgrace." He hopes to encourage Hispanics to pursue
higher education, and wants to see more Hispanic leaders in positions
of power in government. He also volunteers his time to unify Hispanic
businesses, helping to create a state level Hispanic Chamber of Commerce,
and serving as the chairman of the fundraising committee.
Calling it one of the most historic events of his tenure, this spring
Florida Governor Jeb Bush created a "superboard", a new 7-member
Florida Board of Education (FBE). The FBE eliminates the Board of Regents
of the state's universities and a host of other education boards, and
abolishes the state's voluminous and outdated education code. The FBE
aims to remove barriers as students move from one phase of education
to the next, making schools and colleges more efficient. The FBE will
completely recreate the education code, and administer nearly half of
the state's annual operating budget of $44 billion. A radical and controversial
step, the new superboard is likely to be challenged by Democrats hoping
to reinstate the Board of Regents.
Garcia will serve on the FBE as its only Hispanic member. "I've
been devoted to education for a long time," Garcia said. "If
we don't educate our children, we won't have qualified Hispanics to
serve as judges or U.S. attorneys. A nation is judged by the quality
of the citizens it produces, and I hope to make a significant contribution
to this country by helping to improve the quality of education for all
Florida students regardless of race, color, or creed. Hopefully this
program will be used by other states as a new educational model,"
exponential growth of Sterling Financial is due largely to Garcia's
habit of keeping an ear to the ground and being not only intensely attentive,
but also willing to meet the very specific needs of diverse markets.
He plans to employ a similar strategy on the education superboard. "We
will meet in July to set the agenda for six months," he says. "Right
now I am more process oriented. I want to make sure the process is good
and that we will solicit advice and counsel from all the parties we
should listen to, so we can put together a product that is impressive
and that works. I have a lot of ideas but the other members are a diverse
group with their own ideas. As the only Hispanic on the board, I will
build an understanding of what's important to Hispanics so I can take
that with me. I will keep the issues close at heart and make certain
Hispanics are represented."
Garcia is concerned about meeting the needs of Florida's large Spanish
speaking population. "Forty percent of our yearly growth comes
from immigrants," he says. "It's harder to teach them when
they have to learn the language. We don't even do an adequate job of
teaching our regular students to read, much less our students that don't
know how to speak the language. We need very specific training to reduce
the drop-out rate from 40 percent back down to the norm."
The busiest district court in the country is in South Florida, which
prosecutes more cases than any other district. In his work as a member
of the Federal Judicial Nominating Committee, Garcia helps screen candidates
for federal judgeships and the position of U.S. Attorney for the Southern
District of Florida, an arena where Hispanics are alarmingly underrepresented.
"The majority of those being prosecuted are Hispanics," Garcia
says. "There are civil cases, drug cases, race and civil rights
issues, maritime issues---the majority of the issues are effecting the
Hispanic community. I was asked to serve as a force on the panel to
get more Hispanics serving as attorneys and judges. This will have an
impact on attorneys that will be there for life. We need Hispanic representation."
Garcia also serves as chairman of the fundraising committee for the
Florida Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. "It's difficult to start
a state chamber because you are competing with the memberships of county
chambers," he says. "But we are up to 9,000 members."
Governor Jeb Bush will be the keynote speaker at the Chamber's first
inaugural ball in August.
Garcia has worked as an attorney, a writer, a Latin American intelligence
analyst, an Air Force captain, and a White House Fellow, before becoming
an entrepreneur in finance. His approach to managing his business is
as fascinating as his background. He says, "Hire smart people,
let them do their jobs, have a clear focus, and communication and feedback
are extremely important."
The practice of hiring smart people has paid off. "Last quarter
when the market was down, if you had followed our recommendations, your
portfolio would have been up nearly 40 percent," Garcia says. We've
been very good at making general market calls. We have done 30 billion
dollars in transactions in the last twelve months and many of our clients
are all blue chip firms. We are establishing a really good reputation
as a boutique research house."
the markets were declining, we took an even closer look at the fundamentals
as well as general market conditions. Using our proprietary research
methodologies we recommended shorting 18 companies we have been watching
closely," says Robert Wasserman, a research and business analyst
for 17-years who is Director of Sterling Research. "Clients who
followed our recommendations not only saved money but made money in
a very volatile market," says Wasserman who was named by the Wall
Street Journal last July as the best healthcare analyst in the country..
