Posted on Friday, December 9, 2013 / By Martha Brannigan
For the past two years, Bernie Navarro has been the face of the powerful Latin Builders Association, the largest Hispanic construction and real estate association in the nation.
When he finished his term as LBA president in November, Navarro joked, “Now I can pay attention to my business.” Yet he remains heavily involved with the influential trade group. Among other things, he chairs the foundation overseeing its charter school, the LBA Construction and Business Management Academy, which opened in Hialeah in 2012.
In his day job, he is president of Benworth Capital Partners LLC, a real estate investment and finance firm based in Coral Gables. He launched the business in 2008 with a focus on residential and commercial mortgage lending. The company, which has 10 employees, makes short-term mortgages at an average rate of 12 percent — far above the market rate for mortgages — but it is able to make quick decisions and extend credit to clients who might be turned away by traditional lenders.
The 40-year-old Miami native was born to Cuban immigrant parents, whom he says made sacrifices so he could have a better life.
Hard-driven with an inquisitive mind, Navarro says he is a fishing enthusiast, but “I never get to go fishing.” He has more than a passing interest in politics and is well connected in Miami’s business community.
Navarro agreed to sit down for an interview with Business Monday and then responded by email to some questions.
Q: What prompted the LBA to pursue the charter school project, and how are things going now?
The LBA established this charter school as way to give back to this community which has been so generous to its members. Our generation has an enormous responsibility to honor the legacy passed along to us by our parents and our grandparents. The school brings the legacy to life by educating the future professionals of our industry, who will also be the leaders of our community.
Some will argue that giving out tax incentives to lure companies to our city may be an important strategy for the prosperity of our community. However, we feel the real economic development of Miami-Dade County is training the next generation of leaders.
Our value proposition is quite impressive. That is, our students understand that they have various options when they graduate. They are prepared to continue education at the college level, start a business, or start working for one of our member companies in well-paying jobs. Or for the ambitious, pursue two of the three prior options at the same time.
From the first day this idea was introduced, our 40-person board of directors and 750 member companies have been enthusiastic about the possibilities, and their involvement reflects this energy.
The members of the LBA board of directors serve as mentors, and our member companies provide internships. We hold many of the association’s business meetings in the school cafeteria with students participating.
What’s exciting to observe is how they keenly observe like hawks. They are taking it all in as they gain valuable insight on how to interact with business people. Without realizing, they are developing self-confidence as they are exposed to issues and ideas which otherwise would have taken them many years in their career to be exposed to. Students who attend the academy are eager to learn. In our first year of operation, we earned an “A,” demonstrating that with the proper infrastructure great things in education can be achieved.
Q: What are your goals for the school going forward?
In the spring of 2016, we’ll see our first graduating class. This is our priority. It creates a whole new meaning to seeing the vision becoming reality. The immediate goal is to start a capital campaign to develop our own campus. We are currently in an incubator setting provided by Miami-Dade Public Schools. The campus we envision will also house the association.
After that, we would like to have a second campus in the southern part of Miami-Dade. With each passing semester, the vision evolves — and becomes real. The impact we are having is mind-boggling.
Q: People must ask you all the time how Miami’s real estate market is doing. What do you think?
The real estate market is very hot right now. That comment is usually followed up by a second question: “Are we in a bubble again?” I reply, “No.” Miami is experiencing what we have been hearing about for a long time. It is the confluence of many factors finally coming together at the same time — Art Basel, immigration, entrepreneurial spirit, weather, a melting pot of ideas, a financial Mecca, direct flights to the Far East and Middle East, and so many other exciting things happening right around us.
What is more interesting is that our final chapter has not been written. We are still a young city. The eMerge Americas conference being planned for May 2014 by Manny Medina and his team is taking place just at the right time. This will be transformative for our community. This mesh of leadership, ideas and vision promises to be a game changer. The impact to our community has an unimaginable multiplier effect. Technology will propel this community to new heights. Simply said, we have earned our status as the capital of the Americas. This will continue to drive up the value of our real estate.
Q: What is Benworth Capital’s market niche, and how is it doing?
We are a bridge lender, and we are a little untraditional in that we do not target one specific market niche. Our services appeal to a wide range of target audiences. For example, investors, first-time homeowners and international buyers. We fill a needed gap in many market niches. We are situation-focused rather than market niche-focused.
Q: Why would borrowers pay above-market rates to get a mortgage?
Because they have a situation where paying the premium makes sense. For example, 24-hour decisioning so a deal is not lost, or a borrower wants to run through a credit-approval process that relies primarily on the ability to repay rather than credit history or credit score. We understand the blemishes on credit reports, especially given the economic situation of recent years, and unlike other lenders, we don’t let that get in the way of making a credit decision.
Q: Where does Benworth Capital get capital to make mortgages?
We raise capital through high-net-worth individuals and family offices. We also use credit facilities.
Q: You earned an M.A. in government from Harvard University. Would you consider running for elected office at some point?
I honestly feel we should all be in public service and in a role that makes sense for each individual. That does not necessarily mean elected public service. We should all be helping out in any way or form to make our community a better place. I have a young family which takes up all of my time. At this point, I am not willing to sacrifice the precious time I have with my family. I saw my parents work very hard and make many sacrifices to ensure that we could live our dreams, as they were robbed of theirs.
Q: If you could change one thing about Miami, what would it be?
Bridging the gap between the rich and the poor in our community. One of the ways this inequality can be better dealt with is through the power of education. America is exceptional because anyone can achieve success by working hard and getting the proper education. I am a big fan of Alberto Carvalho and Eduardo Padrón for their enormous contributions to public and accessible education.