Country of origin: Guatemala
Year came to U.S.: 1989
Education: BS Economics and Finance, Bentley College
Business: Brightstar Corp. (1997)
Headquarters: Miami, FL
2017 revenue: $10 billion
Worldwide employment: 9,000
Marcelo Claure co-founded Brightstar, the largest company of its kind in the world, spanning 54 countries on six continents.
Marcelo Claure also co-founded One Laptop Per Child.
International business came naturally to Marcelo Claure. His father worked for the United Nations and the family moved frequently. He was born in Guatemala, left for Morocco as an infant, spent his adolescence in the Dominican Republic and went to high school in Bolivia.
Claure came to the United States in 1989 to attend Bentley University in Waltham, Massachusetts. There, he came up with a scheme to buy and sell airline frequent flyer miles. Within a year he had 25 people working for him. A frequent flyer himself, he met the vice-president of the Bolivian soccer federation on an airplane and agreed to become the business manager for the Bolivian national team.
When he returned to the Boston area, he had another lucky conversation in a cell phone store. The store owner was unhappy running a retail store and offered Claure the business. He accepted, and within two years he owned 150 stores in the Northeast.
In 1997, he and his partner, Dave Peterson, sold everything they had, borrowed more money and moved to Miami to launch Brightstar. Claure wanted to take advantage of the booming Latin America market for cell phones, and he was determined to make life easier for manufacturers distributing their phones overseas. In his own words, “It’s all about service to the customer.”
In a 2004 interview with Hispanic Business, Claure described that first year saying, “We opened for business in October 1997, and our original business model was to achieve $50,000 in sales in our first three months. We did $14 million. That confirmed we had a winning formula.” The second year it made $73 million, and by year three the company earned $355 million.
By 2002, Brightstar had become the top distributor in every country where it operated and finally decided to enter the U.S. market. The U.S. business quickly became its fastest growing subsidiary. Today, Brightstar is the largest company of its kind in the world, spanning 54 countries on six continents. In 2013, SoftBank acquired a majority interest in Brightstar in a deal that valued the company at $2.2 billion. In 2014, SoftBank picked Claure to become the CEO of Sprint and he presided over a significant turnaround in the struggling company’s prospects, adding 2.1 million customers and orchestrating a merger with T-Mobile. In 2019, SoftBank put him in charge of rebuilding WeWork after the company’s near bankruptcy.
Claure never lost his passion for soccer and still serves as chairman of Bolivar, the most successful team in Bolivian soccer history. In 2005, he co-founded the One Laptop Per Child program, an initiative to provide laptops to children in emerging countries. In 2016, he founded the 1Million Project Foundation with the goal of providing access to the internet to 1 million high school students. He also serves on the boards of Bentley University, Georgetown University Latin American Board, the Latin American Business Council and the World Economic Forum Advisory Board.