One-on-one with a man who once lost it all and is now living the American dream.
Carlos Bruner is CEO of Destiny Financial Partners and has excelled in the industry for over a decade. He believes the biggest element missing in today’s society is financial literacy. That is why he is so passionate about empowering our communities. He strives to always inform individuals about the good and the bad when it comes to their financial options.
LASM: Your story from humble beginnings to a successful entrepreneur is inspiring, can you tell us about your upbringing?
Carlos Bruner: I did not grow up on the right side of the tracks. I was raised by a single mom. My dad left my mom when she was eight months pregnant. I saw a lot of hard work, dedication, and sacrifice from my mom when I was growing up, and all I ever wanted to do was help her out. At 13 years old, I started working. I started working at the swap meet because they don’t ask you for a work permit there. So, I sold suits there. I worked all the way through high school and graduated. One of my big goals was always to retire my mom. I was going to get my degree; but God had other things in store for me.
Unfortunately, my mom was struggling. All I wanted to ever do was to go to school, get a degree, get a good job, and buy a house in East Los Angeles. But I had to leave college because my mom was struggling. That’s when a friend offered me a job in Irvine. Irvine is a much nicer neighborhood with no gangs and no graffiti. I remember thinking, “How come nobody told me about this place?” I’ve always been very goal-driven. I already knew what age I wanted to retire my mom, buy my first house, and open my own business.
I worked my way up from the mailroom. I love people and was able to build great relationships. One day, I got laid off by this company and I thanked them for the opportunity. I stayed afterward, since I didn’t know how to take the bus and I was carpooling. I’m saying my goodbyes–and by the end of the day, I had five job offers.
LASM: With the new job offers and opportunity, what transpired from there?
Carlos Bruner: One lady called me down to interview me, it was a great opportunity. I had to wait 30 to 45 days to see if I got the job. I went with my gut. They created a position for me, but three months later there wasn’t a need and they moved me over to a loan officer. I ran with it and I helped my mom to retire when I was 22. At 24, I started my own business. I became a broker. Then everything fell apart – within a six month period, that’s when my mom came down with cancer. My mom called me one day and said something wasn’t right. We had thought it was back issues, but it was a tumor on her left lung. I didn’t know why God was doing this, but I asked for strength. I left my business and took care of my mom for two and a half years. I used the last of what I had to bury her.
Eventually, I became homeless. I slept on different couches and my car. [One] Sunday, I literally got on my knees and prayed because I knew I was running out of money and I just said, “God, I need something.” And shortly after that I was introduced to this business, it was my answered prayer. God has always been good. I knew he would put someone in my path and he did. That is how I got introduced to what I do at World Financial. I wanted to learn about finances. That’s when I saw how no one knew anything, and I became passionate about our mission.
LASM: Such an inspiring story. Growing up, you knew that you were racially mixed, right? What was that like for you?
Carlos Bruner: Well, I would say that there were some times that were definitely difficult because you’re a minority in any community. I’ll speak for the Latino community because in East Los Angeles, Blacks were definitely a minority because it’s predominantly Latino. I did grow up with a lot of comments because I look like I’m Latino. You wouldn’t think that I was half Black. So, I did grow up being in certain environments where you would hear a lot of racial jokes or just racial opinions towards Black people. I would just look the other way, sometimes; and other times, I would mention that I was half-Black, and people would try to brush it off. There was always some truth behind it, though. I try to see it from the other person’s point of view. I would look at their parents, because we learn everything from them. When you’re a baby, you don’t know the difference. Everything is taught. So, when I would hear comments like that I would know it wasn’t necessarily them. It doesn’t make it better though. It was really tough.
LASM: That’s a powerful, powerful perspective. You would try to step back and just look at it from a different point of view. They should know better, but you don’t let yourself get caught up in that. Can you elaborate on that piece just for a moment? Because I think that that’s a lot of wisdom and I think that that can help a lot of people who may get stuck in a fence.
Carlos Bruner: In general, we tend to only look at situations from our point of view. We don’t try to put ourselves in their shoes. We are only going to see our side. Look at this water bottle from your side you only see blue, but I see white. You can’t understand until you see the other side. It helps me to try to figure out something that might help them see things from a different perspective. You have to get them to see it from a different point of view.
LASM: Absolutely. Can you talk about the racial tension that exists in the Hispanic or Latinx Community and African American community? Do you think that with the current movements, that this could potentially be a time of the two minority groups coming together to join for equal cause, which is equality across the border? What are your thoughts about there potentially being a remedy between the two cultures?
