In a career filled with hit records, awards, television shows and multimillion- dollar businesses, Emilio Estefan knows the accomplishment of which he is most proud. “The biggest success in my career was that my mother and father lived next to my house,” the music producer and entrepreneur says. “I took them for ice cream every night. I wouldn’t change that for any money in the world.”
Family is paramount to Estefan, because after he left Cuba with his father at age 11, he spent formative years of his life separated from his mother, brother and other relatives. In his first-ever memoir, The Rhythm of Success: How an Immigrant Produced His Own American Dream, published last month by Celebra, Estefan recounts how that period of hardship became the crucible in which he formed the ambitious, driven personal character that enabled him to not just launch the career of his wife, Gloria Estefan, but also to virtually create Latin pop in the United States.
Estefan Enterprises has been such a longtime Miami juggernaut that it’s easy to think of its founder as mogulborn. But Estefan’s autobiography is the quintessential immigrant Horatio Alger story. He and his father lived off soup kitchens in Spain before finally arriving in Miami to live with relatives. He worked in the Bacardi mailroom, went to night school as a teenager and started the band that would become the Miami Sound Machine.
“Sometimes you have to confront life at an early age,” Estefan says. “I could be a bitter person, but I decided to convert everything negative in my life to positive. I learned from the loneliness and being poor.”
The Rhythm of Success doubles as a self-help guide for would-be entrepreneurs. While the chapter titles offer timeless words of wisdom such as “Take Responsibility” and “Do It Yourself,” Estefan personalizes these guiding principles with episodes from his own life, which are told without excessive sentiment or hubris—most of the time.
“To me this was a perfect time to do this book. In tough times, people need to reinvent themselves,” Estefan says. “To be successful you have to plan. With the Spanish market growing, people are looking for role models.”
Say what you will about Estefan’s outsized power in Latin entertainment: He is a model of a successful businessman. When he saw the recording industry heading south several years ago, he diversified into restaurants, TV and real estate. In the recent downturn, he has not laid off a single one of his 2,000 employees, he says. He predicts the imminent demise of all record labels, but is optimistic about the future of technology-based culture industries.
Rhythm covers everything from the rise of Castro to the rise of Shakira, from Gloria’s nearly fatal bus accident to the launch of the Latin Grammys. But it’s not a tell-all. The most revealing Estefan gets is to admit he has attention deficit disorder, which he considers an asset.
“I wanted to be an entrepreneur,” he says. “I always felt it was never enough to pay back to this country what it had given me. I want my kids to never go through what I went through.”