Fernando Mateo took destiny by the reins when he started a small carpet business at the age of seventeen. Armed with a great deal of courage and a loan from his father, Mateo opened his first store in New York City’s Avenue A. This business, which he founded and named Carpet Fashions in 1976, was only the first of many endeavors Mateo would undertake in creating his version of the American Dream. Through hard work and a combination of retail and commercial/contractual bidding, Mateo would go on to turn this business into a multi-million dollar corporation, earning a gross revenue of over $6 million per year – and thus becoming the author of his own “rags to riches” story.
Mateo hardly rested on the benefits of his early success. Since the founding of this business, which is still thriving, Mateo has gone on to found and/or lead numerous other businesses and organizations whose aim is help or give back to the community. Mateo’s drive to help the community was first manifested in 1990 with a program called the Mateo Institute of Training (MIT). This not-for-profit program was geared toward teaching first-time, non-violent offenders a skill they could use to get a job upon their release. MIT was established in NYC’s Riker’s Island and offered training in carpet laying, plumbing, sewing, electric, telecommunication, carpentry, masonary, welding and boiler repairs. Soon this cottage industry program evolved into a full-fledged curriculum housed in a building on site at the prison. MIT helped inmates leave the prison system by aiding them to obtain union jobs, saving the state and federal government millions in taxpayer dollars. MIT was recognized by Mayor Dinkins, Council Speaker Peter Valone and other dignitaries and elected officials from NYC, as being the impetus for carrying forth the most motivating technical training program that the city’s corrections department has ever witnessed. Benjamin Shaves of the NAACP was quoted as saying, “[MIT is the] best training program in jail nationwide”. President George H W Bush presented Mateo with the Points of light award.
Mateo then turned his energy, in 1993, toward establishing a Christmas-time cleanup of guns due to an increasing number of shootings throughout New York City. This program was designed to trade a $100 merchandise certificate for every gun exchanged. The program was called “Toys for Guns” at its outset and certificates from Toys R Us were exchanged, with no questions asked about the guns, with the help of the NYPD’s 34th Precinct. The program received immediate attention, and what the Wall Street Journal called, “tens of millions of dollars in public relations.” Soon, similar programs were being copied throughout the country and the program evolved to the now famous “Goods for Guns”. The Foundation has since launched the largest disarmament program ever in El Salvador and Columbia and helped establish peace in those countries.
Mateo, whose desire to help the Hispanic community is bottomless, founded Mateo Express in 1994. Mateo Express is a money-transfer company that created hundreds of jobs for Hispanics in NYC and was featured in the Sunday New York Times on July 19, 1998. Also in 1994, Fernando became president of San Mateo Construction/Mat-Bon Construction, a sidewalk restoration and trenching construction company for utility corporations in New York State that created jobs for dozens of Hispanic families.
In 1998, Mateo became the president of the New York State Federation of Taxi Drivers, a not-for-profit organization for the benefit of NY’s taxi drivers, which is primarily composed of Hispanic drivers. Soon after becoming the leader of this organization, Fernando unified different state chapters of livery drivers in NJ and NY and immediately began to tackle their most pressing need – security. When Mateo organized the Federation, crime statistics showed that the murder rate for taxi drivers in NYC was about 25 per year and 250 in the last decade not including an additional 24,000 robberies each year. So Mateo went to bat for the Federation and secured $5 million from the New York City Mayor’s Office. This money was used to install bullet-proof partitions and security cameras in all taxis throughout the city. But Mateo didn’t stop there, he worked with Governor Pataki to increase sentences imposed on those who perpetrate crimes against taxi drivers from three to five years, then petitioned the NYPD to deploy an additional 300 police officers specifically for the protection of taxi divers. Furthermore, he obtained a $1 million grant from NYS Assembly for a security pilot program aimed at installing Global Positioning System devices in 1,300 taxis. Fernando’s effort was instrumental in decreasing the murder rate in the taxi industry from 25 per year to 1 per year, culminating in the industry’s first ever murder-free 1-year period.
