Bellak Color -- Making Magic In MiamiFebruary 2009 By Erik Cagle
Fernandez’s tale is one of a Caribbean transplant who relied on his own two hands to stir up dust and mold it into a cement foundation, from which Bellak Color arose from the small color separations business it was when he joined in 1967 to the $10+ million performer it is today.
Incredibly, on the very first day Fernandez was on the job, he stated an ambitious goal. He wanted to purchase the company.
Fernandez was 20 years old; he had turned 20 that day. His wife was pregnant. He had little money and no work experience outside of making separations. That didn’t stop him from approaching shop owner Lazlo Bellak to not only ask for a job, but to one day take the helm of Bellak’s company.
Bellak was a celebrity from the table tennis circuit who, in the 1920s and 1930s, had gained international renown as “The Clown Prince of Table Tennis,” winning 21 medals at the World Championships for his native Hungary. He made a career out of keeping his eyes on the ball.
Fernandez would succeed him by keeping his eyes on the prize.
“I fell in love with the fact that with four colors, you can do so many things,” Fernandez recalls. “I started talking to him. Bellak didn’t have any family, just his wife. I told him that if he taught me the business, I could help grow it to become a real company. And, if we accomplished that, could I then buy it from him?”
Moxie and Ambition
Bellak agreed, perhaps amused or impressed by the youngster’s moxie and ambition. After all, the closing of the sale wasn’t imminent, and Bellak—who died in 2006—might have assumed that the long learning curve would throw off young Fernandez’s grand scheme.
“I asked him how long it would take to learn everything, and he said 20 years,” Fernandez recalls. “I responded, ‘I don’t have any money, but 20 years I do have. Let’s do it. Give me the opportunity and you won’t regret it.’ ”