The truth, trials and triumphs of Carrie Charles
Editor’s Note: This story contains descriptions of sexual and physical violence and suicide. It could be triggering for some.
Here are a few things to know about Carrie Charles. She’s a tough cookie, as resilient as they come.
She likes to laugh and takes great pleasure in making others do the same. Her comedic timing is quite commendable. And don’t dare her to do something. Because she will do it.
It’s hard not to be drawn to Charles. Even in a full room, with people speaking over one another, there’s something about her that draws your attention. Something inviting and kind. She has the ability to put you at ease when in her presence.
Charles is the chief executive officer for Broadstaff, a staffing firm, in Tampa, which specializes in communications in the technology space. She hosts a podcast 5G Talent Talk, in partnership with RCR Wireless News. She’s a former life coach and a dedicated Christian. All told, she is a total badass.
In 2022, Broadstaff will reach $33 million in revenue. The company has had three consecutive years of ranking on the Inc. 5,000 fastest-growing private companies list, in 2020, 2021 and 2022, respectively.
The Broadstaff story is one of success under Charles’ leadership, true. But the story of Charles, the woman, is far more “juicy,” as she says.
It’s not a fairy tale, more like a Lifetime Channel movie.
It’s gritty and there is pain. But she wears her scars openly. Not surprising. If anyone could overcome such experiences, and do it with grace, it’s Carrie Charles.
Tough Times in Tennessee
Charles was born in Chicago. Her mother was a seamstress, and her dad was a businessman who owned a tailor shop and some real estate properties. To say she wasn’t born with a silver spoon in her mouth would be more than an understatement.
“There was no one on my side of the family who had anything more than a high school education,” Charles says.
Her parents divorced when she was just 2 and her mother moved her to a small town, Monterey, Tennessee. “It had, like, one little hardware story and a gas station,” she says. “My grandfather worked in a rock query; it was just really country.”
Her parents later remarried for “convenience,” as Charles describes it.
“My dad said, I’m not going to send you any more money unless you marry me again,” Charles says. So, they remarried but he didn’t live with them. He remained in Chicago.
“He would come and visit every three weeks and he would treat me like a princess,” Charles says. “I was the apple of his eye.”
Charles’ understanding of her relationship with her father then takes a turn for the worse. During one of her visits with dad, one of her half-sisters caught her father in the act of molesting her. She was 7 or 8 at the time.
She says she has blocked a lot of those moments out of her memory.
“Sometimes, when I have surgery, I remember things when I go under,” she says.
After that day, her mother refused to let Charles see her father again. She would, but much later in life, and on her own terms.
“In my little mind, I thought that it was me. That I did something wrong. Like, oh God what have I done? I’m never going to see my father again. I did this. And I did something really bad,” she says.
She goes on to describe more dysfunction in her home, as she aged. Strange men coming in and out of her house, letting the imagination put the pieces of the puzzle together as to what her mother was doing.
“I remember putting the pillow over my head, sometimes, when I was trying to sleep,” Charles says. She adds, she was trying to block out the “noises.”
At around the age of 12 years old, Charles admits she started to act out. Even still, she remained a diligent student.
“The Carrie at home was very different than the Carrie at school,” Charles says.
At school, Charles was captain of the cheerleading team and got straight A’s in her classes. A “popular girl,” if you will.
“At school, no one would have ever known anything that was going on [at home],” Charles says.
Charles dealt with a lot of abuse from men throughout her formative years.
Her mother’s next relationship, the man who would become her stepfather, didn’t provide any more stability.
“When he moved in, my life became even more difficult because he’s like, don’t wear makeup, you look like a whore, don’t dress like that…,” she says. “Just total verbal abuse, like constantly telling me how horrible I was. That I was never going to amount to anything. I was stupid, ugly and nobody ever wanted me around. It just tore me to shreds.”
Her mother kept trying to leave the abusive situation, but the abuser would find them and bring them back.
“He told me, ‘You will never leave, because if you leave, I will kill your mother,” Charles says.
On Her Own
Into her teen years, Charles watched on as her mother remained in the physically abusive relationship, as she continued to experience emotional abuse from her stepfather. She also notes that mental illness was prevalent in her family, including her mother, who suffered from severe depression.
“I had to be the one, I had to take care of everything,” she says. “I had to just figure it out.”
At 16 years old, Charles’ mother and stepfather moved out, leaving her to live on her own in a trailer. They were taking a job, working at a campsite, about an hour away.
“I was like, OK. Thank God. Get out. Go away,” she says. “I had a job, I went to school, I paid my bills and I lived by myself.”
Throughout all the turbulence in her life, Charles says she always felt connected to God, even though her mother wouldn’t take her to church. After her dog, Toby, ran away one day, she was devastated.
“My dog was my everything,” she says, adding she was only about 7 years old at the time. “I’d lost my dog and I just remember laying in the grass, like, ‘God, what is going on? Why is all of this happening to me? I can’t take this.”
