Alex Cabañas never planned to join the family business but when he realized his outside experience could benefit Benchmark Hospitality International, he gave it a second thought.
If the company's financials are any indication, Mr. Cabañas' decision was the right one. The company grossed $19.1 million in 2012, and also landed on the 2013 HispanicBusiness 500 index, ranking No. 221. Burt Cabañas, his father, launched the Texas enterprise in 1980 after climbing the ranks of Miami's hospitality sector.
Both father and son also have appeared on HispanicBusiness' Top 50 Influentials list. Burt Cabañas made the list in 2007 as chairman and CEO of Benchmark Hospitality and Alex Cabañas made the list in 2011 as president of business development and finance.
The senior Cabañas grew up in Cojimar, Cuba, and came to the U.S. in 1959 as Fidel Castro began to take over Cuba. His first job was cleaning the swimming pool and deck at the Shelborne Hotel. Following a brief stint in the Marine Corps, he returned to the Shelborne Hotel as a lifeguard and beach boy.
"Providing service to our guests and setting the standards high gave me the desire to grow in the hospitality business," he said. "At the same time I started college, focusing on hotel and resort management."
Mr. Cabañas then got a hospitality management degree from Florida International University. He opened his first hotel as an assistant manager, and then joined the five-star Doral Resort and Golf Club in Miami for five years, spending the last two as director of operations.
"The good, the bad, and the unexplainable from my first 20 years in the industry gave me a vision of how a hospitality company can truly succeed," Burt Cabañas said. "Focus on the property owners' needs first above your own; hire and train employees with a heart for service and being the difference in everything they do; and lastly, stay current in operations with the most advanced technology."
Alex Cabañas went into financing and worked for Boston Consulting Group. With every intent of returning to the consulting group, he enrolled in Harvard Business School, where he began to explore strategic planning work for Benchmark Hospitality.
"Going further on to business school, which was the ultimate catalyst to identifying the opportunity to join Benchmark Hospitality, was one of the more significant shifts in my career path and base of skills," he said. "I would not be the same today without my educational background, and I would certainly encourage anyone looking to join a family business to seek out other experiences first."
Both Cabañases recognize the impact U.S. Hispanics are making in the business world, and the younger Cabañas points out that more attention is being paid to the Hispanic community's spending habits.
"Consumer companies are targeting Hispanics with clearer merchandising strategies," Alex Cabañas said. "While it may sound stereotypical, I believe the work ethics and relationship-driven approach of Hispanic and Latin Americans will be good for U.S. business."
According to Burt Cabañas, however, the Hispanic community is not being recognized as the multidimensional people they are and is being underestimated.
"Not all Hispanics are the same, not all countries have the same approach to business. We like our independence and not being painted with one broad brush stroke," he said. "Technology will facilitate learning for all who want to benefit from the Hispanic marketplace, which, in my opinion, is the key to international market growth and domestic consumption."
While it is common for Hispanic-owned businesses to be a family enterprise, it was understood that Alex Cabañas should gain other types of experience, including a college education before even considering a career at Benchmark.
"The sons should be more educated than the fathers," said the senior Cabañas. "They need their own personality, but should recognize the father's biggest asset to the son is the gut-level thinking that has helped make the company successful."
What's made Benchmark successful, according to Alex Cabañas, is his father's intuition.
"He is always asking great questions and making people think differently and not just go down the path of least resistance," he said of his father. "And it certainly keeps him at the top of his game, because his mind is always working."
As for Burt Cabañas, he appreciates his son's vision and approach in making Benchmark better.
"Alex is more intelligent than I am," he said. "He looks at our company's growth and relationship building in a more strategic way than I do. … The changes our industry is currently experiencing on a daily basis are better viewed through his eyes."
Alex Cabañas is credited with adding two new brands to the hospitality industry -- Personal Luxury Resorts & Hotels and Benchmark Resorts & Hotels. Through these additions, the company has grown to 39 properties from about 20 when he started, and Benchmark is projected to double again in the next five to 10 years.
"Perhaps the greatest virtue of working with my father and Benchmark is the unmatchable passion I have for serving others and for Benchmark," Alex Cabañas said. "I have watched it all my life and always wanted to serve others. The fact that I get to do so with my father is a bonus."