News Column

A Family Affair

Page 2 of 3

Puente Family in 1958
Left to right: Vince, Virginia, Victor, and Buddy Puente in 1958.



Victor knew all along that he wanted to turn the business over to his sons someday, but Vince and Buddy had ideas of their own. "I came on full-time at 19, and probably until I was 26, I kept saying, 'I'm going to go look for a job next week,'" says Vince.

Over time, however, the sons carved out distinct roles for themselves. "I developed into the sales end of the business, Buddy developed into the administrative end, and Dad held onto service until the early '90s. We were able to draw distinct lines between the siblings early on, and that allowed each of us to have our own successes in those areas," says Vince.

When the third sibling, Gina, came of age, Victor had a problem. His sons were already well established at SOS, and he didn't see how to integrate her into that company. So he launched a new one, Puente Concessions, in 1989 at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport. Starting with three newsstands, Gina and her husband, John Brancato, now have 12 businesses at DFW, including La Bodega Winery, the first winery ever built in an airport.

Gina was the first Puente to finish college, and she's passionate about encouraging the next generation to pursue higher education. Still, she adds, there's no substitute for the education she continues to receive from her father. "I go to him after work and say, 'Hey Dad, I've got this issue with my employee,' or 'I've got this issue with a vendor,' and he's got gems to offer every time," she says.

That advice appears to be paying off: Puente Concessions debuted on the Hispanic Business 500 in 1998 with annual revenues of $7 million; by 2003, revenue had grown to $11 million. "I walk around our executive offices, and there are plaques all over the walls commemorating the many years that we've been featured [in Hispanic Business magazine]. It's a big deal for our family," she says.

Not to be outdone, Vince and Buddy have grown annual revenue for SOS to more than $16 million. The company has been a mainstay of the Hispanic Business 500 since 1985, when revenue was $7 million. Their success is all the more impressive considering that the company they inherited was largely built around the typewriter. Fortunately, they saw the change coming when computers emerged on the scene, and gradually shifted the company's focus toward high-end copiers and fax machines.

"If things are going real smooth, you'd better watch out, because something new is coming up, and you'd better get ready," says Victor. "If you stay dormant, you'll never grow," says Victor.




THE WORKER'S WINE

Before the Ceja family poured its first bottle of wine made from homegrown grapes, they were poring over the pages of Hispanic Business magazine. "Prior to the debut of our first 750 cases, we knew that dramatic changes were taking place within the Hispanic population, and we found Hispanic Business magazine to be the leader in Hispanic market research," says Amelia Morán Ceja, president of Ceja Vineyards.

Pablo and Juana Ceja
Portrait of Juanita and Pablo Ceja.



As the family of former migrant farmworkers prepared to enter the intensely competitive wine industry, they knew they needed a niche to call their own. "Our goal is to increase brand awareness to Hispanics – a demographic group that has been ignored by the wine industry," says Amelia.

The family faced monumental struggles early on, but they found constant inspiration by reading about other Hispanic entrepreneurs. "Hispanic Business magazine supports and encourages startup companies and provides valuable information for success," adds Amelia.

Pablo Ceja, 71, is no stranger to struggle. On its surface, life hasn't changed much since he came to the United States in 1957 as part of the bracero farmworker program. He rises before dawn and is in the fields by 7 a.m. every day. Now, however, his family owns the 113-acre vineyard, and the grapes they tend with care find their way into bottles that bear the name Ceja.

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