Over the years at Olivetti, he noticed that sales and service often worked at cross-purposes. Better coordination between the two was the basic premise of his new company, Southwest Office Systems (SOS), founded in 1964.
Before long, his service-oriented sales pitch landed him four of his former employer's largest clients. "Without an education, I never did plan. I just worked out of my hip pocket," he says. In its sixth year, SOS achieved its first milestone, annual revenue of $1 million.
By 1978, Victor was named Small Business Person of the Year by the Small Business Administration. And as Hispanic Business came on the scene in 1979, Victor was immersed in many of the issues the magazine covered. His company received an SBA loan around the same time, launching a new phase of growth. As Victor's business grew, so did his family. He was working longer hours, but he made time for his two sons, Buddy and Vince, by bringing them to work. Vince, now 50, remembers that when he was 12 he would go with his father to the shop on Saturdays. "He was giving me time," Vince says. "I was learning indirectly about the business, and yet he was still working. What we saw exhibited was – number one – concern for our family, but also an incredible work ethic."
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.
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