Born into a family business that dates back to 1634, Alfredo J. Molina was destined to be a jeweler. After fleeing Cuba in 1967 on the heels of the Cuban Revolution, 7-year-old Alfredo and his family settled in Chicago. Following the path of his ancestors, the tyro gem merchant went to work on a jeweler’s bench to learn the trade from his grandfather.
When Molina moved to Phoenix in the early 1980s, he was a self-described “whippersnapper” hell-bent on honoring his family’s heritage. That goal came to fruition in 1987, when he opened Molina Fine Jewelers with only $1,500 to his name.
The company recently celebrated 25 years in the Valley. As chairman and CEO, Molina – also a noted philanthropist and novice life coach – has weathered a few storms along the way, including the 1987 stock market crash just nine days after starting his business. But one of his life philosophies is “On the other side of tremendous frustration is tremendous success.” And he would know.
What was it like to flee Cuba after the revolution?
You couldn’t leave Cuba with a suitcase, only with what you were wearing. We went to Chicago in January 1967 and arrived in Caribbean island clothing. We met a fellow Cuban in the lobby of the Wilson Hotel who took us to a grocery store and bought us food for a couple of weeks and some warm clothing. That act of random kindness obviously affected the psyche of a very selfish, self-centered 7-year-old. It’s amazing how a random act of kindness can change somebody’s path.
How did you climb to the top of the Phoenix jewelry industry?
I didn’t have money for employees or inventory, so I started the company by appointment only. If someone called looking for a three-carat heart-shaped diamond, I would say “Absolutely, I have the most beautiful heart-shaped diamonds you’ve ever seen.” Then he’d say, “Al, it’s Monday. Can I come by this afternoon?” and I’d say, “Sorry. I’m fully booked through Friday.” Of course, I didn’t have one appointment on the books. I was a little bit of an imposter, but the truth is, if you act like you’re already there, amazing things happen. That’s how I built the business – one client at a time.
How many charities do you support, and why?
Molina Fine Jewelers supports more than 300 charities right now. We have 48 employees, and we motivate them to get involved with charities they’re passionate about. In turn, we provide the funds – the cost of being a board member and financial support to those charities. I serve on 17 boards, and my time is very limited, but I always write checks and donate jewelry. My inner voice says that I’m here to make life better for others. I spend 80 percent of my time on charities including Teen Life Line, Childhelp and Gabriel’s Angels.
What’s up with your “17 Rules for Success?”
I ask people I meet two questions: What is the best advice you’ve ever received and what’s the most life-changing book you’ve ever read? I compile the 17 Rules of Success from all different sources, and it changes every year. For example: Rule No. 7 is “Never give up. Never surrender.” True commitment is being on the bleeding edge. Most people concentrate on the beginning of the journey, but it’s how you finish that counts.
My patron saint is St. Lazarus, and his number is 17. I light a candle for him every day when I’m home. I thank him for my family, for his protection, for his guidance and ask that I be allowed to live the path that I’m destined to live. I truly believe that I’m here to make life better for others.