Charles Patrick Garcia’s motto could easily be, “If at first you do succeed, try, try again.”
Mr. Garcia has never let a little professional success stop him from pursuing a whole new career. At 40, he has been an attorney, a writer, a Latin American intelligence analyst, an entrepreneur, an Air Force captain, and a White House Fellow.
His latest achievement? He heads one of the fastest-rising investment banking firms in the country. Mr. Garcia is chairman and CEO of Sterling Financial Investment Group, based in Boca Raton, Florida. Sterling is projected to generate more than $50 million in revenue this year, has 50 offices in 10 countries, and may soon rival industry giant Merrill Lynch as the top U.S. firm with Latin America interests.
Founded by Mr. Garcia in 1997 with just three employees, Sterling Financial was recently named Florida’s fastest-growing private firm by the University of Florida. While other firms on UF’s annual “Florida 100” list averaged 300 percent growth over a three-year period, Sterling averaged more than 3,000 percent, according to Arnold A. Heggestad, finance professor and director of the university’s Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation. Dr. Heggestad says Sterling has been consistently impressive.
“When somebody’s laid down the numbers they have,” says Dr. Heggestad, “it’s not just talk. It’s the old cliché: They walk the walk.”
Striding into Latin America is what Sterling does best. The firm offers traditional financial services, including an online site called myprivates.com that enables investors to buy into private companies. But its real edge is the Latin American market, of which Mr. Garcia seems to have an innate understanding. Born in Washington, D.C., and raised in Panama, he enjoyed a bicultural upbringing, and he knows that Latin American regions differ dramatically.
“In the United States, you have this perception that because Mexico is on the border, everyone looks like Mexico,” says Mr. Garcia. “You figure if they eat tacos in Mexico, then they eat tacos in Venezuela, Colombia, and Panama. Every country is so different – the culture, the people, the financial services industry, the education. So you have to custom-tailor your services and products to the particular market.”
Panamanian clients, for example, are interested primarily in online trading and mutual funds. In Chile, Sterling has helped families set up college funds. In Brazil, the focus is mergers and acquisitions.
In addition to its U.S. offices and locations in London, Athens, and Madrid, Sterling has branches in Argentina, Colombia, Ecuador, Brazil, Chile, and Panama. Mr. Garcia also hopes to open offices in Costa Rica and Mexico. Sterling’s expansion into those countries would make it the second-largest U.S. investment banking firm – after Merrill Lynch – with offices in Latin America, according to Sterling president Alexis Korybut.
Friends and peers describe Mr. Garcia as driven and disciplined.
“His greatest characteristic is perseverance,” says George Burden, a city commissioner in Daytona Beach, Florida, who served with him in the U.S. Air Force and remains a close friend. “He sets a goal and works tirelessly at it. I’m not aware of any goal he has set that he hasn’t achieved.”
A father of two, Mr. Garcia surfs, rides Harleys and horses, skydives, and has a black belt. He admits he loves to excel in many arenas.
“I was very goal-oriented from a young age,” he says. “I always liked having a lot of irons in the fire.”
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