Cuban-born Gloria Estefan isn’t only a chart-topper with 90 million albums sold, 37 number one singles and two bestselling children’s books.
When she isn’t sitting on the board of directors of US television network Univision Communications, she is busy managing her hospitality and communications companies with husband Emilio Estefan.
Musically, the pair have been among those responsible for the growing Hispanic market in the US and around the world, kickstarting the careers of Jennifer Lopez, Ricky Martin and Shakira by writing and producing music for them. Their net worth is believed to be $500 million (Dh1.8 billion).
Even as the fans queue up at the Virgin Megastore clutching newly purchased CDs, you cannot help but remark on Gloria Estefan’s astute business sense. Five days in Dubai and she has been working non-stop. She has walked down red carpets, performed at a packed show at the Dubai International Film Festival and at the amfAR charity gala, and met the fans in store. She packed them all into a manic schedule far removed from the blink-and-miss-it showings of the other international names in the city this week. She was here to promote her husband’s film 90 Millas (90 Miles) and her soundtrack album, as well as using the opportunity to scout for possible business expansion plans for her café chain Bongo’s Cuban Café. Business 24|7 spoke to her in an exclusive interview at one of the city’s Virgin retail outlets.
You’re involved in a broad range of activities: hotels, restaurants, music – what’s next?
Musically I think I’ve done pretty much everything there is to do. Although I’m a musician and always will be, 90 Millas (90 Miles), is my 25th album, so you’ve seen pretty much the wealth of my career.
But we love the hospitality sector, when we started Bongo’s Cuban Café, it was also an offshoot of our culture. Since we thought we had been able to promote our music worldwide, we thought it was a wonderful opportunity to promote our food as well. So this has been important for us, and we’re getting ready to open two more, in Florida and in Panama.
So is Dubai next?
We’d love to. We’re seriously considering doing something here. Emilio’s talking to several business people here about different projects, so we’re looking at it very seriously.
Particularly seeing the international flavour of this city and the fact that everyone we have introduced Cuban food to loves it.
What about hotels?
I don’t know if we could compete with the hotels here, we have boutique hotels, very tiny ones. And we have a very good friend here, Sol Kerzner, who’s opening Atlantis and we can’t compete with Sol.
Is it hard to juggle music and hospitality?
You know what, it’s not hard – because music we can do whenever we like, the hardest part of the job is the hospitality sector. You have to be there every day checking the places, checking the quality is being kept, that the service is up to standard. Because it reflects on me, you’d think I was personally cooking the steaks back in the kitchen! That’s much tougher than the music, quite honestly.
How hard can it be getting investments for new projects? Do you walk in as Gloria Estefan and the banks say, take all my money?
Haah! No, you know what, whenever you have something to sell, obviously it has to be a good business proposition. So yes I get a lot of interest and it opens a lot of doors, but you always have to back it up with some solid business. But yes the name opens doors, undoubtedly.
Do you bring that back to your music? As an artist, do you feel you need to break up your sound to reach different markets?
Well it’s always good to. First of all, it keeps it fresh for us as artists, secondly if we have that, it’d be crazy not to go there. I’m one of the few artists who has the luxury of having a multi-cultural career and it would be nuts not to speak to both audiences. But we do it with what we feel in our hearts, it’s nothing preconceived.
What’s your attitude to investment? Do you have a diversified portfolio?
We have made many different investments through the years, of course, I mean we have had to invest in many things. And we’re glad we do, music being the way it is. My god, if we hadn’t we’d be in deep trouble.
You’ve talked of your love for Cuba and going back. But when you do, don’t you think it will be different from the idealised image you have?
Oh completely, I have no expectations, and I’m totally aware that the Cuba of today in no way resembles the Cuba of my parents. Would we want to be a part of helping in any way they need us to, yes; would we want to tell them what to do, no. It’s a different mentality there – 50 years in a closed regime and people have no clue as to what their options are even.
Would you return to settle in Cuba?
I’m Miamian, we even have our own foreign policy in Miami. No, I think leaving now would be uprooting everything I’ve worked to build, just as it was for my mother when she left Cuba.
Estefan: Entrepreneur with a voice