How SWEET it is! College alumnus leads the U.S. division of his family’s confectionary business.

Fernando Panizo (BBA ’00) never tires of the sweet smell of cocoa, the main ingredient in the fine chocolates produced by his family in Peru. It is this smell that he grew up with as he watched his mother, Elena, create the sweet treats in their home kitchen. Not only did he crave his mother’s chocolates, but he yearned to be a part of the business.

Fernando Panizo

As a young boy, he helped his mother with her homegrown business by picking up materials at the print shop and delivering the chocolates. Today, he is the general manager for Helena Chocolatier in the United States.

“Everyone wants to sell in the U.S.; this is the most important market in the world. I am involved in every aspect (of the business). I wear all of the hats, and that makes me very proud and more equipped to lead,” he said.

Three of Panizo’s siblings also are involved with the company. And the creation of the company’s name says much about the importance of family and the success they hope to attain as a family and as a company. “Elena,” of course, is taken after his mother’s name—the creator of the fine recipes. The “H” represents “Hombre,” (“man” translated in Spanish) and is a symbol for his father, George, who helped his mother build the company in 1975 by constructing a small factory within their large house. “The ‘H’ also represents ‘Hilton,’ the hotel where my mother stayed when she visited the U.S.,” said Panizo—clearly a symbol of success attained in the United States as the company grew.

Panizo attributes most of his business knowledge to his courses in the business school at Florida International University, namely, Operations Management, Managerial Accounting, and Strategic Management, the latter of which he took in Croatia through the university’s study-abroad program.

“I chose Florida International University because I had heard great things about the College of Business Administration, the university’s proximity to Peru, and its international atmosphere,” he said. “Today, I have great friends I met the from Peru, my native country, as well as from Colombia, Venezuela, and the U.S. As I increase my sales, I will embark on an MBA degree to help my business grow bigger.”

Although Panizo gained much experience with Enterprise Rent-a-Car after graduation, and later with Caribbean Marketing Resorts, it is through Helena Chocolatier that he is realizing his dream. Working in his family’s business and helping to achieve his mother and father’s vision is what keeps him going. Panizo will tell you that “eating the chocolates” is his motivation!

Alumni and corporate friends of the college had the pleasure of tasting Panizo’s favorite chocolate at this year’s Entrepreneurship Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony and Luncheon on May 17th. Through his generosity, each guest received a complimentary sample. Guests of American Airlines First Class also have the pleasure of receiving Helena Chocolatier’s Pecan Chocoteja—Panizo’s favorite. “This is my greatest success. I am so proud to see that my Tejas are served on the same tray as Coke, 30,000 feet high!”

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