Dan Charlier is not your average cigar enthusiast. For one, he takes the meaning of “cigar enthusiast” to a whole different level, making cigars an important centerpiece of his business and personal life. Beyond that, he is a man who has been able to find ways to reach the top levels of achievement throughout his life, regardless of setbacks or facing long odds.
Dan Charlier’s story is that of the American Dream. His mother migrated to the United States, and left him with his grandmother in his native Haiti, until she could afford to send for him at the age of 9. That was the first time he met his mother. From then on, she raised him to be the strong-willed and disciplined man that he is today. Charlier came from nothing, and through hard work, determination and the inspiration of his mother, has reached the highest levels of personal and professional accomplishment.
I sat down with Mr. Charlier at the private Grand Havana Room cigar club in Beverly Hills, Calif., where he now spends a good portion of his business and leisure hours — when he’s not spending time with his wife Christine and their children, or traveling the world. Whether it’s strategizing his next moves, meeting with associates and clients, or taking time out for an interview, the Grand Havana Room is Charlier’s home away from home.
Climbing the Marine Corps Ranks
Starting with Charlier’s time as a former Marine, he progressed through the ranks from infantryman to drill instructor within only three years of graduating boot camp. As a Sergeant, Charlier quickly became noticed as being one of the best among his peers. It wasn’t before long that Sgt. Charlier was serving as the 23rd Color Sergeant of the Marine Corps, carrying the national colors for Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton.
A position of utmost prestige, the Color Sergeant of the Marine Corps represents the Marines, the President of the United States and the country, at everything from White House State dinners, to official honorary burials at Arlington National Cemetery. According to Charlier, taking the position means that, “You live in a fish bowl. In everything you do, or fail to do, you represent the entire Marine Corps. You cannot make any mistakes.”
Serving in the position of Color Sergeant of the Marine Corps, Sgt. Charlier also had direct contact with the presidents he served under. When I asked him about his interactions with the presidents, he said that, “President Clinton was a very down to earth man. When you meet him one on one, he’s very easy to talk to. He has a lot of charisma and is just a really cool cat.”
Charlier also has stories from speaking with George H.W. Bush. When he met President Bush, the president told him that he had never seen a drill team perform at the level he witnessed under the direction of Sgt. Charlier. If you’re looking for recommendations, the most powerful man in the world isn’t a bad one to have on the resume.
When I asked him about how he was finally selected for the prestigious Marine Corps position, he told me this story:
“I get to Washington, D.C. and there are about 40 of us competing for this position. The Color Sergeant at the time was a guy named Sgt. Keck, who was going to select his replacement. The first thing we do when we get there is change clothes to go for a run.
Everyone had to group up into groups of two, and no one wanted to pair up with the Color Sergeant. I told him that I would pair up with him. He tells me it’s going to be a fast run, and asked if I could hang. So we take off, and Sgt. Keck is running so fast, I’m thinking to myself there’s no way he can keep up this pace!
So I keep up with him for the first mile and a half and I’m just sucking wind. It had been a long time since someone had me breathing like that. We get to the mile and a half mark, and my body literally just shut down. The second mile and a half was running up Capitol Hill, and Sgt. Keck started running even faster. At that point I was basically walking and couldn’t keep up. I ended up being one of the last ones to finish, and everyone was laughing when I got back.”
His eventual selection to the position may have had something to do with Charlier’s bold move. Not shying away from a challenge, and taking the lead among a group of highly regarded soldiers despite the risk of failure, showed his character. It is this kind of leadership and determination that has given Charlier an edge in his career.
After completing his successful term as the Color Sergeant of the Marine Corps, and feeling stagnant with his life after a couple more years in the military, Charlier had plans of pursuing his ambition further in civilian life. It was at the age of 33 that he finally decided to take yet another leap of faith, and exit his successful military career to pursue his dream of becoming an entrepreneur.
Businessman and Entrepreneur
I asked Charlier what it was that made him decide to leave his military career to pursue a business career, and he told me that “It wasn’t something that was planned. In my military career, I was being groomed to become the first African American Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps. So I thought I was going to be in for at least 20 years.”
But Charlier realized that there was a different path he could take, if he just built up enough courage to break out of the mold that he had created for himself — however successful it may have seemed. Getting tired of having a mediocre financial existence was a driving force for the Sergeant. Though he was making decent money and had plenty of great benefits, he just knew there was something more in store for him.
Like most entrepreneurs when they first start out, most of Charlier’s friends and colleagues thought he was crazy for leaving a comfortable life and charting course for unknown waters. But sticking to his guns, and following that internal leader inside himself, he made the jump and never looked back.
With the counsel of a trusted mentor, Ed Mylett, Charlier began his career in the financial services industry, helping to provide families with financial guidance. At 33, Charlier first learned of the way that money works, and the way it can work for you if you have the right information. It sparked a light in his mind, and made him realize that he had to do everything possible to help other people see what he had realized.
With the directed focus of a Marine Sergeant, Charlier charged forward and paved a path to his personal financial success, within the first year of exiting his high-ranking military position. And he didn’t stop there. Eventually he would go on to build his own financial services agency, which applies a different marketing strategy to financial advisory. As Charlier points out, “We brought a new idea to an old industry, with the goal of revolutionizing the industry. We started with the motto of ‘Achieve financial independence with the cause of no family left behind.’”
By taking a model that has traditionally been geared toward high-net worth individuals and families, Charlier realized that he could take this to the middle-class, upper middle-class, as well as affluent families and help many people in the process. The plan worked, and now Charlier has 15 offices across the U.S., including Puerto Rico. He has 50 independent brokers who work with him, and he has worked with more than 17,000 families over his 14 years in business.
Cigars in Business and Beyond
When I asked Charlier about his love for cigars and how that plays into his professional life, he told me that he has become known for smoking cigars throughout his company, and whenever someone smells cigar smoke, they know that he must be somewhere close by.
Not only has Charlier become known as a cigar lover, he directly ties it into both his business and personal life.
“When I wake up in the morning the first thing I do is meditate. I go out on the patio off of my room and I’ll have a cup of coffee and light a cigar, before anyone wakes up, and go into my meditation,” said Charlier. “I spend most of my day working from the Grand Havana Room [in Beverly Hills] and I’ll have most of my business appointments here. My office is around the corner, but my team knows that if they want to have a meeting, they have to come here. Cigars are a normal part of my business process. I get a chance to meet very interesting people all over the world because of cigars.”
Whether it’s meeting and befriending Jay Z in Hawaii while smoking a cigar on the beach, or striking up a conversation over a cigar with the Sheik of Qatar in Paris, cigars are an instrumental part of Charlier’s experiences.
“Wherever I go — I do about six or seven trips a year with my wife — there has to be a cigar lounge nearby. It has to be a cigar-friendly place. I was in Toronto recently, and I’ll never go back because there is nowhere you can smoke, not even in your own car. I really believe in designing my life. So wherever I go, I create an environment where I can relax.”
Dan Charlier is the type of individual who designs everything in his life, grabbing the bull by the horns and creating his own destiny. It was something that his mother engrained in his character, that he honed with precision in the Marine Corps, and that he carries with him in life and business today — along with the cigar in his hand.