"The list helps make you look valid," says Elizabeth Llama, CEO of Walnut Creek, California-based Malaco International. "We have a copy of the magazine and show it as part of our profile." Her chemical distribution company, which was founded 30 years ago, has been on the elite list every year.
"(We) take pride in being recognized and it's good exposure for us," echoes Ruben Garcia, CEO of Empire Maintenance, another California company on all 25 editions of the list.
In 1985, when Hispanic Business magazine added an additional 100 companies to total 500, less than half had revenues of $5 million or more. By 1996, businesses wanting to participate on the Hispanic Business 500 needed annual revenues of $5 million or more to make the cut.
Being on the list "signifies that Hispanics can grow their business," says Moses Cordova, CEO of Cordova Bolt in Buena Park, California.
The initial 400 companies – one-quarter of them were from California –
reported total combined revenues of $3.7 billion. Today, Brightstar Corp., the No.1 company on the Hispanic Business 500, reported revenues of $3.6 billion by itself.
"Size matters. It means you are selling more than anybody else and bringing in more people to work for you," says Brighstar CEO and founder R. Marcelo Claure. "It also means we have a higher sense of responsibility to the Hispanic community due to the fact that people are looking to the No. 1 company as an example."
Ultimately, of course, the ranking is just a reflection of what a company does every day.
"We are very pleased by it and we take a lot of pride in it," says Irma Elder, CEO of Elder Automotive, "but we also take it with a grain of salt. We tell our people, 'Don't focus on who's No. 1 or No. 2, just focus on being the best you can be.' Everything in our industry is so volatile and things change quickly, so it's just important for us to focus on ourselves and be the best we can be."
The Hispanic Business 500 has charted another kind of evolution, beyond numbers. Since the list debuted, Hispanic entrepreneurs have moved out of manufacturing and finance and into construction and services. Many have also grown more sophisticated, relying less on government contracts and working more in the private sector.
Topping the list in 1983 was General Coffee, a wholesaler that filed for bankruptcy the same year it debuted as No. 1. The next year, Goya Foods, the largest Hispanic-owned food company in the United States, moved into first place. Goya was bumped off the top spot in 1985 by Bacardi Imports, which held the position for seven straight years before its vast family holdings made it impossible for the magazine to verify its majority Hispanic ownership in the United States – a benchmark used in compiling the directory.
After Bacardi dropped from the list, Goya made its way to the lead spot again in 1993. Over the next three years, Goya would swap the No. 1 spot with Burt Automotive, an auto dealership.
[In 2003, after being at the top of the Hispanic Business 500 for two decades, Goya fell off the list. A nasty family battle led to the ousting of Joe Unanue, Goya's chairman and chief executive for 28 years. The family-run company has since declined to participate in the annual listing and has remained tight-lipped about its financial information, which highlights another challenge of compiling the Hispanic Business 500.]
In 1999, MasTec Inc., a telecommunications company, moved into the top slot and would remain there until 2001. The telecom firm would be the first Hispanic Business 500 company to reach the $1 billion mark.
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