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Carmen Bermúdez: 1943—: Financial Services Executive Biography

Worked To Improve Herself, Treated With Suspicion, An Industry Pioneer

Carmen Bermúdez is one of the highest-ranking Latina executives in the American financial-services industry. As founder and chief executive officer of Mission Management & Trust Co. in Tucson, Arizona, Bermúdez is considered a pioneer in the asset management sector, for hers was the first such company in the country to be owned by a minority woman. What makes Bermúdez's success all the more impressive is her origins as a teen immigrant to the United States who had never even heard English spoken. What should have been her college years were spent working as a secretary. "One of the things that I want to be is an example to all of the minority people, men and women, so they don't let the fact that they're poor or have a lack of education mean that they can't do anything," she told Tucson Citizen writer Zack Thomas.

Bermúdez was born in 1943, in San Jose, Costa Rica. She was one of two brothers and a sister in a family abandoned by their father. Her mother did not have a high school education, and, to support her four children, sought work in rural areas. Bermúdez's early years were marked by poverty and hunger, and she and her siblings often fought each other for what little food was in their house in Guapiles, which had neither electricity nor indoor plumbing. Bermúdez later reflected in an article for the EntreWorld website that "the hunger and hardships of my youth were a blessing," She continued, "I was happy and didn't know we were poor because our life was no different from that of families around us." Bermúdez later spent four years as a bullfighter in Costa Rica and Mexico.

An admitted tomboy who disliked the way the women in her community were treated by husbands and brothers, Bermúdez liked to battle the other local boys in a contest they called "Tarzan." It involved diving from a rock into a shallow river, as well as climbing one tree and jumping into another tree without climbing back down. The contest even included riding calves at night, and Bermúdez held the "Tarzan" title for two years running. She also fearlessly teased the bulls that are traditionally kept on Costa Rican farms to guard livestock from mountain lions. This proved her mettle to both others and herself. As she told Palm Beach Post writer Amy Martinez. "The bull doesn't know if you're a man or a woman, and that's how it should be in corporate America."

At a Glance . . .

Born in 1943, in San Jose, Costa Rica; married Tom Feeney.

Career: Picked coffee beans in Costa Rica as a teen; cleaned houses in Los Angeles area; became secretary; worked for Trans World Airlines for 18 years as flight attendant, purser, and in-flight service manager; Marathon Asset Management, treasurer, then chairman, early 1990s; Mission Management & Trust Co., chairman and CEO, 1994–.

Awards: Athena Award, Arizona Chamber of Commerce, 1995; Women on the Move Corporate Award, Tucson YWCA, 1996; Supplier of the Year, Southwest region, National Minority Supplier Development Council, 1998; Avon Women of Enterprise Award, 2000; Leading Women Entrepreneurs of the World award, the STAR Group, 2000; appointed honorary Consul of Costa Rica to the United States by the president of Costa Rica.

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