News Column

Hispanic Professional Group Dramatically Grows Through Merger

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EXPANDING THE DEMOGRAPHICS: ALPFA On the Upside

Growing association gives an edge to young professionals through mentorship, hands-on experience, scholarships and exposure to potential employers.

Bigger is better. So says Manny Espinoza, CEO of ALPFA, which bills itself as the nation's oldest and largest Hispanic professional association for finance, accounting and related fields.

When an opportunity arose last year for the L.A.-based ALPFA to merge with a growing student organization called National Hispanic Business Association, he jumped at it.

"Critical mass is important," Espinoza tells HispanicBusiness magazine. "The larger you are, the more you can leverage your resources."

And his organization has become significantly larger.

In a year's time, ALPFA's membership has surged from some 11,500 to 14,000. The lion's share of the non-profit group's new members are business students who were formerly members of NHBA.

Forging the Merger

Founded in 1972, ALPFA was initially an acronym for the Association of Latino Professionals in Finance and Accounting. The group dropped the tagline last year, in accordance with its ongoing effort to expand the tent to include business professionals in other fields, such as
marketing and insurance.

A primary goal is to help Hispanics in the business world network and market their leadership skills. The association comprises two main divisions: one for students, the other for professionals. A primary goal of the groups is to help Hispanics in the business world network
and hone their leadership skills.

Meanwhile, NHBA, which ceased to exist on Jan. 1, was a booming student organization for Hispanic business students that, in just half a decade, grew from about 10 chapters to 50. "In some markets, we were bumping heads with them," explains Espinoza, a retired partner with
PricewaterhouseCoopers, the largest of the big four accounting firms. "They were growing and we were growing. Everything started matching up."

As for ALPFA, each of its dozens of chapters around the country creates its own schedule for symposiums and keynote speakers.

Every year, all members nationwide assemble for an annual convention, which this year takes place in Orlando in early August. Last year's merger was finalized in November, but the transition is still in motion.

Students and professionals mingle from San Diego, Cal. (left) and Antonio,Tex. symposiums. means ALPFA will significantly expand the student portion of its nationwide brand.

The group still comprises 39 professional chapters, but after the merger, the number of student chapters, which are typically located on college campuses, has risen from 50 to 75. The count is expected to reach nearly 100 by September, as the remaining NHBA chapters switch over. Still, despite the recent acquisition, Espinoza said ALPFA isn't as large as he'd like it to be.

"Our vision is to become a name everybody would know," he says. "I think we're getting there, but we're nowhere close."

ALPFA is already significantly larger than other well-known minority organizations, such as the National Black MBA Association, which includes roughly 6,000 members, and the National Society of Hispanic MBAs, which claims some 8,000.

Espinoza says the next step is to increase ALPFA's presence and visibility at community colleges, where minorities often make up a sizable portion of the student base.

Benefits to Students
As a result of the acquisition, ALPFA is a new presence on the campuses of many four-year colleges, such as Texas A&M, University of Texas, El Paso and Ohio State, to name a few.

Annual student membership fees are $20 - the going rate for most professional associations - and ALPFA leaders say that is a bargain.
For the fee, students get real-world organizational experience, thanks to professional mentors. They also receive exposure to potential employers, along with training in how to become leaders.

In September, a Los Angeles chapter will organize a resume development workshop, hosted by one of the group's major sponsors, Ernst & Young. And last year's annual convention, which drew about 2,500 people, exposed some 700 students to more than 100 potential employers.

"They come away from a convention really excited about ALPFA," Geraldine Contreras, ALPFA's director of student affairs, tells HispanicBusiness magazine. "That's really my launching pad for the rest of the year."

ALPFA also provides students with scholarships. In the past five years, the group has granted students a total of about $700,000, with awards ranging for $1,250 to $10,000. Contreras says there are many student success stories.

Take Yuki Hasegawa, ALPFA's student president at Brandeis University in Massachusetts, who graduated this summer. Hasegawa, who earned a bachelor's degree in politics and international studies, along with a master's in international economics and finance, quickly landed a job with Goldman Sachs.

Luis Parra, a recent graduate of California State University-Northridge, was involved with ALPFA since high school. He now works as a senior associate at Ernst & Young, one of the big four accounting firms.

Battling Through Recession
Like countless businesses, ALPFA, with a staff of 17, struggled in 2009. The biggest hit came from a decline in sponsorship proceeds, which account for 95 percent of the organization's $5 million annual budget. During the economic storm of 2009, many of ALPFA's sponsors - Bear Stearns, Washington Mutual, Merrill Lynch - simply vanished. In all, ALPFA lost six sponsors, at a cost of $300,000.

What's more, most of the remaining sponsors were forced to dramatically scale back their contributions.

ALPFA's response was to steadfastly maintain their level of services to surviving sponsors. The group also redoubled its efforts to find new sponsors.

"You can't worry about things you can't control," Espinoza says. "You can sit and cry about it or you can bring on new members. We just worked harder."

All told, ALPFA signed on about 20 new sponsors last year, bringing the total to 300. Many of them are in the insurance industry, ALPFA's fastest-growing market. They include Mass Mutual, Northwestern Mutual and Chartis Insurance, a division of AIG.
Other longtime sponsors have significantly boosted their annual contributions. One company went from paying $25,000 in 2009 to $200,000 this year. "2010 is becoming a very good year for us," Espinoza said.

Merger a Great Fit
The merger between ALPFA's and NHBA happened quickly, but setting the wheels in motion was more difficult. He refrained from reaching out, however, largely because word on the street was that NHBA was in talks to join forces with the National Society of Hispanic MBAs (NSHMBA). That deal failed to materialize.

In August of 2009, he was introduced to NHBA's executive director, David Pena. A week later, Espinoza followed up with a phone call to say he was very interested in forming an alliance. Not long after, the two met to discuss a partnership.
Says Espinoza, "I said, 'Let's not use the terrible word people use, which is 'merger.'"

To his surprise, Pena NHBA's only full-time employee was quite open to the idea of a merger. By the end of the day, they'd agreed to explore the possibility.

It seemed like a good fit. Though based in Los Angeles, ALPFA was particularly strong in the northeast and midwest regions of the U.S. NHBA had a firm presence in the west and southwest.

Also, NHBA, whose $300,000 annual revenues were only a fraction of ALPFA's $5 million, didn't possess the deep pockets to weather the recession as well.

Two weeks after their meeting in August, their respective boards of directors had green-lighted the merger. By November, the decision was made.
Although Pena was offered a high-level job at ALPFA, he opted out of the job, since it would have required uprooting from Texas to relocate to Los Angeles, Espinoza said.

Ever since the consolidation, ALPFA has ratcheted up its effort to expand beyond the realm of finance and accounting. A recent student symposium included sponsors such as Abercrombie & Fitch, Johnson & Johnson, Walgreen and even the CIA.
But finance and accounting still makes up about 80 percent of the group.

"Let me not kid anybody," Espinoza says. "Right now we're heavily focused on accounting and finance, because that's what our base was."
Continued Meteoric Growth

ALPFA got off the ground in 1972, but it wasn't until the early 2000s that it really began to grow rapidly. In 1999, the group still had no employees. Today it has 17.

In 1999, ALPFA's annual revenues amounted to about $100,000. Today, that total tops $5 million. Since 1999, its membership has risen from 250 to 14,000. The number of professional chapters has risen in tandem, from 10 to 39.

Through it all, says Espinoza, the organization has never lost sight of its philosophy: "Think big, act quickly and follow through on your promises."

"We have kept those three principles in mind with everything we do," he says. "They have really guided us and brought us to where we are."

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