By Amanda Long – Contributing Writer
You don’t need to convince Cristina Antelo that inclusion is good for business.
The Cuban-American lobbyist and owner of Ferox Strategies, a D.C. advocacy and public relations firm, is grateful other voices are starting to harmonize with hers, echoing the message that diversity matters and, in a town where everyone wants to be heard, that having a distinct voice is an edge.
“I’ve been on this soapbox for 20 years, saying, ‘Include me not just for the sake of inclusion, but because inclusion is good for you, too,’” Antelo says.
Throughout her career, she made that case for the Latino business community at large, taking that soapbox to the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute, where’s she been on the board for five years. She’s not one to shy away from a chance to amplify causes and clients she believes in. “I’m a unicorn in an industry dominated by white men. I’m a woman. I’m a Latina. I’m a lawyer with a business background and Wall Street experience. I can look at a balance sheet and help you navigate and understand all the legal issues.”
It’s a skill set that served her well when she launched Ferox Strategies in February 2018 after working for top lobbying firms in D.C. In a matter of months, she went from two clients to 10. Antelo doubled revenue within a year and surpassed $1 million in revenue with clients including major chain retailers, spirits companies, wellness brands and amusement parks. And she made sure to hire a Republican, knowing that to walk the “hear all sides” walk and survive for the long-term, she had to have a bipartisan firm.
An employer of five with her own balance sheet to consider, Antelo was gearing up for election season when Covid hit. The happy hours, networking and hallway chitchat came to a screeching halt. The vacuum of in-person connection has proven to be Antelo’s biggest professional challenge.
“I’m in the relationship business. I get intel because I went to a party and overhead something. Now, I sign up for every Zoom I can,” she says. “During a recent Zoom meeting, a congressman jokingly said to me: ‘Wait, Cristina, you don’t have a question? You always have a question.’ I’m going to wear that comment as a badge of honor.”
The day after D.C. shut down in March, Antelo got what she worried might be a bad sign: A client called, ending the relationship. She was prepared and stayed focused, negotiating with new clients and hustling to show current ones that the pandemic had not muffled her advocacy. Since then, six new clients have signed on, Disney among them.
CEO, Ferox Strategies
- Age: 43
- Residence: Arlington
- Education: Bachelor’s in political science and government, Georgetown University; J.D., George Washington University; Stanford University School of Business Latino Entrepreneurship Program
- Family: Husband Gino Duda; daughters Havana, 9, and Brooklyn, 6
- Hometown: Dallas
- First job: Subway sandwich artist. That job taught me to take pride in your work, even if you’re just making a sandwich.
- Most likely to be found on the weekend: Organizing. My husband teases me because I cannot relax. My daughters love to bake. I’m trying to get creative about how we spend our time together. So, if they want to bake, I’m prepared. I’ve become quite the Suzy Homemaker, thanks to Duncan Hines.
- My role model: My grandma, Celia. I know a lot of Latinas say “grandma,” but it’s the truth. She was such a hard worker. She came here from Cuba, where she was a well-educated teacher. She took a job well below where she was intellectually because she couldn’t speak English. She was such a hard worker because she knew she was building a future for the rest of the family.
- Best business advice: It sounds like the advice you get in Vegas betting, but it’s worked for me: You gotta risk big to win big. You have to take the shots. That sticks with me.