A bank of 11 computer monitors inside the Coral Gables Otálvaro family home gave South Florida an early entry into the fledgling world of online trading.
Carlos Otálvaro, a veteran vice president with Merrill Lynch, Shearson Lehman and Bear Stearns, who died Aug. 18 at 77 of complications from Parkinson’s disease, pioneered the online trading industry in the 1990s from Miami-Dade. He poured $10 million into starting WallStreet Electronica, or WallStreet*E, and installed two of his sons, Carlos and Noah, to run the company.
WallStreet*E quickly established itself. In 1998, its first year, the company had 6,000 accounts, with 60 percent held by foreign investors.
Barron’s ranked Otálvaro’s firm among its Best Online Brokers for 11 consecutive years. In 2010, Smart Money, the Wall Street Journal magazine, ranked WallStreet*E in its Top 10, just behind Fidelity, E-Trade and Charles Schwab.
“He accomplished this as an immigrant entrepreneur based out of Miami. Before places like New York, London and Tokyo dove into the technologies that would transform the world of personal investing, online trading was already being hatched here in Miami,” said another son, Antonio Otálvaro, the founder and chief executive officer of Raw Shorts, a Miami tech startup that enables businesses to create customized videos.
“Were it not for our father’s journey, vision, and persistence, we would not be the determined entrepreneurs, artists, dancers, coaches, parents, and doctoral students that we are today,” Otálvaro said.
The senior Otálvaro was born in Bogotá on March 30, 1940. At 15, he was admitted to New York’s Columbia University, where he liked to joke that he was the only Colombian at Columbia. There, he led Carlos Ota: Columbia Lions, a Latin American band, as its singer, guitarist and percussionist. After earning his bachelor’s in 1961, he pursued a graduate degree at the Menéndez Pelayo International University in Spain.
In Madrid, Otálvaro founded a self-service chain laundromat. In 1976, political turmoil led to the family’s flight to New Orleans. He lectured at Tulane University by day and worked as a janitor by night.
Soon, he joined Merrill Lynch in New Orleans and moved to the Miami office in 1979, where he tapped his knowledge of Latin American markets to serve as vice president for several major brokerages. As the web took off in the 1990s, Otálvaro realized that the internet would revolutionize the brokerage business just as ATMs changed the banking industry.
He also figured out the long and the short of the limousine industry. As the size of limos scaled downward in major cities like New York and Los Angeles, Otálvaro and his wife Sonia started Vintage Rolls Royce Limousine of Coral Gables. His limos, however, were bigger, a preference of Gen Xers flocking to South Beach.
Otálvaro’s survivors also include his children Francisco, Nena, and Gigi; and 10 grandchildren. A viewing and wake will be at 6 p.m. Thursday at Funeraria Memorial Plan Westchester, 9800 SW 24th St. A funeral Mass will be at 10:30 a.m. Friday at Epiphany Church, 8235 SW 57th Ave., Miami.