News Column

The Entrepreneur as Folk Hero

April 2004, HISPANIC BUSINESS Magazine

Joel Russell


Editor's note: This is the second of a four-part series celebrating 25 years of Hispanic Business magazine.

In the 1980s, Hispanic Business functioned as both a validator and beneficiary of demographic change. It was during this decade that the 1980 Census revealed 14.6 million Hispanics were living in the United States, a surge of 61 percent from the 9.07 million counted just 10 years previous. Government, media, corporations, and the public abruptly became aware of the growing Hispanic middle class in their midst.

Politically, the 1980 Census meant more Hispanics in Congress. In 1981, Henry Cisneros became mayor of San Antonio. In 1985, Xavier Suarez became the first Cuban American to run Miami. Under the leadership of Jorge Mas Canosa, the Cuban American National Foundation exerted a strengthened influence in the Reagan administration. In 1989, Cuban-born Ileana Ros-Lehtinen became the first Hispanic woman elected to Congress.

By the end of the decade, the first Bush administration had two Hispanics in the Cabinet – Education Secretary Lauro Cavazos and Interior Secretary Manuel Lujan.

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VIDEO: The 80s


"Spurred by a series of developments, including the sharp rise in the number of Hispanics revealed in the 1980 Census, a 1978 Time magazine special report declaring that Hispanics would soon become the nation's largest minority, and the establishment of Hispanic Heritage Month in 1988, the 1980s were touted as the 'Hispanic Decade,' arousing interest in Hispanics as consumers," writes Arlene Davila in her book Latinos Inc.: The Marketing and Making of a People. "This was also the time when multiculturalism was being popularized as a political discourse, to further contribute to corporate America's interest in Hispanics as a culturally specific marketing niche."

But the economic trends that were under way held the most power to reshape a nation, and Hispanic Business. The number of Hispanic middle-class households increased from less than 1.5 million in 1979 to about 2.2 million by 1989, according to a report from the Tomás Rivera Policy Institute. Growth of the Hispanic middle class was "about five times as great as that of Anglos during the 1980s," the report states. The rapid growth in income and employment that fueled the boom also created an educated, professional class of Hispanics eager to read the type of exclusive, research-driven information and stories published in Hispanic Business.

Also, after a period of slow and steady growth in the late '70s and early '80s, the U.S. economy expanded rapidly after mid-decade. The junk bond revolution fueled a merger and acquisition boom as corporations bought one another to create massive conglomerates such as Time Warner and General Electric. Through the first nine years of the decade, the national GDP rose 35.2 percent in constant dollars. And Hispanics were actively participating in this growth, producing luminaries such as Coca-Cola CEO Roberto Goizueta and Continental Airlines CEO Frank Lorenzo.

Nationally, however, the surging economic growth entailed more than companies getting bigger; it involved a fundamental shift away from entrenched corporations in favor of new entrepreneurial activity. And again, perceptions played a crucial role. In previous decades, small businesspeople were considered by media and much of the public as "mom and pop" operators who couldn't fit into a corporate structure. The book The Organization Man, written by Fortune magazine journalist William H. Whyte and published in 1956, captures this viewpoint with a clear disdain for the self-employed:

"The great majority of small business firms cannot be placed on any continuum with the corporation. For one thing, they are rarely engaged in primary industry; for the most part they are the laundries, the insurance agencies, the restaurants, the drugstores, the bottling plants, the lumberyards, the automobile dealers. They are vital, to be sure, but essentially they service an economy; they do not create new money within their area and they are dependent ultimately on the business and agriculture that does.

Lauro Cavazos Ileana Ros-Lehtinen Roberto Goizueta
The 1980s saw the rise of Hispanics in politics and business, including (from left) Lauro Cavazos becoming Secretary of Education; Ileana Ros-Lehtinen representing South Florida's Little Havana in Congress; and Roberto Goizueta being named chief executive at Coca-Cola.

"In this dependency they react more as antagonists than allies with the corporation. The corporation, it has become clear, is expansionist – a force for change that is forever a threat to the economics of the small businessman. Economically, many a small businessman is a counter-revolutionist and the revolution he is fighting is that of the corporation." But by the end of the 1980s, corporate expansion had reached a limit, leaving many organization men and women jobless.

At the same time, successful entrepreneurial ventures with a few years of momentum were changing the world. Apple Computer (started 1976), Federal Express (1973), Kinko's (1970), and Microsoft (1975) epitomized this trend.

A new category of print media catered to the new class of successfully rising entrepreneurs. Magazines such as Entrepreneur (1973), Inc. (1979), and Hispanic Business (1979) began to document and celebrate the progress of small companies. The Hispanic Business 400 directory of companies debuted in 1983 and grew to 500 companies just two short years later. Other lists followed, such as the Fastest-Growing 100 and the High-Tech 50.

In addition, Hispanic Business undertook a growing number of original research projects to document the burgeoning market, such as a compilation of Hispanic media expenditures. The vital data added to a growing body of economic information about the Hispanic market coming from government agencies and academia's Chicano and Hispanic studies departments.

While the magazine's editorial department documented the new Hispanic affluence, the advertising department benefited from the same trend. "Interest in the Hispanic market by global advertising conglomerates was triggered by a sudden public recognition of Hispanics in mainstream society throughout the 1980s," Ms. Davila states in Latinos Inc.

Powered by the convergence of this entrepreneurial boom and the surge in Hispanic marketing, Hispanic Business flourished during the 1980s. At the beginning of the decade, the January 1980 issue was a 16-page, black-and-white newsletter. By the June 1989 issue, the magazine had expanded to 116 pages in full color, with more than 60 pages of ads.

By the end of the 1980s, an over-built real estate market, a lackluster economy, a series of Wall Street scandals, and a meltdown of the savings and loan industry slowed the small-business revolution.

But positive trends that had begun in the 1980s had taken hold and were to continue, including the experimentation with new business models, the growing affluence of Hispanics, a proliferation of Hispanic marketing and media, and steady progress in worker productivity driven by technological advances.

In the next decade, the U.S. economy would experience the longest run of prosperity on record, with Hispanic professionals and entrepreneurs positioned to take full advantage of it.

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