2013 WOY Graphic

2013 Woman of the Year:
Carmen Castillo

April 5, 2013

Michael Caplinger - HispanicBusiness.com

Carmen Castillo has a new award to add to her collection: She just became the first female Hispanic CEO and owner of a billion-dollar company in the U.S. That, coupled with her many other achievements, clinched the vote among the editorial board of HispanicBusiness to select her as the 2013 Woman of the Year.

Ms. Castillo has received numerous awards during her career as the CEO of SDI International Corp. (SDI), a global business and workforce solutions company. Not that she is ever looking for the recognition. Ms. Castillo would prefer to have the attention elsewhere while she focuses on work.

"Of course I appreciate the honors, but I'm more into obtaining new contracts and providing customer service than getting awards," Ms. Castillo tells HispanicBusiness. "My clients expect 24/7 accessibility, and we provide that for them."

Carmen Castillo Carmen Castillo, founder and CEO of SDI.

SDI by the Numbers

That business plan works well for Ms. Castillo. Founded in 1992 in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., SDI was No. 4 on the 2012 HispanicBusiness 500 directory, with $980 million in revenues in 2011.

For 2012, the company is reporting revenues approaching $1.3 billion. With around 2,000 employees, that's an impressive average revenue per employee of $650,000. While the “average revenue per employee” figure isn't always an accurate barometer to measure a company's success, it is widely used as a metric of productivity. In comparison, the average revenue per employee in the service sector was just $129,666 per employee on the 2012 HispanicBusiness 500.

SDI started as an IT personnel staffing company, placing part-time and full-time employees in IT jobs around South Florida. The company soon expanded and started branching into other things, including managing suppliers for tech companies. SDI now helps clients manage suppliers regionally, nationally and worldwide.

Services SDI provides include procurement outsourcing, managed service programs (MSPs), independent contractor compliance programs and payroll.

Advantage and Opportunity

When Ms. Castillo came to the U.S. in 1990 from Spain, she discovered there were two ways to stay here: Marry a U.S. citizen or get a student visa.

She chose the latter.

She also chose the right time to come here. The tech boom was just getting started in the early '90s, and there was a huge need for tech-literate people. She just needed a way to get her foot in the door.

The door was propped open for Ms. Castillo by the South Florida chapter of the National Minority Supplier Development Council (NMSDC). With its help, she got SDI up and running and was able to procure contracts with Broward and Dade counties.

Her first big break, however, came when she scored a contract with IBM. That contract grew from a local one to a national one to a global one. SDI is now a core supplier for IBM.

SDI headquarters SDI headquarters in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

Much of the company's growth is in the U.S., but SDI is seeing a lot of overseas expansion as well. Its global clients include IBM and Motorola, all of which demand local attention. SDI is a core supplier to multiple American clients and follows them around the world to wherever they are.

"We have great clients," Ms. Castillo says. "They keep us very busy."

The company remains based in Fort Lauderdale, but has offices all over America as well as in such places as Canada, the U.K., Belgium, Slovakia, India, China and Argentina. Many of these offices are centers of excellence — hands-on locations where her clients get local support from team members. These centers provide procurement, human resources and strategic sourcing support based on industry and regional best practices, according to the company website.

Ms. Castillo is particularly excited about a new office opening in South Africa, where she sees a lot of opportunity for growth.

"Africa is the new Asia," she says. "It is virgin territory, the governments are welcoming, they need help, and there are reasonable prices for supplies." She sees SDI’s South Africa operation as the hub for future expansion throughout Africa. "It's the next frontier," she explains.

Surprisingly, Ms. Castillo had been SDI's sole sales person since the company’s founding. That has recently changed, however. Ms. Castillo has hired her first sales person, which she hopes will lead to more business with other Fortune 1000 companies.

Vision, Focus and Strategy

Life hasn't always been easy for Ms. Castillo. Born in Spain into a large family that struggled to get by during the authoritarian regime of dictator Francisco Franco, she vowed at age 6 to one day own her own company. Although she doesn't hold a college degree, she was determined to learn other languages and traveled to London at an early age to learn English and take business courses at Cambridge.

Carmen Castillo and Donna Ringel Carmen Castillo (right) with Executive Assistant
Donna Ringel.

Ms. Castillo believes the No. 1 reason that women want to start their own company is due to pay inequalities. "Women make less money than men while oftentimes working harder. I mean, why wouldn’t you want to start your own business?”

So what advice does she have for young Hispanic women looking to start out on their own?

"Being a woman is an advantage," Ms. Castillo says. "Especially a Hispanic woman in Florida! Being a woman actually opened a lot of doors for me, but you must know how to take advantage of your opportunities."

Her advice on how to maximize advantages is tried and true: "Have a vision, focus and good strategy," she says. “Don't give up. Be a good listener. And pick yourself up if you should falter, because no one can help you more than yourself."

Another key piece of advice involves who you hire. "Always hire people that are smarter than you," she says. "Even the receptionist needs to be the best of the best. Don't be insecure. Smart people will make you money."

And, she adds, "Be humble. Treat everyone like they are your best client."

Judging by the success of Superior Design International, these are important words to live by.

Research by HispanTelligence.

In the Elite Company of 2013 WOY Finalists

Source: HispanicBusiness.com (c) 2013. All rights reserved.

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