family and faith Michael and Milagros Contreras are active in their church and have set up a family foundation in support of spiritual and educational projects.
Guillermina Fuenmayor and Maria Jose Monti
currency, rampant unemployment and a void of leadership that eventually led to rioting and a run on the banks. It was an incredibly difficult environment from which Contreras is proud Citigroup eventually emerged unscathed. The crisis was his last with his long-term employer. AT WORK TODAY
responsibility – were affected. But Indonesia was hit hardest of all when already tense political and social forces erupted with cataclysmic violence. Thousands of citizens were raped and killed in rioting that also destroyed more than 5,000 homes, malls, shops, offices, markets, hotels and banks. “Indonesia imploded,” Contreras said. “We had to take our staff out.” As extensive and challenging as his Citibank training had been, evacuation of employees in physical danger was not part of the curriculum. But neither was managing the first United States bank in Vietnam after decades of frozen relations. “Good crisis management builds from your own experience,” Contreras explained, “and the talents of the people you work with. Sometimes you have to go with your gut. And you need to have backups for your backups.” His backup plans worked. During his three action-packed years in Asia, Contreras managed $17 billion in assets and 2,700 employees and generated a 19 percent increase in revenue. Not surprisingly, he was named senior vice president. HOME AGAIN
Contreras ended his career with Citibank/ Citigroup in Miami, first as head of the Latin America Corporate and Investment Banking Group with responsibility for 24 countries and then as executive vice president of global relationship banking. His unified strategy for the Latin America region resulted in revenues of $1.8 billion and net income growth of 12 percent. He managed $30 billion in assets and 5,100 employees. And of course there was a crisis. This time it was Argentina that self-destructed economically and politically with devalued
BERRY MAGAZINE • WINTER 2011-12
Today Contreras serves as director of LAFISE (Latin America Financial Services), a major regional financial institution specializing in corporate, investment and consumer banking in Latino countries. Headquartered in Miami, LAFISE has offices in Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama, Venezuela, El Salvador, Colombia, Spain and the Dominican Republic and includes banking and insurance interests, brokerage networks and other operations supporting business development in Latin America. “LAFISE started for me like a consulting job after I left Citigroup,” Contreras explained. “The company was founded by a friend and great entrepreneur I met while working for Citibank in Venezuela, Roberto Zamora, and his wife, Maria Josefina. My involvement has grown over the years, and I now dedicate the majority of my time to it.” Contreras particularly likes LAFISE’s focus on social responsibility. The corpora tion is heavily involved in the One Laptop Per Child Program that strives to put a nearly indestructible basic computer in the hands of every underprivileged child. In an effort to improve lifestyles through education, the company has already provided more than 25,000 computers to children in Nicaragua and soon will be making them available to children in Honduras and Costa Rica as well. “We are one of few in the private sector involved in this program,” Contreras stated. “Most involvement is by governments.” MORE TO LIFE
In a life filled with successfully managed crises and the roller coaster highs and lows of banking’s big leagues, Contreras always has found deepest meaning elsewhere, from his earliest days growing up with parents Antonio and Emily and sisters Marilu and Maria Elena to the present.
“Frankly, my most interesting achievement has not been business related,” he stated. “It was actually when, after some years of trying, Milagros and I were able to have three extraordinary and amazing kids that have made our lives so fulfilling. This is especially true because, in addition to the security issues I experienced in Bogota, Colombia, I have faced up to my mortality twice already in my relatively young lifetime as I am a two-time cancer survivor. The first time was when I was about to go to Asia some 15 years ago when I was barely 42; the second was six years ago. Fortunately, I am now cancer-free.” Contreras and Milagros have been married 30 years, and their sons are doing well. Michael is 25 and a graduate of Boston College. He works for Venevision, a media company in Miami with Venezuelan origins. Manuel is a graduate of Indiana University and has followed his father into banking. At 24 years of age, he is a banker with J.P. Morgan Chase in New York City. Marcel, 20, is a junior at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. “A great deal of the credit for their success is due to Milagros,” Contreras emphasized, “as she dedicated herself to them at all times, when I was often not around.” The couple is deeply engaged in the ministries of St. Hugh Catholic Church in Coconut Grove and pilgrimaged together last year to Israel. They have established their own foundation, the Michael and Milagros Contreras Family Foundation, in support of education and spiritual projects. “We wanted to create something focused on those things we support so that our boys could be involved with them later in life,” Contreras explained. CHANGE IN CASTING
Michael Contreras has lived a surprisingly action-packed life in a profession not normally known for adventure. From baseball at Berry to banking, he has found great success. But if a movie really were to be made about his life, the action star in the leading role needs to have a softer side as well. Because faith and family also are the stuff that good movies – and Contreras’ life – are made of. B
Berry Magazine - Winter 2011-12