Roberto Alonso was introduced to the Keys in the 1970s, when he would visit to fish the Bahia Honda Bridge and spend weekends in Tavernier while growing up in Hialeah. Alonso and his family had fled from Cuba to South Florida in 1960 as political exiles of the Castro regime.
Alonso would go on to study at Florida Atlantic and Florida International University, eventually graduating with a bachelor’s in political science (he initially thought he wanted to be lawyer). His very first job was doing trade work as a fine jewelry engraver – a skill he’s maintained through his life. His first corporate job was as an account rep, and later, branch manager, of an accounting business. He later switched to the insurance world, and – fast forward 40 years – now owns and operates Borland & Associates Insurance in Key Largo. As Key Largo Chamber of Commerce’s current chairman, Alonso was chosen by his peers to be a leader for local businesses at a time when many industries are in the midst of economic recovery. A proud business owner – and even prouder parent and grandparent – Alonso believes in leading by example.
Your family is important to you. You have two children and five grandchildren. How do you spend time together? Included with my children, Ana Lidia and Roberto Carlo, are my daugther-in-law Cristi, a beloved school principal, and son-in-law Luis, a decorated ex-Marine and successful business owner. We try to spend as much time together as is possible due to their busy schedule. We do vacations and as many holidays as possible.
What is something from your generation that should be passed on to this new generation? The overriding importance of the family above all else. There is no measure of sacrifice too high to obtain and maintain harmony and a loving bond among family members.
Who‘s your favorite Cuban musician? Wow! this is the toughest question so far. I’ll say Celia Cruz. She epitomizes love of family and country besides her brilliant musical talents. She was quite a role model for what is good and joyful in our culture.
Cubans are notorious for their clever sayings. What is your favorite? De el dicho a el hecho hay un gran trecho: From what is said to what is done, there is a great path to be crossed.
What’s something about you many people don‘t know? I‘m immensely shy. All throughout my life I’ve struggled with it and have tried to overcome it. I mostly work around it now that I am older, but it still remains a formidable obstacle.
Have any special talents or hidden abilities? I love to draw, write and paint pictures and portraits. I have a certain level of manual dexterity. I also love public speaking.
You have an upcoming trip booked for Alaska. What’s the plan? To follow the itenerary as closely as possible and take a ton of pictures and hope that I can, at least once, hear the wolves howling in the evening. Visiting this state has been a dream since my youth. As my love of dogs and wolves grew with the years, and after reading my first Jack London book, I was hooked.
Why wolves? They are not the smartest, strongest, or fastest creatures in the forest but what they do, they do very well – and their family comes first.
Name one benefit of starting a Key Largo-based business. You get to live in one of the most unique and beautiful destination points in the country, with some of the nicest people too.
What is the hardest part of starting a brand new business in the Keys? Knowing who your client is. You first define who is not your client and then who is. You have to research this market very carefully and ask yourelf if your business plan is for real.
Do you think all Key Largo buinesses should be eco-minded? This is a precious and fragile ecosystem and the life of the community is dependent on it to survive and thrive. You harm the environment, and you are killing the business segment, plain and simple. The Keys are nature and nature loves the Keys.
How does speaking multiple languages benefit a buisness owner? It provides you with greater access and insight into the culture of all segments of the community. To speak a language is not only a matter of translation, but also immerses the speaker in the customs and culture of that languge. That is a critical part of the understanding of that language.
Increasing numbers of tourists can later translate into more jobs. However, some businesses outsource travel jobs to the mainland. Does the Upper Keys economy need to diversify its industries? Yes, I believe so. A good example are the folks that are restoring our damaged coral populations. They are developing techniques and operational models that can be exported to other markets and countries.
Finish the sentence:
By day, I’m an insurance agent, by night I’m a … as Mr. Frank Sinatra once sang, “A pauper, a poet, a bum and a king.”