By Roberto Hugo Gonzalez
As originally published by Texas Border Business newsprint Edition
Federico O. Castillo’s story is possibly one of our most extraordinary love/business stories of 2013. Texas Border Business is proud to share this inspiring story with our readers. It exemplifies a level of perseverance in business and teaches a simple way of survival during hard economic times.
Castillo is the President/CEO for South Texas Federal Credit Union (STFCU) a two branch financial institution in the Rio Grande Valley with main headquarters in McAllen, Texas. Before we go into Castillo’s featured story, it is important that you know that South Texas Federal Credit Union offers 24-hour convenience with a service they call CU@Home Internet Banking.
With this service, you’ll never wait in line again as this service enables you to turn your home or office PC into your own personal South Texas Federal Credit Union branch office. Of course it is up to you if you wish to visit in person, they will welcome you with open arms.
Castillo was raised in Merida Yucatan, in Mexico and attended different schools. He said, “I feel blessed because I had the opportunity to have a very good education.” He went to high school at the Centro Universitario Montejo from there he attended the oldest and first university founded in America; Universidad Real y Pontificia de Merida Yucatan now called Universidad Autónoma de Yucatan. “It was founded in 1611,” he told Texas Border Business. He studied Licenciatura and Contaduría y Administración that is the equivalent to the studies of a CPA in the U.S.
His upbringing was privileged; his parents educated him without regard to cost but always having in mind to leave him prepared for any type of situation. Later in life this proved to be the key factor for his survival.
When asked what brought him to the Rio Grande Valley? He said, “Love brought me to this place. That is the honest truth.” He continued, “When I was living in Merida I was happy to be there being so close to Cancun as well as very close to everyone I loved. But one day I found the most beautiful woman I had ever seen and I experienced a complete 180 degree change in my life because I fell in love with her.”
It was difficult for Castillo to describe but he remembers that something got a hold of him; something very strong drew him towards this woman who stole his heart at first sight. “She was so beautiful and still is,” he said.
At that time, Castillo somehow felt that this woman, who would be his future wife, was completely out of his league. Trying to find something to get this woman’s attention, and for an excuse to feel deserving of her, he remembered some of the teachings of his grandfather, Emilio Castillo Canto, first in his family to be an accountant.
Those were the teachings he needed to achieve his goal; be patient, and before starting a long-term relationship it was important to show yourself to the other person as you really are.
“In other words, he meant for me to be transparent and honest. When you are like that, other people will do the same with you; they will be honest and transparent too,” Castillo said.
So he followed his grandfather’s advice almost like a checklist and the rest is history. They both fell in love and were soon married. The only problem was, she was not used to the way of life in Mexico because she was from the United States and wanted to come back. “For me it didn’t matter,” Castillo said. “I just wanted to be with her and that is the reason that I am here.”
Little did he know that all the fine education he received in Mexico had a different meaning in the U.S. and that the barriers of the language and culture were going to play a big part in his climb for success.
“When I came to this country I needed to work and was not able to find a job; on top of that I didn’t speak the language,” Castillo said.
But after trying hard he finally landed a job as an income tax preparer, this was about ten years ago. “I was offered $5.50 an hour, which I accepted happily because I saw the opportunity.”
It is important to say that at that time he already had a degree from one of the best universities in Mexico, as a full-fledged Public Accountant in Mexico; but at this point and under these circumstances he knew he had to start all over again.
Castillo emphasized to a prospective employer, “I need to work.” The man was a little bit confused and did not understand Castillo’s urgency to find work. So once again Castillo said, “I need to work now!” He needed to be able to provide for his family. Once the business owner learned about Castillo’s experience, he immediately gave him the job.
The man opened a drawer, pulled out a bunch of flyers promoting tax preparation services, and told him, “Here you are, start giving away these flyers.”
Castillo gave away flyers outside the doors of the HEB store and he said, “I was very happy and made an arrangement with my new boss that I would work 80 hours a week without him having to pay the time and a half.”
Castillo told Texas Border Business that after that, every morning when he woke up he told himself that he needed to do more, “I said to myself, I didn’t come to this country to fail.”
