(This article first appeared in the Belen Jesuit Alumni Magazine, Winter 2021 edition)
Though he prefers to give back quietly and without fanfare, the internet makes it easy to learn about Armando Codina, his wife Margarita, and their family’s philanthropic endeavors. Most notably, in 2000 Codina was the recipient of the American Red Cross Humanitarian of the Year Award. In 2016, Margarita and he were the recipients of the United Way of Miami-Dade’s prestigious Tocqueville Award for Outstanding Philanthropy.
”This country has been extraordinarily good to me and Miami has been extraordinarily good to me too,” Codina said, “There is not a city that I can think of in the United States that would have been as inviting to us Cuban-Americans. To whom much is given much is expected. So giving something back is the least that I can do.”
He is, among many other things, the founder and executive chairman of a real estate investment and development firm, Codina Partners, LLC. Though he is a member of the class of 1965, Codina didn’t graduate from Belen. Instead, his time at Havana’s ‘palacio de la educación’ was cut short by Fidel Castro’s communist takeover of Cuba.
“I hate to tell you what I remember most about Belén because I don't think that‘s what people want to hear,” he said with a laugh. “The Tropicana was on the other side of the wall and at times I used to sneak over to watch the rehearsals during the day.” And to think that Wolverines today — like Armando’s current 6th and 9th-grade grandsons — might get excited about walking across 8th street to eat at Wajiro’s.
Of course, the excitement came to a screeching halt when the school was taken over by the Castro dictatorship, and the Jesuits were expelled from the island. After Armando came to the United States as part of Operation Peter Pan, he spent time at Camp Matecumbe (a temporary shelter in Southwest Miami), and three foster homes, before finally being reunited with his mother during his junior year at DePaul Catholic High School in Wayne, New Jersey. He finished high school at Bishop Kenny High School in Jacksonville, Florida.
Armando worked two jobs while he lived with his mom and didn’t go the college route. Still, he was fascinated by computers, and his work at banks showed him there was an opportunity in helping the medical industry shift to automation. In 1970, he moved to Miami and founded a medical billing company, which he sold in 1978. Wanting to engage with his community, he decided to try politics and led George H.W. Bush’s Florida Republican primary run against Ronald Reagan.
“Fortunately, during that campaign, I got cured of politics,” he said. “Luckily for Miami, I came to the conclusion that politics wasn’t for me.” His venture in commercial real estate, Codina Group, was built on partnerships with and investments from some of the doctors he had come to know in his previous business. Armando built this new firm, which got off the ground with a particular focus on medical buildings, into a success and eventually sold it to Florida East Coast Industries. Armando stayed in real estate development, expanding his footprint into residential properties. In 2009, with his daughter Ana-Marie Codina Barlick he founded Codina Partners. The Codina Partners portfolio consists of residential, commercial and mixed use projects including the over one-billion-dollar investment in Downtown Doral.
For Codina, thriving in business — which extended beyond real estate, as he has been on the boards of BellSouth, Home Depot, and General Motors, to name a few — also meant an increased capacity to engage with and give back to his community. “While I did not get involved in politics any further, I did become very involved in civic life in Miami,” said Codina. “I was involved with the chamber of commerce, the rebuilding after Hurricane Andrew, and I led the fight against casino gambling in Florida twice. So I‘ve been very involved civically.” At the heart of his stellar business success is the staunch reminder of that 14-year old boy who came to Miami alone. He has not forgotten his roots, and continues to sow seeds of greatness in the legacy of his four accomplished daughters, Ana, Alexandra, Andria and Amanda and his grandchildren.