More recently Mateo founded Hispanics Across America (HAA) as an umbrella group that would encompass other Hispanic organizations/programs. HAA was founded in 2002 as a grassroots think tank to initiate and expand programs, such as Goods for Guns, throughout Hispanic communities throughout the United States. Soon HAA, behind Mateo, began making its mark. Mateo represented HAA in September of 2002 as a spokesperson at the Hispanic Leadership Summit, promoting Hispanic Investment & Education throughout the United States–organized by Senator K. Bailey Hutchinson.
HAA has led delegations of Hispanic community leaders, businessmen, and dignitaries to celebrations at the White House for Hispanic Heritage Month and Dominican Independence Day. HAA has also conducted meetings between the White House Associate Director–Office of Public Liaison and the Dominican community in NY to address community problems and troubleshoot solutions. As a result, the Republican National Committee and other Federal Institutions have been invited to meet and spearhead these concerns.
In June 2003, after the death of several amateur baseball players in Dominican Republic, HAA worked with Major League Baseball (MLB) and Senators from the Dominican Republic to pass legislation that would allow MLB to extend its drug testing program to the island. MLB agreed to implement, in its Dominican baseball academies, the same drug testing they offer their minor leagues in the United States. MLB also agreed to extend their drug testing program to other countries where they have academies, such as Venezuela.
Mateo was named to the White House Presidential Scholars commission by President George W. Bush in 2003 and asked to stay and serve as a commissioner by President Obama. In 2005 Mateo was named Hispanic Director for Michael Bloomberg’s reelection campaign. Mateo organized a team of Hispanic men and women that led to record breaking results for the campaign. In 2007 Mateo became a stock broker and is a principal at Penserra Securities.
Currently under the umbrella of HAA are community organizations such as The Association of Bodegueros of the United States, The Flight 587 Families Association, The NY State Federation of Taxi Drivers, Northern Manhattan Restaurant & Night life LLC, and the Dominican Physicians Association.
Other notable mentions Fernando has received:
- Named “One of the Five Most Influential People in the Country” by New York Times, along with Bill Clinton, Jimmy Johnson, Pat Riley and Madonna (1994)
- The National Leadership Award, by the National Republican Congressional Committee (1990)
- Small Business of the Year, New York Chamber of Commerce (1990)
- Minority Firm of the Year, NYS Department of Commerce (1991)
- Volunteer of the Year, NYC Mayor David Dinkins (1991)
- Unsung Hero Award, McDonalds (1991)
- Entrepreneur of the Year, Ernst & Young (1993)
- Person of the Year Award, conferred concurrently with Rudolph Giuliani and Christie Todd-Whitman (1994)
- Ellis Island Medal of Honor (1994)
- Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Award from National Education Association (1994)
- Named to the Presidential Scholars Commission by President George W. Bush (March 2003)
- Serves as a Trustee at Mercy College in NYS and has raised tens of thousands of dollars to help with scholarships
- The leading Hispanic fundraiser for the Republican party in NYS, having raised close to $1 million in 2004
- Mateo and HAA have secured $650,000 to protect the Bodegueros in NYC
- Father of the year in US
- Person of the week with Peter Jennings ABC News
- Delivered 100,000 signed ballots to the Senate in the Dominican Republic and helped Dominicans secure the right to vote abroad for the first time in the history of that nation
In recognition of his community service President George Bush designated Fernando as a shinning point of light. Fernando has been cited as one of People Magazine’s “Amazing Americans” and featured in numerous publications. He has been honored as “Person of the Week” by ABC World New Tonight and has appeared on ABC, CBS, CNBC, CNN, PBS, and syndicated shows including Oprah Winfrey, Phil Donohue, and Geraldo. The New York Times cited Fernando as one of the five most influential people in the United States.