She says she heard a voice inside her head, it was loud, and it was clear. It said, “It’s going to get worse, but this is happening to you so you can help others later. You are going to help people. You’re going to have a great life because you’re going to get through this.”
The voice was right. It was going to get worse, but she was going to get through it.
The Plot Thickens
Not surprisingly, by the time Charles was entering young adulthood, she had developed a complicated relationship with men.
“I always had this really weird relationship with guys because I couldn’t fall in love,” Charles says. “It was just total detachment. No connection. I very much felt anger toward men.”
She headed to the University of Knoxville and found a roommate. An “absolutely gorgeous” gay man, as she describes him.
“We go to this gay bar one night and there was this girl, like the rockstar of the lesbians. The head lesbian,” Charles says laughing.
One thing led to another, yadda, yadda, yadda, Charles was in a lesbian relationship that lasted two years. This is not something she regrets. It was a part of her journey.
She later says, she felt accepted and part of a community. She felt loved, maybe for the first time in her life.
One night, Charles and her crew were partying and swung into a grocery store, she says, to probably pick up more alcohol, when a Marine Corps recruiter approached the women.
“He approaches us and says, ‘Let me tell you about the Marine Corps,’” she says. “Then my girlfriend looks over at me and says, ‘You could never do that. You’re way too feminine.’ ”
Charles walked right over to the officer and said, “Sign me up.”
She continues, “Like I don’t want to talk about it, sign me up right now,” she says. She visited a barber shop and proceeded to have her long hair chopped off.
The Marine Corps experience was not one of the chapters Charles has many good memories of. She was severely ill, twice, harassed for being a woman and, later, pulled into a full-fledged court trial regarding inappropriate conduct between cadets and drill sergeants that ended up with her commanding officer going to the brig, a naval or military prison.
She recalls the memory of having her barracks searched, “Like, oh, my God, what have I done?” she says. “It was the middle of the night, and they take me into this room. It’s just like the movies, bright lights everywhere. They interrogated me for hours.”
Eventually, Charles was able to secure an honorable discharge from the Marine Corps. Her DD-214 reads “Honorably Discharged—homosexuality.” This was 1988.
Charles describes the trial she was required to testify in as, well, an experience. There were diagrams of the female anatomy. Her reenactment of the spectacle is entertaining, to say the least.
“Someday, when I write my book, I’m going to put it all out there. I’m not ashamed of this anymore,” she says.
After the Marine Corps chapter was over, Charles moved in with the man she was dating in Okinawa, Japan.
“We figured we were going to get married anyways, why not get married now?” she recalls, adding the couple would receive an additional $600 per month, if married. But walking down the aisle, on her wedding day, she was already experiencing doubts. “I was like, this is not the guy that I’m really going to be with for the rest of my life. What am I doing?”
A week after they were married, he beat her face into a mirror. She was living in Southern California at the time, where he was stationed.
“I called my mom and asked her, ‘What do I do?’ And she told me, ‘Honey, just give him another chance,’ ” Charles says.
She decided to make an exit plan. She got a job, a car and saved up money so she could leave.
“I found a roommate and a place. I had everything lined up,” Charles says. “One day he comes home. I had everything packed and I was sitting there. He goes, ‘What are you doing?’ I said, ‘I have an apartment, I have money, I have a car, I’m done and goodbye.’ It was so liberating.”
In California, Charles dabbled in the banking world for a time, doing really well, then she moved on to selling insurance.
She established her first company, Financial Solutions for Women.
“People thought I was crazy, like, you can’t start a company for just women,” she says. “They said, ‘Men make the [financial] decisions, why are you starting a company to work with women and their money?’ I mean, what are they talking about? Women make the decisions. We all know that.”
She was 24-25 years old and hitting $100,000 in income, with 350 clients.
“My work ethic was insane,” she says.
During this time, she earned her certified financial planner designation. Meanwhile, she worked nonstop.
“I would take one day off, and I would party like a rockstar, and then I would go right back to work and do it all over again,” she says.
After a breakup, her friend decided they needed to take a trip to Los Angeles. They ended up at a well-known L.A. club, located on the Sunset Strip, the Roxbury.
“This guy walks up to me and he says, ‘Honey, I’m gay, but my friend wants to meet you.’ So, I’m like, OK, and I go over and I sit next to Harry Hedaya,” Charles says.
If the name sounds familiar, it’s because Hedaya was also on the cover of Tampa Bay Business and Wealth, in February 2021.
Charles and Hedaya spent the evening dancing and chatting at the bar. Hedaya laid out their life for them. They were going to be married, have a big house and two kids. They were going to have a plane and travel all over.
“I was like, ‘Wow, OK, what do you do?’ And he tells me, ‘I don’t have a job right now, but I have a really good idea,’” Charles says as she laughs. “I’m like, great, another guy I have to support.”
They dated for a few months before becoming engaged. Hedaya started his home equity loan business, his “good idea,” which it was.
“Every single thing that man said, in the bar, came true,” she says.
