He grew up poor in Brooklyn and, at times, lived on the streets.
Today, he's an emerging political player who also leads a marketing, public relations and consulting firm.
Raul "Danny" Vargas' story may resemble a Hollywood script. For Vargas, however, he's simply living his American Dream.
Overcoming Early Troubles
Raised in Brooklyn, New York, Vargas is the youngest of four children. His mother and father separated when he was only two years old. His mother didn't have much experience dealing with everyday life and never learned how to read and write.
"She was ill-prepared to raise a bunch of kids by herself in New York City," said Vargas. It is not surprising that the family relied on welfare to get by.
When Vargas was about 10, his three sisters had moved out of the house.
"It was just me and my mom," said Vargas. "And she would disappear for three or four days at a time. So I would be by myself in a ramshackle apartment with no food. I would eat ice cubes and pretend they were food. Then mom would return with food and all the anger and fear that had built up would disappear."
Vargas stepped away from his reality by watching television. The little black and white TV in the apartment was an open window to a different world, which gave him hope and desire that things could be different.
He was fortunate that his oldest sister could serve as a role model. Nine years his senior, she attended some college, but had not graduated. However, Vargas saw her hard work and it affected him during his early years.
Perhaps owing to his sister's lead, Vargas was studious and did fairly well in school. He was also mentored by teachers. He noted that when he was in ninth or tenth grade, one teacher took an interest in him and requested that he accompany him to Washington, D.C. to assist in doing some research. They visited the Library of Congress; later, his teacher took him on research trips to Harvard University in Boston.
"I saw that there was a lot more in the world than the grime and crime I saw in Brooklyn," said Vargas.
When he finished high school at 17, he convinced his mother to let him join the U.S. Air Force. "I went into the recruiting office and asked about the jobs available to me," said Vargas. "The recruiter showed me a list of jobs and I saw that one was in intelligence and I picked it. The recruiter said, 'No, you wouldn't want to do that because you will have to take a whole lot of tests and you'll have to wait awhile to get in.' But I was adamant. I told him that I wanted that job."
Good Decisions And A Passion For Learning
Vargas started gathering the experiences that would enable his later success. The Air Force sent him to Panama to gather intelligence. It couldn't have been a more interesting time to monitor the region. The Contras were fighting the Sandinistas in Nicaragua, there was a civil war in El Salvador, and Manuel Noriega led the military inwas Panama. But this hard work was not enough; Vargas also took some college courses at night and during the weekends to gain further knowledge.
He spent five years in Panama with the Air Force and then was transferred to San Antonio, Texas, where he continued his intelligence work for two more years. Because of the limited size of the U.S. intelligence community at a very busy time in world affairs, Vargas was able to get involved in a plethora of special projects and was given increasing responsibility.
"I accomplished in just a short seven years what it took most people a whole career to accomplish," said Vargas. Accordingly, his work with the Air Force was no longer enough.
"I needed a new challenge," he said.
So Vargas left the Air Force and joined a government contractor that soon merged with the Raytheon Corporation. He continued in the field of intelligence, and continued pursuing his college degree at night and on weekends. It was while he was with Raytheon that Vargas earned his BA in Management from National Louis University in Evanston, Ill.
After serving with Raytheon for about five years, Vargas jumped into a new field: telecommunications. He joined the trade initially with Sprint International. The company soon merged with France Telecom and Deutsch Telekom and the joint venture created Global One. He wanted to learn about the "guts" of the telecommunications industry, so he first was involved in program management. His stint in the trade also led him into corporate, consumer and wholesale sales. After the joint venture dissolved and France Telecom took over, he was asked to take a leading role in sales and marketing for the company's wholesale division in the Americas. His major work consisted of growing the company's U.S. presence and increasing the business in Latin America. He became immersed in marketing and public relations throughout the hemisphere.
His Own Business -- VARCom Solutions
By 2004, Vargas was bitten by the entrepreneur bug. That's when he started VARCom Solutions in Herndon, Va. The company specializes in marketing/sales strategies; public, media and government relations; marketing communications; publicity, advertising, and campaign/outreach support; management consulting; and more.
"There were certain criteria I wanted to follow when starting my own business," said Vargas. "First, I wanted to do something I enjoyed. Second, I wanted to do something I was good at. In my role with the telecom companies I went from sales to marketing to public relations. I headed efforts to help a Latin American company take up presence in the U.S. . . . so I developed all sorts of marketing and public relations skills. Third, I wanted to do something that I could turn into a valued business. Fourth, I wanted to do something in which I felt I was contributing to the community and to my clients."
