September 1, 2014
An American Dream: A Latina-owned business

Photo: Eileen Escarda

La Florida

An American Dream: A Latina-owned business

The largest Latina-owned business in the nation is Carmen Castillo's SDI International.

Mike Vogel | 5/3/2013

The owner of the largest Latina-owned business in the country is a Spaniard who visited Florida and sensed a business opportunity.

Carmen Castillo is a triply rare CEO — female, Hispanic and expatriate Spaniard with a business that generates nearly $1 billion in revenue.

The sixth of 10 children born into a poor family on the Spanish island of Mallorca, Castillo came to Florida — to Ocean Ridge, a barrier island community in Palm Beach County — in 1987 as a tourist visiting friends. Smitten with the United States and seeing it as the place to fulfill her ambition of owning a business, she returned the following year on a student visa and went to culinary school in Palm Beach "while I figured out how to start my business."

While helping an ailing friend with a restaurant in upstate New York, she made a connection in the IT field and decided to start a company recruiting IT programmers for large corporations. She launched from her apartment in Pompano Beach. Later, she moved to an office park in suburban Fort Lauderdale and into supply chain management, vendor management, general procurement and finally into business process outsourcing, taking on entire non-core functions for her client companies.

Her company, SDI International — she's majority owner — now numbers nearly 2,000 employees globally, most based at client locations and working on a project basis for the likes of IBM, Dell, Lenovo, Office Depot and Motorola.

Hispanic Business magazine ranks SDI the largest Latina-owned business in the nation. "We are on the right track for sure. I'm not what I would like to be yet. I target high," she says.

She targeted the right industry. Tech research company Gartner forecasts business process outsourcing growth is improving, projecting 6.2% growth globally this year and seeing a 5.3% compound annual growth rate through 2016. Outsourcing is a "viable alternative" for non-core, back-office, high transaction services, Gartner reported in January. Canada, where Castillo says business has been particularly good, is forecast to see 9.4% growth, Gartner says.

Castillo travels as much as 60% of the time, calling on clients, visiting employees, opening offices. She has service centers around the United States and in Argentina, Europe and Asia and is nearly ready to open in Africa. "It takes forever to get going there," she says. "Every time you go to a new country, it's like starting a new business all over again."

Emphatic, always leaning forward as she talks, Castillo says a CEO must be "a total visionary to run a big company. Part of the vision for me is the head of the company has to be the head of sales."

Her visionary role also means thinking "totally totally ahead. What kind of technology is going to come up? And what's next before your competitors are thinking about it?" she says.

Tags: La Florida, Hispanics in Florida

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