Almost killed 40 years ago, alumnus inspires College of Business endowment

Carlos Sabater ’81 lay broken in a hospital bed some four decades ago, just months before he was to start classes at FIU. The summertime boating accident threw him immediately into survival mode and would alter the course of his life forever. And all for the better, he says.

“Yes, it was awful,” he recalls of the terrifying ordeal that left him partially paralyzed. “But at the same time, it was that moment when the cockiness and the I-have-arrived kind of mindset that I had, that I-don’t-need-anybody sort of style, just evaporated.”

Learning to rely on others turned out to be a blessing, he says. Doctors, family, friends, even another patient at the hospital offered support to get him through a dozen surgeries over 14 months. Once at FIU, the wheelchair-bound Sabater remembers shakily starting the accounting degree that would eventually see him through a remarkable career.

“Physically, I wasn’t doing very well,” says the man, fit and fully ambulatory today. But the chance to make a difference in others’ lives, just as so many had in his, soon forced a turnaround. He began serving as a teaching assistant in an accounting course he had previously aced, and he delighted in answering students’ questions and showing them how to navigate assignments.

“This began to give me so much energy and enthusiasm,” he says, “and it really began to bring the life back into me.”

As an undergraduate, Sabater established an accounting lab in which dozens of students gathered regularly to go over material. The experience launched his lifelong dedication to bringing up those around him, among them plenty of FIU graduates whom he hired over the years at the accounting firm Deloitte & Touche, where he spent close to 40 years before retiring in 2019 as senior global partner.

“I look back on my life, and I think a lot of my success has not been with what I’ve achieved but what I’ve actually been able to help others achieve. I have mentored, from start to finish, people who are partners today at Deloitte from all around the world,” says the man who in his last position oversaw nearly 100,000 employees in 28 countries. “I would recruit someone and I would stick by your side and help see you through,” says Sabater, who himself continued to take advice from mentors throughout his career.

That spirit of selflessness came full circle when friends, family and colleagues surprised Sabater at a retirement party in his honor.

In a celebration of his legacy as a leader and mentor, the group together invested $1 million to establish an endowment in his name. The Deloitte Foundation-Sabater Scholars Program will provide FIU business students with financial support in addition to training opportunities that will cover various aspects of the industry as well as topics such as ethics, work-life balance and community involvement.

Even as he leaves behind work responsibilities, Sabater, who serves on the FIU Foundation Board of Directors, has no plans to stop paying forward lessons learned, experiences lived and help received.

In a direct link to his darkest days, the father of two adult daughters has made a mission of helping young men free themselves from drug addiction. For decades his own debilitating pain was treated with opioids, which took him years to quit. Now Sabater serves as a rock to dozens of others in various stages of sobriety. It’s a 24/7 commitment that has him answering calls in the middle of the night and meeting almost daily with individuals he hopes will overcome their challenges.

“I want to freely give what was freely given to me,” Sabater says. “Everything is a gift from someone else, and I’m ready to hand it over.”

That kind of thinking, Sabater explains, took hold as he lay in a hospital bed so long ago and realized how much he would need from everyone around him to succeed. It has informed his every move since then. “If I had to come back and be reborn,” he says, “as difficult as it would be, I’d say, ‘Please, don’t change a thing.’”