Vargas was able to self-finance the start up. "It was a low overhead, low capital venture," he said. "It was consulting, so I didn't need a whole lot of infrastructure or investment. I worked out of my home."
The greatest obstacle he had to overcome was dealing with corporate America.
"I didn't have a brand name," he said. "The company was meant to service small and medium-size businesses."
Vargas said that getting those businesses recognize him was "challenging." His strategy was to get involved in the regional Chambers of Commerce in Northern Virginia and in business associations.
"By working with the Chambers and the business associations I learned what small businesses were dealing with and what their challenges were," he said. "Then I tailored my knowledge to help. I was able to use my experiences from the Air Force, Raytheon, and multi-billion dollar telecom corporations -- sales, marketing, business management, dealing with a crisis, understanding strategy and tactics," he continued. "I used all of these things to provide the services needed by small businesses."
Working through the Chambers also helped to get his name out into the community.
It was his networking that earned him his initial client list and led to the turning point in the business -- the moment that he knew he would be successful.
"My first large account was a company that contracted me for a long-term project," said Vargas. "I was able to go into that company and examine it, pull together a marketing plan, talk about repositioning them, and helped them with their sales and business development."
He also trained the company's executives on communications and dealing with the media.
"For the first time I was able to take a client and work with them in all sorts of things from soup to nuts. I did it and I did it successfully. So then I was able to say, 'Hey, if I can do it for this company, I can do it for others.'"
The company was Cascade Technologies, and it is still a valued client of VARCom. An award winning IT and professional consulting federal contractor, Cascade Technologies' revenue has increased by 500 percent since VARCom began supporting it. It's little wonder that VARCom Solutions' client list also includes notable businesses like Microtech, the U.S. State Department, AARP, and Blue Cross/Blue Shield.
A Business Leader
Vargas also joined the Dulles Regional Chamber of Commerce as its Chairman. He is the first Hispanic to chair a mainstream, traditional Chamber of Commerce in the history of the Commonwealth of Virginia. In that role, he seeks to establish a vision for the organization and rally its members and the community. So far, he's been influential in helping to save a major project called "The Rail To Dulles" Project, a plan to extend the Washington, D.C. Metro System out to Dulles International Airport in Virginia.
The project nearly died because the Federal Government did not pony up $900 million it had promised to give. That money was 20 percent of the total of the project. "Without that money, we couldn't go forward," said Vargas.
Vargas took action, leading the Chamber to form a coalition with other Chambers, business groups, civic organizations and citizens to pressure the federal government to follow through. Eventually the $900 million were restored. Phase One of the project is expected to be done by 2013 and Phase Two -- the final run to the airport -- will be completed by 2016.
Vargas has also taken steps to encourage growth for Hispanic entrepreneurs. He founded a networking group for Hispanics involved in government contracting.
"The network brings together successful Hispanic-owned companies with the goal of encouraging them to form joint ventures, alliances or partnerships," he said.
The group also introduces Hispanic business owners to representatives of Federal managers and large prime contractors to assist in developing relationships.
"The idea is to find new teaming opportunities," said Vargas. The network is called Hispanic GovCon Network.
Community Service And Politics
Despite his success, Vargas has not forgotten his roots.
"I know what it is like to be poor," said Vargas. "I believe in a 'hand-up,' not necessarily a 'handout'. I especially want to help kids because I see parts of communities that have been written off, like I was when I was growing up. I know that there are diamonds in the rough, wonderful young people who need encouragement and hope."
In addition, Vargas is strongly involved in national and state politics. He is the National Chairman of the Republican National Hispanic Assembly (RNHA). With more than 20 state chapters, the RNHA interacts with voters at the grassroots level discussing core Republican values. The Assembly was started in 1974 as a part of the Republican National Committee when George H.W. Bush was chairman of the Republican Party.
Vargas is a strong advocate of getting Hispanic youth involved in politics. He was involved with a Voto Latino online campaign for this purpose. The campaign included a contest that encouraged Hispanics to submit a short video explaining why they should be selected to be an embedded reporter at the Democratic and Republican Party Conventions. Vargas was one of the judges who selected the winners.
A Daunting Task
According to Vargas, the most urgent issues facing Hispanics today are the economy, jobs and taxes followed by health care, education and immigration.
"The War in Iraq is also a major issue because Hispanics are disproportionately represented there in the front lines," he said.
Vargas' business and leadership positions and community involvement give him unique insight into these national issues. However, it's his disadvantaged upbringing and meteoric rise that embodies the spirit of solving those problems.
"When I talk to business people, I tell them to keep an open mind, reach out, and give back" he said. "That's how I've lived my life."
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