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Conversations with the Council featuring Sergio Mariaca, President of Mariaca Wealth Management

“What counts in life is not the mere fact that we have lived. It is what difference we have made to the lives of others.” Nelson Mandela lived those words notwithstanding the obstacles he had to overcome. Despite 27 years of incarceration, he transformed his country, helping to abolish apartheid without bitterness or anger. Those characteristics resonate deeply with Sergio Mariaca, who admires Mandela’s belief in the power of people and a worthwhile cause.

A self-described social worker in the body of an entrepreneur, Sergio’s life is built around service. Having moved to Palm Beach County 25 years ago, he immediately got involved in the community through volunteer work and serving on local charitable nonprofit boards. “It has been a rewarding experience to contribute in meaningful ways, see the results, and meet and work alongside some incredible community leaders. I learned so much.”

Soon the business and industry boards began soliciting his talents, but for Sergio, there was no real connection until he joined the Economic Council. “The Economic Council provides an opportunity to support Palm Beach County’s business environment while also working to address some of our most significant challenges. Doing so is not a zero-sum game where business interests must win at all costs. But rather a collaborative approach that engages all stakeholders, private and public, to build and support our incredible and dynamic community, from improving our education system, recognizing our community’s top teachers, expanding affordable housing, improving our criminal justice system, fostering inclusiveness and racial equity, and so much more.”

For Sergio, it truly is the best of both worlds, especially in his role as Chair of the Dwyer Awards, but that, too, presented a challenge in the early days of the pandemic. The event, which celebrates excellence in education, was scheduled for the Kravis Center, but COVID had other plans. “Everyone was focused on first responders and nurses, but I saw the challenges teachers were having, learning to teach remotely, figuring out how to keep their students engaged all the while also trying to help their own.” So, we created the Extraordinary Educators prize to recognize those teachers who went above and beyond during the pandemic and received over 500 nominations from students and parents, and 31 winners received a $500 check. But we were not done yet. We also planned to open the Dwyer Awards with a special video recognizing the county-wide effort of all teachers and school-based employees during the pandemic, but the company hired to do the shoot canceled on him at the last minute.

In the face of adversity, he stepped up, taking the production on himself, making sure the unsung heroes got their well-deserved praise. “I wanted to highlight them all and give them a massive amount of recognition and appreciation. Everyone was incredibly proud. I believe we hit the mark and then some”. Giving, not to get but to make a difference. Lessons he learned early on growing up in Puerto Rico. His parents founded and grew successful businesses on their own. They showed Sergio the value of hard work and education and gave him the confidence to pursue his dreams. “They also taught me to be a good dad, seek a balance between work and play, and never take myself too seriously. Most importantly, they always looked out for others in their lives and modeled the importance of giving back and community service.”

Shortly after his parents retired, Sergio’s father was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. They had limited insurance coverage, which led to over $1,000,000 in medical bills. His father passed away, and his mother was left alone with a terribly depleted nest egg. To make matters worse, her broker had invested a large amount of her remaining monies in stocks that were about to come crashing down. Seeing this firsthand affected Sergio deeply, and he immediately shifted his focus from law to finance, becoming a wealth advisor.

“Our clients entrust us with their financial lives, and beyond one’s family and health, few things are as important. It is a sacred obligation to my firm and me.” A transformational leader, Sergio does his best to inspire change and innovation with a high premium on integrity. “I wish I could have learned these lessons sooner. Listen more, especially when someone with more life experience is giving advice.” If he could, he’d tell his younger self to spend more time with his parents and grandparents. Interview them so those stories could be shared for generations and to embrace his mistakes. He also quipped that he’d “Buy as much Apple stock as possible in the late 1980s and hold it”.

His ultimate goal is to continually improve in everything he does, lead by example, and live every day by his mantra, “We did a great job, but how do we make it even more awesome.”

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