Dany Garcia admits some people may have underestimated her when she began a Hollywood career, managing ex-husband Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. “Dwayne is a big presence, a loud voice,” Garcia notes. “In our initial meetings, we would come in, he’d have a conversation, then hand it off to me. I would run with it and talk about business models and return-on-investments. And we loved watching the reaction in the room; it was always satisfying.”

Garcia is used to shattering expectations. Growing up in New Jersey the daughter of immigrants from Cuba, she says her plan was just to be financially successful. After majoring in international marketing and finance at the University of Miami, she rose to associate vice president at Merrill Lynch, then formed her own wealth management firm. But she left the world of finance behind to take on Johnson’s career in 2008, helping him transition him from a wrestler with a few solid movies into a global superstar.

Today, she is founder and CEO of the media management firm the Garcia Companies, representing the likes of Johnson and “Man of Steel” star Henry Cavill. In addition, she’s co-founder and co-CEO of Seven Bucks Prods., which has more than 50 projects in development, including a spinoff for Johnson’s “The Fast and the Furious” character, as well as a reboot of the cult film “Big Trouble in Little China.” She applies that business determination to her personal life as well: Eight years ago, at the age of 40, she decided to train as a bodybuilder. In 2011, she competed as a bodybuilder in the NPC National Championship in Miami and placed seventh out of 42 women.

For Garcia, moving from finance to Hollywood wasn’t such a leap. “It was just taking the skill set from one career and moving it into the next and into the next,” she says. “People say I reinvent myself, but it’s really just taking what I learn and then asking, ‘What do I add on?’”

“People say I reinvent myself, but it’s really just taking what I learn and then asking, ‘What do I add on?’”
Dany Garcia

Though Johnson and Garcia split in 2007, there’s still a lot of love between the two business partners, who are also parents of a 16-year-old daughter. “The idea of building enterprises is in Dany’s DNA, it’s in her constitution and it’s in her blood,” Johnson says. “When you watch her operate, you see someone who not only is incredibly talented, hungry, smart and a terrific storyteller, but is also very consistent about big picture, long-term perspective. And on top of all that, she’s a high-quality human being, and that’s the most important thing of all.”

Garcia was vital in creating Johnson’s brand; she recalls coming on as his manager at a time when he was feeling the constraints of trying to conform to a certain career path. “I remember the words specifically,” she notes. “I said, ‘Let’s let Hollywood make room for you.’” Johnson took the role in the 2010 action film “Faster” and joined the blockbuster “Fast and Furious” franchise with 2011’s “Fast Five.”

Those roles gave the actor “a chance to embrace everything that was very natural about him,” Garcia says. In addition, the advent of social media allowed him to show a personable side as he built more than 100 million followers across all his social media platforms. He also moved agencies, from CAA to WME.

“The projects became better; we became very clear in what we wanted to do; we became active in scripts,” Garcia notes. “And things started to point in the direction we wanted.”

Power of Women LA

Currently, Johnson and Garcia are behind several ventures with their Seven Bucks banner, including this year’s “Baywatch” and their HBO comedy “Ballers,” which just wrapped its third season. Seven Bucks is also moving into the digital world, partnering with Studio 71 to launch The Rock YouTube channel and develop several series. The online realm is also where her work and personal passions collide — Seven Bucks digital covered this year’s Olympia event in September. “I think it’s an incredible property I’d like to make more mainstream,” she says, adding that more than half the competitors are women.

Looking ahead, she’s excited for their upcoming films “Skyscraper,” “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” and “Jungle Cruise,” based on the Disneyland ride. “It’s the first film where I get to use every aspect of my toolbox,” Garcia says. “We can work with the Imagineers at Disney and find ways to make the film experience happen before, during and after the film is released. It’s such a wonderful blending of our brands.”

Asked how she manages it all, in addition to raising a daughter and preparing to compete again as a bodybuilder, she simply says she doesn’t. “I only do it mostly all right now,” she notes. “It’s all about sustainability. It’s no different than building an enterprise around a talent or a brand or an enterprise. You build models that can run without you. My job is not to run everything, it’s to make sure everything runs: Set a vision and make sure everyone aligns.”