"When I arrived in the U.S., I was 15 years old and had never seen a telephone, a television or heard English spoken," said Carmen Bermudez, a native of Costa Rica who used to climb trees to pick fruit as a way to stave off hunger.
Today, she is chairwoman and CEO of Mission Management and Trust Co., the first minority- and woman-owned trust company, based in Tucson, Ariz. Bermudez said she is "proud to give job opportunities to others."
Bermudez and others were recently honored for overcoming adversity to achieve entrepreneurial success at the 14th annual Avon Women of Enterprise Awards, co-sponsored by the U.S. Small Business Administration.
The women's stories, shared at a lavish luncheon at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, were inspirational.
After moving to the United States, Bermudez cleaned houses with her mother. It took her two years to save $54 to buy a typewriter. Then she landed a job as a secretary. Before starting her own company, she worked as a flight attendant for TWA, and as the treasurer and eventually the chairwoman of her husband's asset management company.
While Bermudez's firm manages money, winner Barbara Manzi manages metals.
"I plan to be the 'Oprah' of raw materials," said Manzi, president of Manzi Metals Inc., a Brooksville, Fla.-based distributor of raw materials for aerospace and other industries. Manzi Metals is believed to be the only metal distribution company operated by an African-American woman.
"When the Challenger (space shuttle) blew up, I thought, 'Whose material allowed this to happen?'" said Manzi, who started her company in 1993 in a spare room of her home. The business now generates $1.3 million in annual revenue.
Before opening her own restaurant on 40 acres of historic land in the Wasatch National Forest near Salt Lake City, Margo Suzan Provost had to cope with the aftermath of a traumatic childhood living as an orphan and then being adopted into an unstable family.
"I had to accept the fact that I had to save myself," said Provost. "I opened the restaurant because I wanted a place with solace and safety."
Provost achieved financial success working in the health care industry. Before opening the restaurant, she said she sold "both of my houses and all of my cars. I was in dire straits."
Today, Log Haven Restaurant has 46 employees and is considered one of Utah's 10 most popular restaurants.
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