A Family Legacy
Armando Codina is shaping and building his future with the encouragement of his daughter Ana
Rags to riches stories abound in the United States. That’s the dividend of having an American dream that says anyone can succeed with hard work, desire, and a little luck. But the riches to rags to riches stories are more rare. Armando Codina, executive chairman of Codina Partners, LLC, in Miami, experienced a similar path on his way to success.
What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Stronger
During the Cuban Revolution, many citizens came to the U.S. as exiles, at times leaving their families behind. The son of a successful politician, Codina knew nothing but privilege, even though his parents divorced when he was only a year old. As he describes it to Voices of Change reporter Thomas Z. Thornton: “I was kind of a wild kid who had no worries. I had motorcycles. I had horses … I never paid attention to anything other than having a great time.”
But his father’s work made him a political target, ultimately forcing him into exile to Miami. While Codina and his mother were left behind in Cuba, he visited his father in Miami, and at one point, his father returned to Cuba. But one Christmas, Codina remembers overhearing a conversation between his parents where his father declared that the country had made a great mistake supporting Fidel Castro, a Communist, and that his father would have to return to exile in Miami. His mother also chose to leave Cuba, so during the Pedro Pan exodus of unattended juveniles, she sent her 14-year-old son north. In 1961, Codina joined the almost 15,000 children who came with fake visa wavers to the U.S. He landed in New Jersey, initially at a camp, and was then transferred to an orphanage. In this interview with Latino Leaders publisher Jorge Ferraez, Codina shares how his mother took meticulous care outfitting her young son with two tailor-made suits of finely woven wool, and shirts embroidered with his initials. Even the tailor questioned her choice, but his mom was adamant. For his part, Codina was unfazed about the move, initially.
“My father had always talked of sending me to summer camp to the States to learn English, so I thought of it as an adventure,” he shares. “But when they transferred me to an orphanage, I was worried. I couldn’t speak English, but I knew what the word orfanato meant in Spanish. I was confused because I had a mother and a father and I knew they had not abandoned me.”
The first night there was not so easy. He heard the other children crying at night for their mothers. However, his conviction that he was not abandoned helped soften the blow. “I knew that my mother didn’t abandon me. She sent me there for a reason, and sooner or later, she would be reunited with me,” he says.
At the orphanage, however, the situation darkened. He met boys who didn’t welcome such a finely dressed young man. He admits that he faced ridicule and beatings, but he does not look back with bitterness. Instead, he describes his experience as character building, adding: “When I left there, I thought to myself, ‘I’m never going to let anybody abuse me again. I’ll hit them with a two-by-four if they try.’”
He would spend time with foster families before he was ultimately reunited with his father and mother in Miami. Once together, Codina immediately went to work to support himself and his mother, postponing a college education.
The industrious young man began as a bag boy at Winn Dixie, but quickly took a second job at a bank. This experience ignited his entrepreneurial spirit.
“From the time I started at the bank, I did well,” Codina remembers. “The bank owner, Frank W. Sherman, took a liking to me. I was only there a short amount of time when I saw an opportunity in automated services.”
He thought that doctors could benefit from automation, especially in accounts receivable. Inspired, he applied for a $60,000 grant from the Small Business Administration and launched his first businesses, Professional Automated Services, in 1970. He sold it in 1978.
Ready to try a new industry, he launched a mobile telephone company, a predecessor to cellular communications. From there, he moved into real estate, forming Codina Group in 1979. He soon learned that this industry felt just right.
“I didn’t know anything about computers or real estate,” he admits. “I started in real estate because I had helped doctors locate space with the computer processing company, and I liked it; it felt natural.”
In 2006 he merged with Florida East Coast Industries (FECI), a company whose properties he had always admired. Then in 2007, he sold the company stock for cash to Fortress Investment Group, one week before the financial crisis began. Cash rich at an opportune time, he opened Codina Partners in 2009.
He also hired his daughter, Ana Codina Barlick, the oldest of his four girls, as a partner.
She would become the company’s CEO.
Codina says his formative years made him stronger, and the experience made an imprint on his life. A natural entrepreneur, he was more committed to being a family man. In fact, he considers this commitment as one of his secrets to success. He loves working and family life and doesn’t get distracted by what he calls, “the beautiful people scene in Miami.”
As his commercial real estate business developed, he focused on areas closest to home so he could see his mother every day for lunch. As a result, he became the largest commercial developer in the state of Florida between 2004-06, with developments centered in Dade, Brower and Palm Beach. Codina and his daughter, who earned an MBA from MIT, also work counter to the typical developer model that opts for quick profits by building high-rise after high-rise. They prefer to build communities, beginning with the building but also including quality of life factors such as open space, transportation and education. Codina Barlick points to the Gables Grand Plaza condo complex completed in 1998. Built at the site of the former Coral Gables bus terminal, it features 195 luxury apartments, 35,000 square feet of retail space, and a 450-car parking garage.
“Many developers don’t want to invest years going through the governmental process and building the required infrastructure,” Codina Barlick shares. “We ask, ‘why would anyone move here?’ With residential developments, it’s about convenience and kids. Let’s not build on every acre and monetize it, because at the end of the day, you’re going to get it back.”
The pair also mentions a mixed-use project, currently underway in downtown Doral.
Imagined as a traditional live-work-play town square, it will sit on a 120-acre land parcel in Miami-Dade County, and include 2,800 residences, 100,000 square feet of retail space, and more than a million square feet of office space nearby.
The two admit that as a family-run business, they remain mindful of the responsibility and the need to leave a legacy. In the past, Codina could make riskier moves, but now, they look to the future
“Real estate in Miami is based on what opportunities present themselves, so it’s hard to have a long-term plan because you want to be flexible,” Codina Barlick explains. “We’ve always tried to have a platform that can respond to that. Visioning big deals and projects: that’s him. I’m CEO, he’s chairman. It’s his capital; it originates with him. We’re four sisters, nine grandchildren. Big projects have been successful but also very risky. When you have other family involved, you want to have something that’s safer and easier to understand. That’s what we’re trying to balance.”
Her father adds: “We’ve never given a property to a bank.”
Besides sharing a common goal, Codina considers working with his daughter part of his legacy to raise children with a good work ethic who will contribute to society.
“The last thing I would want to leave is a legacy of dysfunctional people with money; people without a fire in their belly.
“I look back, and I feel really bad for my father and mother, who died in exile,” he continues, “But my life could not have turned out better for me, and everything I have I owe to my mother, my wife, and this country. If I live a hundred years, I cannot repay what this country has done for me.”