Rudy Alvarado readily admits that his involvement in the high-tech industry isn't typical of Hispanics in Oklahoma. The recently appointed chairman of the state's chamber of commerce also acknowledges that technology is not the first thing that springs to mind when someone mentions his adopted state.
Oklahoma is known more for agriculture, cattle, and oil and gas production than the high-tech industry, and the state's Hispanic community, which accounts for a mere 4 percent of Oklahoma's population, isn't typically thought of as a hotbed of high-tech entrepreneurial activity.
But Mr. Alvarado hopes to do his part to change both of those realities, first by acting as a role model to other Hispanics and secondly by supporting growth in the state's high-tech industry and letting the rest of the world know that "Oklahoma" and "high-tech" are not mutually exclusive terms.
One way to accomplish both goals is by serving as chairman of the board of directors of The State Chamber – Oklahoma's Association of Business and Industry, an organization that in other states would be referred to as the state chamber of commerce.
Mr. Alvarado, who began his one-year term on January 1, is the only Hispanic state chamber chairman in the country and the second ever to lead a state chamber's business and industry efforts, according to a survey conducted by The State Chamber.
Richard "Dick" Rush, president of The State Chamber, says the group's board hoped to send two messages to the world when it selected the 72-year-old Mexican-American high-tech entrepreneur as its new leader.
"We wanted to send a signal that The State Chamber is involved in the new economy of our country and the world," says Mr. Rush, who runs The State Chamber's day-to-day affairs. "It also sends a signal of diversity and unity of cultures and the importance of mainstreaming the Hispanic community within the private sector."
Mr. Rush, who joined The State Chamber in 1986, says Mr. Alvarado's Hispanic heritage was among the many "positive qualities" that led the board to select him as its next chairman. But it was his high-tech pedigree, along with his leadership skills, that were the primary factors behind their decision, Mr. Rush says.
"[He has] a great intellect for the breakthrough technology that our world is about to experience," Mr. Rush says. "I think his vision and his passion are his two most obvious qualities of leadership. To improve and advance human progress, that's his primary motivator."
Mr. Alvarado, a 1954 graduate of Texas A&M University, began his career as an officer in the U.S. Air Force on loan to NASA to work on experimental aircraft. Having graduated with a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering and a minor in electrical engineering, Mr. Alvarado soon joined the corporate world as an engineer, a career track that lasted a mere two weeks.
"The company started sending me out with sales people to explain to people what we were doing for them," recalls Mr. Alvarado, who was born in Laredo, Texas, and grew up in its sister city, Nuevo Laredo, across the border. "I found myself closing the sales, and as a result of that, the next thing I found out was that they were making more than I was making, so I wanted to be a salesman."
Years later Mr. Alvarado moved from employee to owner when he convinced a former employer to grant him a licensing agreement to manufacture electrical distribution products in Costa Rica. He also persuaded investors to put up the money to build the plant, and three years later the company – Square D – bought out him and his partners.
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