At first greeting, Efrain Toro seems to be down-to-earth, upbeat, and successful Senior Partner with JPB & Associates, a brokerage firm that offers a variety of insurance and financial products.
While all of this is true, there is so much more than meets the eye with Toro.
OUTCOAST sat down with Toro earlier this week and boy were we in for a surprise! His story is filled with hope, excitement, and most of all, fate. This is definitely a story worth sharing.
Tell me about your upbringing
I joke that I was “made in New York” and born in Puerto Rico, because my mom was 7 1/2 months pregnant when she moved from New York to Puerto Rico. I was born in Puerto Rico in 1963, the year that Kennedy was shot. I spent 15 years in Puerto Rico with my parents and then left for Miami, where I finished high school and college.
What did you want to be when you grew up?
I was a strange cat and always in my head. I was very creative, so I knew I wanted to do something creative. I fantasized about being a photographer or an actor. I also loved anything that had to do with nature, animals, arts, and movies.
I really wanted to be an actor, but it wasn’t in the cards.
Why is that?
First, my accent was a challenge. People in the industry and my school coaches would say that a Puerto Rican would not get work and that my accent was too heavy.
Also, by the time I was 17, I started realizing that the theatre community was very gay. I was told, “only gay boys are in the arts and theatre.” Since I was still very closeted at the time, I decided that being part of the theatre industry might out me, so I went off to school to become a lawyer. I studied political science and history, but by my senior year, decided that being a lawyer wasn’t the right fit for me.
Where did you wind up after college?
Although I was a poli-sci major, there were no jobs available to me at the time. The only job that came up was as a special education teacher. So that’s what I did. I was a special education teacher for seven years in Miami.
That’s a commendable job. Why did you leave teaching?
I left teaching because I felt that I had reached my pinnacle. I had developed one of the best cluster systems in the company.
I also wasn’t out at work, which created some challenges. These women would get crushes on me. I had to hide and lie and create obstacles about my sexuality. The rumors started to circulate. There was lots of gossip in the school.
When did you finally come out?
I’m not a gold card member, but I’ve been female-free since I was 19! Although wasn’t out at work until much later.
Laughs. I love the way you said that! How did your parents feel about your coming out?
It was difficult at first, but we got through it.
That must have been difficult. So, where did you go after teaching?
Toward the end of my teaching career, I was invited to attend an arts program in Puerto Rico for the summer, near where my parents lived. I met a guy who was a film director and production designer. I would paint murals and backdrops of his sets for fun.
By the end of that year, I joined him in NY. I loved New York. That’s why I say that I was made in New York.
The two of us stayed with my partner’s friend who was a costume designer. I remember the afternoon that she pulled out these incredible clothes from a rack to show off the costumes for a show she was working on, which had just made it to “off-Broadway” from “off-off-Broadway. “ It was exciting to be behind the scenes.
My boyfriend and I left to do a shoot in Mexico City, but were contacted by the friend in New York not long after, asking us to return to New York. Apparently, Broadway had picked up her show. The show was RENT!
Wow! RENT? That’s amazing! Were you a part of the show?
I was a photographer and shot on set. We stayed in New York and my photos were eventually used in the official RENT book. You can still buy the book because it was the original cast.
I had some amazing experiences in New York. I painted in my off time. In fact, Martha Stewart bought the first three paintings I ever sold. I also worked with Ricky Martin…and he’s just as good looking in person as everyone says.
Smiling. What an exciting life? So my big question: why would you ever leave New York?
In 2000, after breaking up with my boyfriend, I came to Atlanta in passing in between shoots. My sister and brother-in-law had a business. She needed some help.
So, I bought a ten-dollar suit to help my sister. We built a multi-million dollar business within a couple of years by knocking on doors and handing out goodie bags. That’s how I switched gears to sales. I became the Sales and Marketing Director and sold medical provider services to insurance companies and workers compensation carriers.
What happened to that business?
Even though our services were sold to insurance companies, the people being serviced by the insurance companies were construction companies. During the recession, the building boom stopped, so construction workers weren’t being hired. Nobody was getting hired, so nobody was getting hurt. Needless to say, our business was hurt in the process.
How were you introduced to AFLAC and why did you leave?
Around this time, I was introduced to AFLAC. They wanted to hire someone to speak Spanish. I sold a hell of a lot of insurance and was a top producer. But anyone who knows me well, knows that I hate sitting all day and talking on the phone, which is exactly what I was doing with AFLAC.
When NY Life recruited me and promised me a job that included more than sitting and phones, I jumped at the opportunity. That’s how I got into financial services.
So how did you wind up back in Florida?
I moved to Florida around three years ago. I feel very comfortable here.
In Atlanta, I had a partner I loved dearly, but we broke up.
I also have a mother struggling with Alzheimer’s, so I now live with my parents to help take care of my mother.
As for work, Jim Parks, who was the managing partner with AIG for the West Coast of Florida, saw potential in me and offered me a job. He said, “If you can build a business with goodie bags and a ten dollar suit, you can do this.”
I became a top producer, but this time, with a much nicer suit!
A year into AIG, which was around January of 2016, all AIG offices were closed. I moved over to Prudential as Jim put together JPG, then brought me back on board with his team.
Do you miss NY and all of the excitement that came with it?
I’m one of those people who believes that when a chapter is closed, it’s closed. When it’s time for something new, it’s new.
It seems, in my life, that a break up typically aligns with a shift in my location. Looking back, it makes sense, because when something dies, something new begins.
Every move I ever made was the best move I ever made because every decision at the time is the best decision.
That’s wonderful wisdom to live by. What’s your favorite part about what you do now?
Because of my ups and downs, I decided to learn how to not lose money, nor to place all of my eggs in one basket. I’m getting too old to start all over again.
I had real estate in Atlanta that I lost. I had a successful career in Atlanta and in New York. Both were lost. I got tired of losing jobs and stability.
My life had become feast or famine. I know what it’s like to lose all of your stuff. So, I’ve learned how to make money and how to keep money.
Now, I get to help others do what I’ve done. I tell my clients, “I’m not the guy you come to when you want to make a lot of money. But, I’m the guy you come to when you want to keep it.”
My life has always been about fate. This is exactly where I’m meant to be!
To learn more about Efrain Toro, or to contact him about the services he provides, click here.