Lynette Spano (also known as Stebani Cruz) (Courtesy SC Entertainment)

Latina Leaders: From CEO to recording artist to giving back to soldiers

Lynette Spano never went to college, but she is the founder and CEO of 30-year-old consulting company Software Control International (SCI).  But that is just the beginning of her accomplishments; she is also a recording artist with her own foundation, Stars, Stripes and Hearts, which supports military servicemen through benefit concerts.

Spano grew up on welfare in one of the poorest sections of Brooklyn, NY, with no role models around her, but she says it was because of her African-American 6th grade teacher that she learned how to dream.

“He would say to me that I have so much potential,” says Spano, because of the inquisitive nature that she was born with. “He took me to my first bookstore and said to me, ‘Lynette, whatever in life you want to do, no matter what it is, all you have to do is go to a bookstore, because someone has written about it.’ That became like a tattoo in my head.”

It was because of that knowledge that she started to dream big.

After graduating high school, Spano says she took a job as a receptionist at a publishing firm and worked her way up to become the firm’s top salesperson within one year of joining the company. After realizing how much she could accomplish through hard work and perseverance, she says she quit her job to start SCI while still in her 20s — from the basement of her mother’s home.

In just its first year, she says her company made $1.7 million in revenue, and she was able to move the business to Washington, D.C., where she saw a need for IT services, and that is where she is based today. She says SCI is now worth $50 million, employs nearly 400 people, and provides IT services to several branches of the federal government, including the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency.

“My mother was a singer and a poet, and I thought I was going to be a singer,” says Spano, the daughter of a Puerto Rican mom and Cuban dad. “That’s why I didn’t go to college.”

Little did she know that contracting viral meningitis in July of 2006 would change her life again. For the entirety of 2007, she says she underwent severe memory loss.

“I was in intensive care, and I had a 40 percent chance of survival,” says Spano. “The doctor asked if there was anything I always wanted to do, and I said, ‘Yes, sing.’ So he told me to write some songs to work my brain. He said the brain is a muscle and you can work it.”

She says she ended up writing a song in Spanish called, “Eres Tu” (“It’s You”). With the help of friends, Spano says she put together an album of 13 songs in about eight months.

“My mom always told me if I ever hit a wall, to go find another opening,” says Spano who decided to honor her mother, Stebani Cruz, who passed away five years before her illness, by using her name as a stage name.

Although she thought she never would be able to, on July 19, 2010, she says she was allowed back to work. But this time, because of near encounter with death, she says she wanted to dedicate her life to other people with head trauma.

“In 2011, there was an event for Bob Woodruff’s Foundation to honor service members with head trauma, and I thought, ‘Where are the Latino soldiers?’ and then it hit me,” she says.

Spano decided to create a non-profit called Stars, Stripes, and Hearts, which throws benefit concerts to raise funds for charities that provide mental health, educational and business training programs targeted to the Latino and Hispanic community.

“We must serve as role models,” says Spano, who was always encouraged by her mother to give back. “We must, and as we’re blessed, we have a responsibility to make that contribution for the lives of our people.”

Last year, she threw the first benefit, “Stars, Stripes, and Salsa,” which more than 1,200 people attended, including Gilberto Santa Rosa and Tito Puente, Jr., and she raised $175,000 for the soldiers. Spano was then further inspired to create an online forum called A Warrior’s Wall, where military servicemen can talk with each other anonymously.

“The military is suffering from suicides, PTSD, sexual assaults, loss of limbs, and depression,” says Spano. “I feel this might be a solution — it’s a space for them to connect.”

She says besides her 6th grade teacher, her mother was an amazing influence in her life, and this is a gift back to her.

And when she finishes working on her second Latin techno album due in June, she says she aims to visit inner-city schools in the D.C. area to hopefully steer kids on the right course, as her teacher did for her long ago.

“I want people to realize that our lives are what we make it,” says Spano about her the album she’s working on, called “Reborn.” “For me, writing turned into music, and music turned into an album, that turned into doing an opportunity to help soldiers.”

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