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When elected chairman of the University's Board of Trustees last spring, Carlos M. de la Cruz (J.D. '79) surprised his 65 fellow trustees with a gift--a book. Not a bestseller or one of the hot new guides to business leadership that one might expect from this highly successful Miami entrepreneur. Instead, the book, The Archipelago, is a compilation of short vignettes and poems about the Caribbean. The work is a personal favorite of the man, who as head of the Board of Trustees, will help guide the direction of the University in the 21st century. Why a book on the Caribbean? "When building a brand image you must first understand your roots," de la Cruz says. "For us, location is important. Miami is part of the Caribbean. We need to better understand what is in our own backyard. The diverse cultures and intellectual life comprise a rich tapestry that is unique to this part of the world."

Building brand identity is something that de la Cruz knows well as the chairman of Eagle Brands and the exclusive Anheuser-Busch wholesaler in Miami-Dade County. With an estimated $100 million in annual sales, de la Cruz knows what it takes to build a strong image-and why it's important, whether the product is beverages or higher education.

photoDe la Cruz believes a critical component of the University's "brand" is its international ties, especially to the Caribbean and Latin America, reflected in its multicultural student body representing all 50 states and 110 nations. Also a key factor is the tropical nature of the Miami locale, with its active lifestyle and plethora of activities ranging from South Beach nightlife to world-class sporting events.

Simply put, dynamic and diverse Miami is the ideal hometown for an institution that strives to be a major player in the global marketplace. Born in Havana, de la Cruz is a widely respected businessman who is among the Cuban elite who fled the island 30 years ago after Fidel Castro seized power. He is also an avid art collector, a community activist, and dedicated family man. When installed in April of 1999, he became the first Hispanic to chair the board of a major U.S. university.

De la Cruz's involvement in higher education goes back more than a decade when he joined the UM board. As chair, he succeeds Leonard Miller, founder of the Lennar Corporation, who served in the position for four years.

Miller says de la Cruz is the right man to lead the University into the next century. "Carlos was a particularly hard-working and dedicated trustee for more than a decade. He will provide the leadership needed to advance the University as one of the leading private research institutions in the U.S.," Miller says.

De la Cruz and his wife, Rosa, have been major financial supporters of the University. The couple's philanthropy funded the Carlos and Rosa de la Cruz Study Center and Carlos and Rosa de la Cruz Faculty Scholar in Leadership at the School of Business Administration. Passionate about art (the couple owns one of the top 200 private art collections in the world), the de la Cruzes also have donated works of art from their personal collection to the University.

The tradition of philanthropy in the de la Cruz family dates back generations. In 1926, his great-grandmother founded La Liga Contra el Cancer (the League Against Cancer) in Cuba. A chapter is active in Miami today. De la Cruz also has volunteered a great deal of time to philanthropic organizations, most notably, the United Way.

quote"Carlos and his family have been a wonderful example of charitable giving, with Carlos devoting much of his time to education and social services," says Harve A. Mogul, president and CEO of United Way of Miami-Dade. "He has left a lasting imprint on the United Way, helping us to implement new fundraising strategies to better appeal to a broader range of donors, which has resulted in significant increases."

De la Cruz chaired the Miami area United Way following one of the most difficult periods in the organization's history, when controversy rocked the national organization. De la Cruz's strategy was to reposition the United Way locally, reaching out to everyone from the agency's loyal donors to those who had never before contributed. And, he brought in star power. Fundraising events were staged by Gloria Estefan and held at the homes of Sylvester Stallone, Julio Iglesias, and Madonna. It was an instant success.

"We received hundreds of calls from people who just wanted to get in," de la Cruz says. "But, you could only go to Stallone's house, if you gave $10,000 or more."

Says United Way's Mogul: "We are a stronger, more responsive organization today because of Carlos' leadership."

Others in the Miami community also praise de la Cruz's leadership abilities. Says fellow University board member Carlos Saladrigas (B.B.A. '71), CEO of ADP Totalsource: "Besides his business acumen, I see a tremendously smart man of great wisdom. Because he is so widely respected, people often seek Carlos' advice and counsel on issues. When he gives you advice, you can be sure he's not shooting from the hip. He will take time to think the issue through to ensure he's examined it from every angle."

In addition to Eagle Brands and Anheuser-Busch, de la Cruz also is chairman of the Coca-Cola bottler in Puerto Rico and several South Florida automobile dealerships.

photoWhen his family left Cuba in 1960 to seek political asylum in the United States, de la Cruz, a sophomore at the University of Pennsylvania, realized there was going to be profound changes in Cuba.

He decided to continue his studies at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School, receiving a B.S. in 1962 and an M.B.A. in finance in 1963. After graduation, he took on various jobs--a security analyst, a mutual fund portfolio manager, and a partner in a bank. After working in Spain for several years, he and his family returned to Miami, where he enrolled at the University of Miami School of Law. He received his law degree in 1979, but has never practiced law.

"I had five kids, and in order to be a good lawyer you needed to put in the time, making very little money," he says. "But, I had a family to take care of, and I realized I could not really live off a clerk's salary."

To make ends meet, de la Cruz returned to what he did best: closing business deals. He's been perfecting that art ever since. But, his real love in life leans more toward the academic. When asked about his favorite pastime, de la Cruz says simply, "Reading."

Presenting The Archipelago to board colleagues represented more than just sharing a book. He was also sharing his vision for the University of Miami.

The co-editor of The Archipelago, UM English professor Robert Antoni writes in the introduction: "The history of that crescent of islands between Miami and Caracas seems to us archetypal and intimate, deeply expressive of human experience in all its spectrum of possibility."

For Carlos de la Cruz in his new leadership position at the University of Miami, the possibilities are endless.

 

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Overleaf photography by Donna Victor.
 

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