After our research department delivered the list of the fastest-growing Hispanic-owned companies in America, the question that arose was, what do all these success stories have in common? Is there a single, universal element of success they share? In search of an answer, we talked to six CEOs from some of the hottest companies, all in our top 20 list. Their firms ranged from IT suppliers, a power company, and a Web marketer to a red-hot travel bureau and an auto reseller. They come from all across the United States, yet they have one thing in common. They are all defying an unstable economy to produce skyrocketing profits. Here are the insights they shared with us. You may find some of them surprising.
'Success Begins With An Attitude'
Nowhere is that old adage more evident than in the culture and language of the CEOs we interviewed. While each developed unique strategies and best practices that are working in their respective industries, their attitudes toward their work and the general economy were strikingly similar. If there is one universal element of success, it is this overriding attitude of seeing growth opportunities where others see roadblocks.
Fernando Gonzalez, CEO and co-founder of the Los Angeles-based First in Service Travel Ltd., is a perfect example. When the bottom fell out of the travel industry a few years ago, many travel agencies went out of business. Those that survived are now facing more challenges in higher fuel costs and fragile economic times. But, Mr. Gonzalez not only refused to let his company die, he is steering an innovative course that is proving highly successful.
"Most companies are hurting because travel is down and fuel costs are up," said Mr. Gonzalez. "But, I don't see the current poor economic conditions as a disadvantage. I see them as opening doors for us. When everyone else is retreating, that's our time to move forward and capture the market. 2008 is going to be an incredible year, by far our best."
Rather than expanding traditional travel itineraries, Mr. Gonzalez, whose sister, Erika, helped found the company, added customized services. For example, for the fashion industry, a large client, Mr. Gonzalez developed turnkey services. "We now offer them everything, including scouting photographic site locations," he said. "If they want pink sand or palm trees flown in, we arrange it. We set up a division in the company that does nothing but cater to that industry. In tough times, it is critical to think creatively." In the past five years, the firm's revenues have jumped from $1.5 million to $15 million.
Preparing For Success
Larry Mercado, CEO and co-founder of Mercom Inc., our second-fastest growing company, watched many of his competitors fall away because they hadn't prepared or invested carefully in their own firms. "We spent two full years gaining our certifications as a minority-owned business," said Mr. Mercado, whose Pawley Island, South Carolina-based company sells information technology and services and was co-founded by Stella Colwell, Mr. Mercado's sister. "Other companies didn't put in that kind of energy and time," Mr. Mercado said. "Today, the economy is hitting them hard. Because we broadened our service capabilities, we are gaining additional large contacts. It is critical that you have an attitude that says 'We will grow,' regardless of the economic circumstances that surround you."
As a reseller, Mercom has taken full advantage of the certifications. At the same time, the company continually added services to grow horizontally. It now acts as a type of general contractor for IT products and services that a company or government agency might purchase, including providing price and quality optimization. "It's a matter of leveraging everything we can to offer as many services as possible at the highest possible level," said Mr. Mercado. "We see great growth opportunities ahead. As baby boomers retire from the civil service jobs, the government is going to have a hard time replacing them and will be doing a lot of outsourcing to companies like ours. We think that is the wave of the future, and we plan to be part of it."
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