By Claire Ford
Nobody had a job for Cuban entrepreneur Diego Veitia ’66 when he finished his bachelor’s degree in the 1960s, but he is now chairman of a Fortune 50 company.
Veitia is the founder and chairman of International Assets Holding, which climbed 91 spots on the Fortune 500 list from No. 140 in 2009 to No. 49 in 2010 — one spot ahead of PepsiCo. Revenue growth of 138 percent during a global economic downturn fueled the leap.
Veitia lived in his native Cuba until his mother, a professor on exchange with a U.S. university, moved the family to southeast Iowa. Not long afterward, Fidel Castro took control of Cuba in 1959.
Veitia finished high school in Iowa and then received his bachelor’s degree in international studies. However, finding a job in the early 1960s was difficult for the young college graduate.
“I had a strong degree, but I couldn’t get a job,” Veitia said. “I sent out a hundred resumes, and I think I got back one saying: good luck.”
Desperate as many students are today, Veitia reached out to his network and was introduced to a recruiter from Thunderbird.
“He told me I was just the type of student they were looking for because I wanted to do business abroad,” Veitia said.
When he graduated from Thunderbird in 1966, his fortunes began to change.
“I sent out the same resumes as I did before, only now with my time at Thunderbird on it,” he said. “This time I was too busy to handle all the inquiries from companies looking for someone like me.”
Veitia spent the next decade gaining experience in large international companies.
By the time he was 23 he was the sales manager for a corn and soybean processing company overseeing six countries in Latin America. He opened countries in Latin America for Tupperware and worked for Wurlitzer before he decided he had enough experience to take on some entrepreneurial ventures abroad.
“I wanted to start my own company,” Veitia said. “So I went to Costa Rica and started one with a friend who knew Costa Rica.”
Together they formed a company that shipped flowers and ornamental plants abroad. By happenstance, Veitia was contacted by an associate there to help develop the Costa Rican stock exchange.
“In 1974 I helped process the first transaction and became a member of the board,” he said.
Several ventures and companies later, he founded International Assets Advisory in 1981. About 10 years after that, he founded what is now International Assets Holding, a financial services company that deals with international investments and foreign markets and commodities.
“We are what an old British merchant banking company would have been like,” Veitia said. “We deal in a lot of different things. We work with institutions to facilitate trade abroad and in the United States.”
With a strong mission to participate in foreign exchange for emerging markets in South America, southern Africa and Southeast Asia, International Assets deals with a variety of commodities and trading all over the world.
Overall, the company trades international equities in more than 60 countries and facilitates trade in foreign markets. The company also advises clients in agricultural risk management in countries such as Brazil, Argentina, Australia and the United States.
“We went from a company of three people to around 800 people in 27 to 30 offices around the world,” said Veitia, who is the author of two books on investing, “Global Trends” and “The Best 50 Investments for the 21st Century.”
“My modus operandi has always been, if you are looking to start a venture in a foreign country, look for a foreign partner who knows that country, has roots there, and believes in the country,” he said. “That is what I have done and it has worked for me perfectly.”
His advice to graduates navigating the current economic downturn is to be patient and tenacious.
“You are an asset to international corporations,” he said. “Every year since I graduated, global organizations have had incredible growth – international work grows exponentially. Opportunities exist exactly where a Thunderbird graduate is looking.”