Successful entrepreneurs know about overcoming adversity to beat the odds. And as both an entrepreneur and a first-generation immigrant, I would say that I’ve beaten the odds twice. But at least part of my success comes from yet another characteristic I have worked toward -- diversity -- which has helped me obtain the new perspectives that in turn have further helped me grow my business.
To understand what entrepreneurs who contribute diversity to the workplace can teach us about success, I sought out a colleague in the Hispanic business community whose experience parallels my own: Alejandro Ruelas is a founder and partner at LatinWorks, the largest Hispanic advertising agency in the country.
Ruelas emigrated from Mexico to Los Angeles at a young age. To make ends meet, his father worked as a strolling musician and his mother as a seamstress. Despite these modest financial circumstances, young Alejandro made it to college.
After graduation, he landed a job at a beer distributor and came to the attention of the beer giant, Anheuser-Busch. With four years of experience under his belt, he joined the company to develop a marketing career while simultaneously pursuing a graduate degree at Washington University. Armed with an MBA, he worked his way up through the company’s corporate ranks to the position of director of multicultural marketing.
By this point, Ruelas had already achieved more success than he probably would have by staying in Mexico. But like many immigrants looking to better their lives, he did not rest on his success. His story of founding LatinWorks personifies how he used diversity to beat the odds -- and his experience seeking diversity is useful for any entrepreneur facing adversity. Specifically, Ruelas used diversity to his advantage in three distinct ways:
1. Diversity of experiences
When starting out in business, many professionals are motivated by compensation. But Ruelas and his family were more interested in building the relationships necessary to achieve a quality life in America. It was this desire to learn more, do more and meet more people that he attributes to his success.
By working in the beer industry at the distributor level, Ruelas obtained a firsthand perspective about how consumers view a brand. In business school, he networked with successful company founders. As he rose through the ranks at Anheuser-Busch, he sought experiences that would shape his foundation as a leader. “My main priority was improving my education,” said Ruelas. “I made sure that I collected and compiled my experiences, so that when the time was right, I could do what I needed to do.”
2. Diversity of skill sets
While his own personal experiences were varied and diverse, Ruelas understood that choosing a quality team is what makes a business scale and grow. “As an entrepreneur, you need to focus on what you do best -- then surround yourself with people who are better than you at other areas,” said Ruelas.
This involves a degree of self-realization to understand what others can do better than you can. In the long run, it helps you lead your organization by utilizing the strategic priorities that will ultimately achieve success. “Having a diverse team allows you to let go of the smaller things, and point the correct way towards achieving your vision,” Ruelas says.
3. Diversity of cultures
As the leader of a Hispanic advertising agency, Ruelas is expert at tapping into cultural trends to grow his agency’s customer base. Cultural understanding is what prompted his agency to leverage Hispanic comedian Carlos Mencia in an advertisement for Bud Light during the 2007 Super Bowl. Choosing the right cultural icon allowed LatinWorks to become the first Hispanic ad agency to obtain a number one Super Bowl spot.
However, relying on culture to grow sales is a dynamic task. It’s important to understand that today’s American culture is the accumulation of multiple multicultural influences. At the same time, American culture exerts considerable influence over those who helped shape it (one reason, perhaps, why Hispanic businesses are growing in number at more than twice the rate of U.S. businesses overall).
To grow their businesses successfully, entrepreneurs must be aware of these nuances and cultural changes: Ruelas’s family did not come to the United States looking for a handout. They came to improve their lives while making a positive contribution to American society.
With a business that today employs 150 people, Ruelas has lived up to his family’s plan, and along the way has beaten the odds by understanding that a variety of experiences positions you well for success; a diversity of perspectives helps you grow; and an understanding of societal trends keeps you at the top.
Building a business isn’t something that can be done alone. It involves counting on and learning from people of all backgrounds, strengths and experiences. By embracing and understanding the diversity that is American business and society, entrepreneurs can shift the odds in their favor.
By “doing well” in business, entrepreneurs “do good” by creating jobs and multiplying the revenue they receive through payroll, buying from suppliers and spending on operations. These are some of the advantages that diversity can bring you.