News Column

Beyond Big Macs

December 2002, HISPANIC BUSINESS Magazine

Janet Perez

Hispanic Business CEO Jesús Chavarría (left) congratulates 2002 EOY recipient John Lopez.
Hispanic Business CEO Jesús Chavarría (left) congratulates 2002 EOY recipient John Lopez.

John Lopez might never have become the entrepreneur he is today had McDonald's taken no for an answer.

In 1990, the well-known fast-food retailer approached Mr. Lopez, a longtime franchise owner in Los Angeles, about becoming part of the company's supply chain by buying a meat processing plant in Oklahoma City. He declined, but McDonald's persisted.

"Eventually they came back and showed me some numbers, showed me the potential of a business in Oklahoma," he says. "The blood started flowing again. The entrepreneurial spirit really started to take over, and I had to take a look at it. And I was hooked."

Two years later, Mr. Lopez was the president and CEO of Lopez Foods, a meat processing company supplying product to McDonald's, Wal-Mart Supercenters, and Sam's Clubs. As a result of his enviable success over the ensuing decade, Mr. Lopez was named Hispanic Business magazine’s Entrepreneur of the Year (EOY) during an October 10 gala at the Pacific Palms Conference Resort in the City of Industry, California. The annual award recognizes a Hispanic entrepreneur who has exhibited uncommon drive and civic responsibility.

Sponsored in part by UPS, this year's EOY gala attracted more than 300 representatives from the worlds of business, politics, and the media. Henry Cisneros, former secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, delivered the evening’s keynote address. Soledad O'Brien, co-anchor of NBC's top-rated "Weekend Today," emceed the event.

"Selecting a winner was extremely challenging. Each year it seems that more impressive Hispanic entrepreneurs come to the fore," says Lucia De Garcia, CEO of Elan International in Irvine, California, and one of this year's EOY judges (see sidebar).

This year’s Hispanic Business Magazine Entrepreneur of the Year (EOY) was selected from a pool of more than 200 candidates nominated by Hispanic Business readers and Hispanic CEOs. An analysis of financial performance for 2000 and 2001 narrowed the pool to 15 finalists in five categories: Manufacturing, Retail & Franchise, Services & Finance, Latina, and Rising Star (CEOs no more than 35 years old). A panel of judges then reviewed the finalists' application data and scored their responses to questions regarding business performance, management, employee training and development, and involvement in fostering entrepreneurship.

The judging process requires EOY nominees to submit sensitive company financial data and is therefore strictly confidential. Judges and all those concerned with selection of the EOY Award are committed to maintaining that confidentiality.

This year’s judges were Violeta Bermudez Pardo, a partner in PriceWaterhouseCoopers, Florham Park, New Jersey; Guillermo Bron, chairman of Bastian Capital Corp. in Los Angeles; Lucia De Garcia, CEO of Elan International in Irvine, California; Michael Lizarraga, CEO of TELACU in Los Angeles; and Juan Mencia, CEO of The Cube Corp. in Sterling, Virginia, and winner of the 2001 EOY Award.

"Mr. Lopez's success shows that Corporate America has begun to recognize the talents of Hispanic entrepreneurs."

The EOY selection process is rigorous and highly competitive. Finalists are selected on the basis of financial performance, management, employee relations, business development performance, and encouragement of entrepreneurship. More than 200 candidates vied for this year's EOY Award.

Mr. Lopez spent the first 10 years of his professional life working at a handful of banks in the Phoenix area. The experience proved unsatisfying.

"I found out I really didn't have what it took to get ahead in the banking community. You had to be in the 'in crowd' to get ahead," Mr. Lopez says. "In the beginning of my career, in many jobs, I felt that there was some prejudice out there. But I also felt proud of who I was and where I came from. My family was able to give me a solid background."

With his wife's encouragement and his grocer father's example, Mr. Lopez left the corporate world and "decided to get involved in what was then called the movimiento," he says.

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