Sidney Torres lives on the neighboring island of Eleuthera where he is creating a perfect piece of hotel paradise. He is a hardworking determined whirling dervish wild cat and I liked him immediately. Born in to a pretty normal middle-class family it is shocking to learn that Sidney was taking heroin by the age of 14, struggling between dyslexia and his parents troubled marriage.
His parents divorce was an abrupt and shocking end to family life. “My mother made my father choose between his lifestyle of affairs and his family”, says Sidney in a matter-of-fact tone. “And so my father simply said to my mother, my brother and me: ‘OK , you guys can leave now’.” That marked the start of Sidney’s dealings with drugs. His mother moved them in to a 1-bed apartment. “She was messed up. We were too. I started skipping school and I ended up dating a girl 15 years older than me. My parents didn’t notice. When I was 14 years old, I started using heroin. It was a crazy time”.
Luckily his grandmother did notice. “She went to my parents and said, ‘You have to do something with your son or he is going to die’.” And because of her intervention, his parents came together and put him in boarding school and he was saved – temporarily.
After school, he went to work with Lenny Kravitz. Life was great. He was a southern boy who was suddenly dropped into the celebrity scene and he partied, hard, for two years. But he fell in to his old ways with drugs again. It didn’t take long before the problems started. Then Lenny fired him. Sidney’s initial response was one of denial: “It was all about everybody else – Lenny was wrong, Lenny was a bad person. And then I got sober and realized that I couldn’t always blame other people for my problems.”
The road to recovery was not without pain or fear but Sidney did it. “It took me 48 hours of detox before I could even stand up. But I got through it. By 1997 I was clean.”
He got a job working for a contractor – he was the guy who was sent in to clear up building sites. Within a year he was a foreman. He then saw a little duplex in a state of disrepair and he got the idea to fix it up and sell it on. “I asked Granny to co-sign for $50,000 credit to buy it. She really believed in me and she agreed. My property investments have never looked back. Within 6 or 7 years I had real estate in development worth $100 million”.
Sidney didn’t stop there for a breather… and neither did the interview.
“I sacrificed things. I would sleep in my car if someone wanted to rent my room. Everything went in to building my business. By the time I was nearly 23, I had made my first million dollars.
“I bought a Ferrari – in fact I had 3 nice cars in the driveway. When my banker at the time came to meet me at my home he saw the cars and said, “Do you have enough cash in the bank to pay off the loan you are requesting from me and own those cars? Show me you are serious and I will lend you the money.” It was one of the best pieces of advice I have ever had. I sold the cars and bought a pick-up truck. It showed my employees that I cared and then it dawned on me that I didn’t really want those things anyway. It was time to grow up.”
Extraordinary enough? You would think. Then Hurricane Katrina happened.
Sidney had grown up in New Orleans. As a family they had always left town as advised by the hurricane warnings. Likewise now, just before hurricane Katrina, he and his development team had evacuated to Florida and were preparing their next big project in New Orleans when the storm hit.
New Orleans was devastated by flooding. “I felt so helpless.” Says Sidney with real sadness in his voice. “Here I was looking at the TV, at all the people who were without power. There was nothing to do unless you had a boat – or a helicopter! I felt so bad and the Government rescue operation seemed to be taking forever to materialize.” Then the call came in from the US Marshall. “They had heard how hands-on I was and they said, ‘We have our rescue teams sleeping in their cars. Can they stay in your hotels? But you will have to provide your own generator and your own water trucks.’ Luckily that’s just what we had!” Sidney and his team sat down and worked out how much water they needed to provide drinking water and enough water for people in 150 rooms to have a shower … They worked out how much fuel would be needed to keep the generators running for 30 days… and so it went on. “I wasn’t thinking about the money,” says Sidney, “or even how I would make money out of this. I just wanted to help, and I found that I could.”
His office became the hub of post-Katrina rescue efforts, from where food, clothes and help were distributed. Sidney became “the Guy who cleaned up New Orleans.” And he got respect and reward “for doing things from the heart”
And it did pay off. (And he got the keys to the city.)
So what makes him tick? “I meditate and I pray every day. And every time I go in to a new deal my mind, my heart and my gut have to be in line. I have learned the hard way.”
And is he ever scared? “No, because I lost everything as a heroin addict. I know what it is to have nothing. But I came through.”
So what would he tell his 14-year-old self? “That’s interesting. You know at 14 I was a mess on drugs.” He pauses – perhaps for the first time. Then he says, “But you know what? I don’t think I would change anything. The experiences I had then helped to create the person I am now.”