From the recording studio to Broadway, the boardroom, restaurants, and now real estate, Emilio Estefan can’t stop creating hits.
From his home on Star Island, Emilio Estefan oversees an empire that includes music, Broadway shows, restaurants, and now real estate development.
Emilio Estefan is at heart a musician and music producer. But in addition to his ingenuity with rhythm and timing—or perhaps because of it—the guy also happens to oversee a global business empire. Even beyond Miami, Estefan Enterprises is a significant employer, with more than 3,000 people on its payroll (some of them have been with Estefan for 30 years). With ventures including real estate, retail branding deals, books, restaurants, and forays into movies and on Broadway, the company is bigger than ever.
But if you ask Estefan why—or how—he managed to amass such a complex assortment of holdings, he’ll provide a very simple (and, not incidentally, well-respected) financial philosophy. “I wanted to diversify,” he says. “In music, things change; they want different producers or different writers. I’m an immigrant; I didn’t want to go through tough times.”
Gloria and Emilio Estefan with their dalmatians at their beachfront home in 1991. Gloria had just recovered from a tour bus collision while on the road with Emilio’s mega-hit group Miami Sound Machine.
At age 61, Estefan—now a grandfather—has never been more prosperous. He participates in charities with artists like Rita Moreno, among others. A film he’s produced, A Change of Heart, featuring Aimee Teegarden, James Belushi, William Levy, and his wife, Gloria Estefan, comes out later this year. And after once declining to lend his life story to Broadway, Estefan is now working with the Nederlander Organization—responsible for an unending hit list, including Kinky Boots and Spiderman—to showcase his challenges and triumphs on stage, set to preview on Broadway in October of next year. The name of the show? On Your Feet!, of course, after wife Gloria’s mega-hit song. The production will feature a score drawn from many of the Estefans’ hits over the last four decades (“Get on Your Feet,” “Conga,” “Rhythm Is Gonna Get You”) as well as several original songs.
Estefan’s journey to the top has been a long one. “When we started in music, they wanted us to stick to the Latin market or change our names,” says Estefan. “I said, ‘I’m not changing anything.’ I knew there was a market for a fusion of Latin music. I called it ‘Miami Sound.’”
A rendering of Estefan’s new downtown building, which will also house his Bongos Cuban Café.
His namesake group, Miami Sound Machine (created in 1975 as the Miami Latin Boys)—as well as the crossover explosion he created with performers such as Ricky Martin and Shakira—is legendary. So is his role in convincing CBS to create the Latin Grammy Awards. But his prescience was developed on less glamorous ground.
Estefan left Cuba at age 15 and came to the US after living in Spain for a year, where he would play accordion in a restaurant in exchange for meals. In Miami, he went to school at night and by day worked at the Bacardi offices, a relationship he’s maintained with the beverage family to this day. All the while, he would play Cuban music after hours, first at company parties and Biscayne Boulevard restaurants.
The newly reopened Larios on the Beach.
When he began recording, he would fly to Sony Records in New York and wait in the lobby for a minute of the top executive’s time. Eventually he worked his way up to become the company’s president of artistic development worldwide, when Tommy Mottola was the chairman.
Today, Estefan has national branding partnerships with giants such as Target, Visa, and AT&T, and in the spring of next year will be producing, developing, and scoring the highly anticipated grand-opening gala of the luxury resort Baha Mar located in Nassau, The Bahamas. And he is devoting himself locally to a building downtown that will occupy an entire city block and house retail, residential, and office space, including his Bongos Cuban Café that he’ll move from AmericanAirlines Arena and rename Estefan Kitchen. It’s one of several restaurants in his portfolio, along with the newly reopened Larios on the Beach, serving specialties that have been in Estefan’s family for decades. Sources estimate his net worth to be over $500 million. “Some of the estimates I hear are true, and some are not,” says Estefan. “But my life is not about that. It’s about accomplishing things and inspiring people.”