In December 2000, Mario Murgado took a leap of faith. After nearly 20 years as a rising star in the Miami-based auto group run by Norman Braman, past owner of the NFL’s Philadelphia Eagles, Murgado decided it was time to follow his lifelong dream of owning his own business. He set his sights on Brickell Automotive Group, a “beat-up” store on Miami’s famed Calle Ocho that was moving 16 Hondas and six GMCs per month.
Honda executive Richard Culliver approved the sale, Murgado recalls, but warned him that he feared the point would never be successful. Murgado was undeterred.
“I said, ‘This is all I can afford,’” he says with a laugh.
Today, that store is one of nine dealerships in the renamed Brickell Motors group, which also includes Audi, Buick, Cadillac, Infiniti and Mazda franchises. Collectively, the group and its 307 employees sold more than 6,800 new and used vehicles in 2014, and neither Murgado nor Brickell Motors shows any signs of slowing down.
“There is nothing more powerful than when a human being believes they can do something,” Murgado says. “It starts with the foundation. With a solid foundation, you can take on a lot of challenges. With commitment, you develop drive. You develop the willingness to take risks.”
Murgado's foundation was in Cuba, where he was born in 1961. In 1965, he and his mother, father and sister fled the country as a communist government took hold. They moved to Chicago, where his father, who was an architect in Cuba, took a job alongside his wife in a Duo-Fast factory. In 1978, Murgado says, winter weather drove them to the sunny shores of Miami. “We moved down after two major blizzards. My father said, ‘If the birds know enough to fly south, so should we.’”
His parents never bemoaned their fate, instead choosing to embrace the culture and opportunities afforded by their adoptive country. Murgado says he is proud of his Cuban heritage but considers himself an American first. “I think the success of this country has always been that immigrants come here and they believe the American dream is alive, because they can accomplish more than where they came from.”
He and his wife, Bibiana, have instilled that same sense of pride in their sons, Mario Murgado Jr., 26, who serves as general manager of Brickell Mazda, and Michael Bryan Murgado, 23, who is undertaking a career in accounting.
“I appreciate everything that my father has done for me and my family and I want to do everything possible to grow our business and continue the legacy,” Mario Jr. says. “Regardless of the journey I take, its foundation will always come from my dad’s legacy.”
“One of the things he instills in all of us is to make sure we’re a good corporate citizen and we give back to the city,” says Alex Andreus, an associate of Murgado’s since he and fellow Brickell Motors partner Rick Barraza worked together at Braman Enterprises in the 1990s. “That we do with our time, our treasure and our talent. He gets involved with a lot of organizations, and we all get exposed to them as well. You end up attending a benefit or some kind of function for a nonprofit, and you tend to fall in love with one and just keep going with it.”
Murgado wears his affection for Miami on his sleeve, and he believes the city offers a window into the future of America. “In Miami, it begins with aspiration. It’s a multicultural, diverse, cosmopolitan city, and it has really come into its own. … I would tell anyone who ever worries whether the American dream is still alive to come to my city. Come to my town and you will see.”
Despite having lived there all of his life, Mario Murgado Jr. is no less passionate about the city. “To me, Miami is in the center of the world and a global melting pot, sometimes referred to as the ‘Manhattan of the South.’ It is an exciting city to live in, with several opportunities for personal and business growth. I do believe that many people pursue a high-end lifestyle built on success, and image is very important. This is one city where you can find luxury cars on every corner.”
“Cars are an extension of people,” the elder Murgado adds. “There are more imports being sold here, more luxury and more near-luxury. It’s about how they feel and how they want to position themselves.”
A Servant’s Heart
With the fates of more than 300 employees and their families in his hands, Murgado says he often recalls his father’s advice to lead with a “servant’s heart” — maintaining the desire to give back as much as you take from the community around you. Today’s generation, he notes, struggle with that idea. “People say they have a lot of entitlement,” he notes. “Whatever they have, it’s our own fault. We created that. We created those expectations. If we feel they are entitled, we made them feel entitled.”
However, all is not lost. “I also feel the ‘plus’ side of this group is that, collectively, they work as a team, much better than my generation. Their communication is better. This generation is more ‘we’ than ‘me.’” Certain that his sons and their peers will succeed beyond his own expectations, he cautions them to remain humble. “I’ve never looked at it as success, just part of the journey. When you say, ‘I’m successful at this,’ I think you lose your edge.”
At the end of the day, Brickell Motors has found success because of the person driving it and the exceptional team he has assembled to help him achieve his dreams, no matter how big they might be. He never plans to stop looking forward, to finding the next opportunity to grow and expand and give back to the country and city he loves.
Andreus says the leadership and enthusiasm Murgado exudes inspires his partners, managers and staff. “It’s never a dull day. There’s always something going on. We’re not stagnant at all. Even when our dealerships are doing well, we’re constantly looking for ways to improve.”