For him, this was a critical time in his life; he needed to be successful in order to provide for his family first, and second to not return to Mexico defeated.
Today, he reflects on the day that he accepted the job, those flyers and the 80-hour a week job. “I wouldn’t be here if I had rejected that offer,” he said.
Under those circumstances, it would have been easy for him to return to Mexico. He had an education, his parents, and a well-off family would immediately embrace him. But the love of his wife and the refusal to accept a defeat made him stay here.
This was his first job in the Rio Grande Valley, and he knew that more opportunities lay ahead. From there on every move he has made has been for a better chance and always moving up professionally. The upbringing and advice from his parents have paid off; he was taught to be a hardworking individual, and to never give up. Like he says, “My parents didn’t produce a loser.”
Today he realizes that when he came to this country the second part of his education started. “People always say that language poses limitations, well I say no, the challenge is in your heart.”
What inspired you to be in this field of financial matters? “At the time I had no idea what a credit union was. However, when I started and the opportunity was given to me to learn other aspects aside from being an accountant. I learned how to be a teller and in my mind at the time; I was focused on being the best teller possible.”
After that he was moved to Service Representative at New Accounts and Loans, which he enjoyed very much as well.
As an accountant he is used to working with balances and statistics. This new assignment at the time gave him the opportunity to listen to people about their dreams, plans, and making this something he really enjoyed. “I felt that I was contributing by helping people achieve something in their lives.”
While in that position, he recalls that one day a man came to apply for a one thousand dollar loan. During the process Castillo listened to this man’s plans and dreams. The loan was to be used for a down payment to buy a truck. The member had plans to become a truck driver and build a business. At that time, the member told Castillo that he felt that no one had confidence in him.
Castillo felt that the man had a good plan and decided to approve the loan and the only comment he made to the member was, “Please don’t let me down.”
The member became a success, and later brought his brother to apply for a loan. When Castillo asked, “What’s your collateral?” His older member said, “I will sign for him”.
Castillo explained that he approved a new loan and the brother became successful as well. “Even though the amount of the loan was small, that’s all they needed to succeed,” Castillo said.
From teller to Member Services Representative, which was a promotion within the same credit union he worked for. This new assignment gave him more responsibility and more interaction with members.
“Because of my previous knowledge as an accountant and internal control processes I was able to contribute to improve some of the processes that the credit union had at the time. I came with a different vision, one of industry,” he said.
From there Castillo was promoted to work as a financial analyst, which was more in line to what he had studied. And with his new skills of member services and teller experience he was able to better project the financial information of his members.
“After that I became comptroller of that financial institution which increased my responsibilities because it required preparing a budget and making projections for the institution. That gave me a different vision specifically on how to run a financial institution,” he said.
Castillo witnessed and lived the hard economic times that started a few years ago, more specifically, the mortgage melt down that later became a credit crisis. During those hard times he remembered his grandfather’s advice, “If times are hard, you need to work harder.” So there he went, because of that advice, he started to work harder and earned the opportunity to work as Chief Operational Officer. According to Castillo to get to this position it took him about seven years.
Currently, as the President and CEO of South Texas Federal Credit Union, he is working towards acquiring new technologies in order to be up to date with the times.
As far as plans, he said that he has a vision for South Texas Federal Credit Union; to become the primary financial institution for the citizens of the Rio Grande Valley. “I see this financial institution will expand its services to be convenient and to be a strong supporter of this community.”
What Castillo enjoys the most about his job is the opportunity he has to be significant for other people, to help them reach their goals.
Castillo believes that what makes South Texas Federal Credit Union different is that they are a responsible and compassionate financial lender.
For him, the most important assets in his life are the people around him, and would like to be to be remembered as a person that gave love to others. Currently, he’s been happily married for 22 years to the same beautiful woman he met, Olivia Isabel Scheren del Castillo. They have a large family of five children ranging from 2 to 12 years – four daughters and one son.
“At the moment of truth, there are no cars, no expensive watches, no money, and the only thing you can take with you is the love that you give to others,” he finalized. TBB
Written by: – Roberto Hugo Gonzalez is the 2009 SBA Journalist of the Year Award Winner & The 2009 and 2012 Paul Harris Award recipient –
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