Garcia is particularly excited about his company's role in funding
a new digital optical medical technology that provides 97 percent precision
in detection of breast cancer. The test only takes five minutes, is
painless, and the information can be easily stored on a CD. The machines
are already being used in Europe and FDA approval is pending in the
U.S. "We like to raise money for companies like that---companies
that do good things for people. I'm having a lot of fun," he says.Sterling
Financial has a worldwide network of more than 400 investment professionals
operating out of 54 offices in 10 countries. To keep communication and
feedback moving like clockwork, Garcia utilizes a "global relationship
team," an internal audit team that works right next to his own
office. "I require a daily report from all my managers," he
explains. "The team calls every broker and every manager every
day and asks two questions---did we do anything wrong today; and, is
there any product out there that we could get for your clients to make
them, and you, happier? The answers to these questions become a report
that Garcia reads religiously every day to keep apprised of the pulse
of the entire firm.
Any problems that occur are dealt with immediately. "If something
is wrong the staff has 24 hours to fix the problem. If the problem is
unsolved after 24 hours, it goes on a watch list. It must be fixed in
seven days or someone could lose their job," Garcia says.
Garcia believes that his company's growth curve has been so dramatic
partly because an ability to resolve problems quickly makes people want
to join the firm. "I have a huge sign above my door that says,
'Don't bring me problems; bring me solutions.' I surround myself with
people who are positive and who can solve problems."
Sterling has overseas offices in London, Madrid, Athens, Panama City,
Santiago, Bogota, Cali, Quito, Quayaquil, San Paolo and San Jose.
attributes the growth of his overseas operations to his ability to understand
the diverse services that different cultures require. "When Merrill
Lynch goes into a country, they say 'Here we are; we are Merrill Lynch,
and we do things the way we've always done them,'" Garcia explains.
"However, we find local shareholders who build the office with
us, and we find local people respected in the industry. They determine
what products and services are best for that particular market. What
works in Mexico doesn't work in Chile. In Chile, they don't know what
a taco or a burrito is."
A recent book, "Now Discover Your Strengths," by Buckingham
and Clifton, is a favorite of Garcia's. "Basically, our company
has intuitively already done what this book recommends," he says.
Garcia advises that instead of working harder on an individual's weakest
areas of ability to reach an average level of performance, people should
focus on their strongest areas of ability and increase those by 20 percent.
"Get yourself to superstar level," Garcia says. "We decided
to manage the company based on people's strengths. We divided the revenue
streams and the responsibilities among the people most qualified to
Jeff Mustard, Sterling's director of communications, has worked with
Garcia at Sterling Financial from its beginning. Mustard says, "Charlie
has a clear vision of what he wants to get done, but he relies on people
around him. He has a strong military background and the structure of
the office reflects that. For instance, his assistant has the title
"Chief of Staff." He believes he can't know everything and
he can't be in all places in all times. He runs his shop in a military
manner. Everything is designed for efficiency."
"This is almost going to sound silly," Mustard says, "But
Charlie is a good guy with lots of integrity who means well, works hard,
is honest and tries to do the right thing. Those are very real adjectives
that apply to a real person. A lot of people might say that's what they
are and strive to be that way, but Charlie actually does those things
every day. Plus, he's likeable, easy going, and down to earth. I've
known him four years now and I've never seen him raise his voice, ever."
1988, President Ronald Reagan selected Garcia to serve as one of fourteen
White House Fellows, a prestigious program in which approximately one
dozen professionals are selected from more than two thousand applicants
from around the country. As a White House Fellow, Garcia, who has a
master's degree in public administration, worked for former Goldman
Sachs Chairman John C. Whitehead at the U.S. State Department, focusing
on international narcotics policy.
Garcia also served in President George Bush's administration for former
Secretary of Education and "Drug Czar" William J. Bennett,
where he helped draft the nation's first National Drug Control Strategy
with a budget of over $6 billion distributed to 23 federal agencies.
He also helped Bennett edit two books about improving the nation's schools.
A graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy, Garcia became the 4th highest
ranking officer among 4,400 cadets. He was elected to serve as chairman
of the Cadet Honor Committee and was awarded the "Class of 1983
Honor and Ethics Trophy," an honor bestowed to the graduating senior
who "most personifies the ideals of personal integrity."
General John R. Galvin, the Commander of the U.S. Southern Command
in the Republic of Panama, who later became NATO Supreme Allied Commander,
chose Garcia as one of his key advisors on guerilla warfare and insurgent
movements in Latin America. Garcia earned the Defense Meritorious Service
Medal, the highest peacetime award given to a member of the U.S. Armed
Forces. After his government service, Garcia attended Columbia Law School.
advice does Garcia have for other Hispanics? "The most important
thing I've realized is that success is finding your calling in life
regardless of financial gain. To be happy you have to follow your passion.
Too many times people don't follow their dreams---they become doctors
or lawyers because other people want them to. Find out what makes you
tick, and then do what really makes you happy. Also, we need to do more
to help each other. I believe that you have to give back to the community
and I've always done that."
© Summer 2001 Hispanic Today (www.hispanic-today.com)
Reprinted with permission.