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Sanchez's experience as business owner brief

The Tampa mayoral hopeful notes that unlike rival Iorio, he's met a payroll. But his claims contain some exaggeration.

By DAVID KARP, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published March 15, 2003


TAMPA -- As he campaigns for mayor, Frank Sanchez sets himself apart as the only candidate who has run his own business.

He called it the "single most defining experience" of his life.

But while Sanchez's stint as a business owner has been influential, it also has been brief.

Sanchez worked with two partners for less than two years at a consulting firm in Cambridge, Mass. Then he opened his own business in Tampa in July 2001, about six months before he declared for mayor.

To tout his firm, he mailed out an invitation to a corporate event in Tampa that listed 74 companies as clients. But many of those companies had not actually worked with his new firm.

Sanchez has said that unlike his opponent, former Elections Supervisor Pam Iorio, he has a business sense and will keep taxes low.

"I had to meet a payroll. It may not have been a payroll of 300 people, but if I didn't meet it, I didn't get paid," Sanchez said. "That has been an amazing experience for me."

But a look at Sanchez's background shows that he has mainly worked as a business adviser, not a business owner.

Until 1993, Sanchez had worked in government, then as a lawyer. In 1993, he went to Harvard University to earn a master's degree in public administration. There, he got hired as an employee for CMI, a firm founded by Harvard law professor Roger Fisher, author of Getting to Yes, a book on negotiating skills.

For about four years, Sanchez developed clients in Latin America for the firm. Then in September 1997, Sanchez and two partners left to create CMI International Group.

According to Sanchez, it was his company.

"I am the one that put the money up," Sanchez said.

He said he loaned the firm about $12,000. He oversaw the staff, which started with two employees and grew to either four or five employees, he said.

Sanchez's partner, Mark Smith, who thinks Sanchez would be a great mayor, didn't recall it that way. He said the three partners each fronted an equal amount.

"We were equal partners," Smith said. "It was all even from the start."

Sanchez ran the office in Cambridge, while Smith lived in Mexico and a third partner, Julio DeCaro, worked from Latin America. DeCaro, now in Uruguay, could not be reached.

Smith said Sanchez was a superb consultant, adept at understanding complex issues.

"He was our prime client getter," Smith said. "He grasps people's interests from what they say, and he seems to genuinely care about people around him."

Sanchez remained at the company for a year and eight months until he left to work in the White House for former Gov. Buddy MacKay, who had been named President Bill Clinton's special envoy for the Americas. After 15 months there, Sanchez served five months as assistant secretary at the U.S. Department of Transportation, working on international airline and trade agreements.

When George W. Bush was elected, Sanchez returned to Tampa and opened his company, Cambridge Negotiation Strategies Inc., in July 2001.

Besides Sanchez, his company had one worker, a secretary whose desk was at the Tampa law firm managed by family friend Stacy Frank, daughter of County Commissioner Pat Frank.

Sanchez's business actually operated out of a "virtual office" at Tampa's city-subsidized World Trade Center. Sanchez paid less than $200 a month to use the center's phone, address and mailroom. He paid Stacy Frank by the hour to use her secretary, she said.

In December 2001, two months before announcing for mayor, Sanchez hosted a session and cocktail buffet to introduce his consulting business to the city. His invitation described Sanchez as a "world-renowned consultant" and touted an impressive list of 74 clients for his newly formed Tampa firm.

The list said his clientele included the Boston public school system, Irish Sugar of Ireland, the National Mining Co. of Chile, and the governments of Guatemala, El Salvador, Colombia and Ecuador.

But most of the 74 companies on the list never worked with Sanchez's Tampa firm. Some worked with Sanchez earlier at the Cambridge firm he ran with two partners. Others retained CMI, the company founded by Fisher, the Harvard law professor.

The Boston public school system, for example, hired CMI in 1994 to help with negotiations with the teachers union.

Pat Walker, the mayor's representative on the negotiations, said he last dealt with Sanchez in 1994.

Yet, Sanchez's list from 2001 says the school system is a client of Cambridge Negotiation Strategies Inc.

Shown the list, Sanchez asked a Times reporter how he obtained it. "If I gave it to you, I probably should not have," Sanchez said. He said the list contained mistakes.

Many companies were actually clients from Massachusetts, he acknowledged.

"When I started my second company, I continued to be available to all of them," Sanchez said. "I continued to be accessible and available."

Sanchez said he "entered into an agreement" with his former partners in Cambridge to share clients. The agreement allowed him to list former clients as his own, he said.

Smith, his former partner, said no agreements existed.

Sanchez's business background

July 2001-present

Cambridge Negotiation Strategies, Tampa

Managing director and owner

* * *

Aug. 2000-Jan. 2001

U.S. Department of Transportation, Washington

Assistant secretary for aviation and international affairs

* * *

April 1999-July 2000

Office of the special envoy for the Americas, Washington

Special assistant to the president

* * *

Sept. 1997-April 1999

CMI International Group, Cambridge, Mass.

Managing director and senior consultant

* * *

Sept. 1993-April 1999

CMI, Cambridge, Mass.

Consultant

* * *

May 1984-January 1987

Office of lieutenant governor, Tallahassee

Chief assistant

Source: Sanchez campaign, corporate records

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