Carlos Bruner: My heart tells me that things will improve, because I did go out to one of the marches and it’s always great to see so many races coming together. My thought is that, Black or Brown, you go through similar things although, Black people have been experiencing this for longer. However, I don’t think there will be 100% unity because there is always negative energy. There are certain people who do not want unity for example, jails because there is a lot of money invested in that. In order to thrive, there has to be conflict. Looking at it in a positive way, at least we are progressing. I think the minute you can control your emotions and you know who you are, that’s power, and that’s one of the things that I definitely want to instill in my children as they grow up.
LASM: Is there a key principle that you learned from your mom that you still think about or that you would pass on to your kids?
Carlos Bruner: My mom is the number one thing that drives me. She passed away in ’08. My mother, my queen, my inspiration; I still get emotional over her. I want to win because I made her a promise two weeks before she died. We had a conversation about her funeral. She made me promise that I would go out and make a difference. So, the next time I see her, she will be proud. She always taught me to treat others the way you want to be treated, from the homeless to the president. She always said that you’re not better than anybody. You never know what is coming up the road. So, if you see someone who needs help, help them. I really love people and want to do whatever I can to help them.
LASM: Okay. Is there a nugget of financial wisdom that you can share with us?
Carlos Bruner: One thing is to pay yourself first. Put some money away for yourself before you go and pay bills. It’s like food, right? If you were the only house that had food in your neighborhood, you would feed your family first, right? If you don’t do that, there is a risk they don’t get fed. That is what happens if you don’t put money away for yourself. Also, don’t focus on paying off your debt first. Are you more excited about having $100,000 put away or your debt being paid off? Probably the money right? When you focus on saving, you will find a way to get out of debt. If you focus just on paying your debt, other things will pop up because that’s life. You could be making a million dollars; but if you’re spending 1.1 million, guess what? You’re still living paycheck to paycheck. So, any athletes out there, pros, hey, that one goes out to you.
LASM: Yeah, I know it’s huge. There’s a statistic that I read—and that’s a great industry, or niche market, to tap into—75% of all NBA or NFL players, within the first three years, ended up filing for bankruptcy. So, I mean, that’s just an unfortunate statistic because they have literally broken the cycle of poverty. Financial education is golden.
Carlos Bruner: I always encourage everybody to read a book called “The Secrets of a Millionaire Mind” by T. Harv Eker. That book really shifted my mindset when it came to money.
One of the things I learned in that book was, when I was growing up, I grew up with ProNines. If you don’t know what ProNines are, that means you never shopped at PayLess, right? I would always see my friends with Nikes, Jordans, [but] of course I couldn’t afford it. One of the things I always told myself was when I have money, “I’m going to buy myself whatever I want.” Guess what happened when I started making money? I started buying myself whatever I wanted. Believe it or not, I was making good money, but I was still paycheck to paycheck. What I learned from that book was just the power of what you say. Oftentimes, one of the things I do see in a lot of our communities, Black and Brown, is that because we come from not much, we overcompensate. You’re scared. You don’t want to lose your job. You’re not going to go risk it. If you ever wanted to start a business, you’re not going to go risk starting a business. I want to teach minority communities that you have to save money. You have to learn to delay your gratification. You don’t want to end up broke in your golden years.
LASM: Yeah. Do you have any wisdom when it comes to entrepreneurship?
Carlos Bruner: I’m still learning a lot about business. I would say have a clear goal. I would say if you want to have your own business, go for it. Find people who are there, or on their way there, and talk to them. People are more willing to share their experiences than you think. You have to focus on the prize; otherwise, you will quit. It doesn’t matter how you start, but it does matter how you finish. If you ever get the chance to read the book “Outliers,” they talk a lot about putting in the 10,000 hours. That is how you master something. You don’t get rich overnight.
LASM: Awesome. Love it. Anything else that you want to add before we close?
Carlos Bruner: I’m a guy from East LA and I was 280 pounds. I was able to expand my wings and leave East LA. Not that I’m not proud of where I come from, but it’s important not to regress. You can do it. We are in the United States of America, and never take that for granted. We have better opportunities to succeed here. So, don’t sit back. Tackle every obstacle. Everybody has greatness inside of them. Everything is a learning experience. You have to want it bad.
Read more about Carlos Bruner’s business, Destiny Financial Partners here.
Read about other successful businessmen making a difference here.