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Ms. Janak credits Mr. Dominguez's non-technical strength people skills as equally crucial to his success. Among federal contract specialists, the new buzz word is "partnering," reflecting a desire by the government to be cooperative rather than adversarial with its suppliers. Although the government has formal partnering initiatives, Ms. Janak says Ambreco doesn't need them, thanks to Mr. Dominguez's management style.

Ambreco's approach to human resources reflects the same attitude. During his EOY acceptance speech, Mr. Dominguez called himself a figurehead and praised "those guys in Belton, Texas." Bonus plans and extensive employee training programs attest to how highly Ambreco values its people.

Ambreco Ground Breaking in El Paso

Robert Dominguez Jr. (center) breaks ground with government and city officials at Fort Bliss in El Paso, Texas, where Ambreco is constructing a complex to house the 204th Security Forces Squadron of the Texas Air National Guard.

But Mr. Dominguez notes that Ambreco has raised the bar for hiring. "We don't get a chance to [bid contracts] face-to-face, so we rely on the qualifications of the people that surround us. In the company's infancy, we weren't worried about formal education, but now the market needs construction technology skills and engineering degrees."

Mr. Dominguez plans to continue making Ambreco more sophisticated as it prepares to graduate from the 8(a) program. Under the nine-year program, minority and other disadvantaged companies begin by competing for specific 8(a) contracts, then move to full competition for federal contracts.

"It's a great program for companies that don't rely on it," says Juan Mencia, CEO of Virginia-based Cube Corp. and the 2001 EOY winner. "But I've seen too many companies rely on 8(a), and when it's over, their business is essentially over. Most 8(a) contracts are competitive, but you have to get outside the program and get some contracts to sustain you."

Aware of that ticking clock, Mr. Dominguez feels Ambreco has laid the groundwork for 8(a) independence. "We are exiting the system blessed by the experience," he says. "We are a prototype of what 8(a) is all about. ... In two years, Ambreco will be in full and open competition. So, in fact, the 8(a) program and Ambreco have fostered the original idea of the program we have produced a company that can go out on its own."

Inside the EOY 2004:Hispanic Business CEO Roundtable List of ParticipantsBiographies of EOY Participants2004 EOY Keynote Address: Financing the Next Demographic WaveEOY Winners, Past and Present

The Entrepreneur of the Year 2004 was selected from a pool of hundreds of candidates nominated by Hispanic Business readers, companies, community leaders, and CEOs. Analysis of financial performance for 2002 and 2003 by the Hispanic Business staff narrowed the pool to 15 finalists in five categories. Nomination packages for each finalist were reviewed by a panel of accountants at Macias Gini & Co., a California certified public accounting and management consulting company. The accountants at Macias Gini & Co. rated each finalist company on four criteria: financial performance, management practices, employee development, and encouragement of entrepreneurship. Based on judging by Macias Gini, Hispanic Business presents the category winners and overall winner of the Entrepreneur of the Year Awards. The judging process for EOY requires the nominees to submit sensitive company financial data and is therefore strictly confidential. Judges and all those concerned with selection of the Entrepreneur of the Year Awards are committed to upholding and maintaining that confidentiality.


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