Charles was at a point in her life where she was more interested in being a wife and a mom than pursuing another career, but first, she had to learn how to cook, so she went to culinary school. An overachiever in every aspect of her life.
Charles and Hedaya welcomed their first child, a son, in Tarzana, a suburban neighborhood of L.A. Hedaya’s mortgage business was flourishing. The Hedaya family was living large. They lived in a multimillion-dollar home, in Mulholland Park, and were driven around town in a limousine.
But, when the business dried up overnight, it led the couple to make a big move.
“We pretty much lost everything,” Charles says.
At seven months pregnant with her daughter, and a young son, Charles and Hedaya moved across the country, to Tampa.
Starting Over, Again
Charles says she still admires Hedaya for starting over, from scratch.
“I have so much respect for him because he went back to the basics,” she says.
As Hedaya rebuilt his business portfolio, Charles was a stay-at-home mom. She’d volunteer at her kids’ schools, teach music and lead various charity events.
Charles and Hedaya, eventually, came to a crossroads in their marriage and divorced, amicably. “We tried to create an amazing divorce, for the benefit of the kids,” she says.
Going through a divorce and reestablishing the former couple’s business ventures, it was already a hectic time in Charles’ life. And then a routine checkup visit to the doctor, for her son, ripped the floor completely out from underneath her, again.
“The doctor takes us outside and sits us at a picnic table and he tells us our son has cancer,” Charles recalls. “When you hear those words, you don’t hear anything else after.”
Her son had to go into surgery, immediately, to find out if the cancer had spread.
It was another moment when Charles fell to the ground, broken. At this point in her life, she had lost both half-sisters, her mother and her father. Two of those losses were decisions she was forced to make whether or not to continue life support. Two others were suicides.
Potentially losing her son to cancer was one more loss Charles’ heart couldn’t take.
“I had all of this death occur,” she says. “I collapsed on the laundry room floor, and I looked up at God and asked, ‘Why?’ And again, I heard the same voice. ‘You’re going to help people; you’re going to help the world. You’ve got to get through it. I’m right here with you.’”
Following surgery, Charles’ son’s cancer was found not to have spread. His tumor was successfully removed.
“From that point forward, I made a vow to do whatever I could to make sure no parent ever has to hear the words, ‘Your child has cancer,’ ” Charles says. She currently sits on the board of the National Pediatric Cancer Foundation.
Her son, Zane, is now a healthy 24-year-old. He graduated from Stetson Law School at the top of his class. Her daughter, Zara, is 22 years old and plans to begin law school in 2023.
With her children grown, she spends her life now, with her life partner, John Sanguinetti, an entrepreneur and senior vice president of operations for Powerhouse Gyms International, and two Pomeranians, Winston and Truffles. (See table of contents photo).
This life she has created, it’s all a part of her purpose and what motivates her.
Never one to settle or back off from a challenge, the next big opportunity came along when she least expected it.
A Company Called Broadstaff
Turns out, the business world wasn’t done with Charles.
“Harry walks into my office one day and he goes, ‘I just invested in this company called Broadstaff,’ ” Charles recalls. “Then he says, ‘Why don’t you join us and help us grow it?’ ”
She already had her own life coaching business and, as she admits, knew very little about staffing or telecommunications. “I can barely operate my cell phone technology,” she says with laughter. “But then I thought, what if this is another way for me to touch people? I could build a culture for a company that is different than anything else, that is based on empowerment and life coaching … so I said, why not?”
In 2018, the company needed to appoint a new CEO.
“We’re sitting around the conference room table and Harry says, ‘OK, who is going to be the CEO?’ And inside my head I’m thinking, ‘Me! I want to do it! I had never done that before. I want to do it,’” she says. Once she voiced interest, the decision was made. Charles would be the new CEO of Broadstaff.
She went out and bought books and she sought mentorship for her new leadership role.
“When I started this whole thing, I sat down with God and I told him, ‘Aright, it’s going to be me and you, OK? I don’t know what I’m doing, and I know that you have a big purpose and a big plan for me.’”
She attributes the growth of her business to three things.
People, investing in them and putting them first.
Vision, always having a big one.
Prayer, “I believe prayer is a business strategy,” she says.
“Walk by faith, not by sight,” is the motto Charles continues to live by. It’s how she’s come so far, so fast, and it’s how she will continue her journey, with purpose.
It’s not an ending, but it is happy. ♦
Photos by Michael McCoy
If you are experiencing sexual abuse, domestic violence or experiencing thoughts about suicide, there are resources for you to contact. Get help if you need it. You are not alone.
• If you’re in an emergency: Call 911 immediately.
• National Domestic Violence Hotline: 800.799.7233.
• CASA Pinellas: 24-hour Domestic Violence Hotline, 727.895.4912 or casapinellas.org.
• Crisis Center of Tampa Bay: Call 211 or visit crisiscenter.com.
• The Spring of Tampa Bay: 24-hour Crisis Hotline, 813.247.SAFE or thespring.org.