Our American Dream: The Latino Behind the Xbox and the Porsche
Across the United States, in all fields of endeavor, Latinos are working to uphold their place in American society. Fox News Latino is proud to present "Our American Dream" – a series of snapshots and profiles of Latino success stories.
Richard Velazquez helped design cars for Porsche. He was the world’s largest marketer of fabric softener at Procter & Gamble. Today, he is the man leading innovative projects for Microsoft’s X-Box.
Some would say that he has held some of the best jobs in the world. And how he came to hold these jobs epitomizes the value of education and the importance of following your American dream.
Growing up one of six children in New York City, Velazquez showed an almost insatiable thirst for math and a desire to follow his passions – engineering and video games.
His father, Vidal Sr., was a Vietnam veteran and career postman who worked nights. Every morning, he'd drive his son all the way across Brooklyn so that Velazquez could go to Manhattan Beach School, one of Brooklyn’s best institutions at that time.
“We grew up in the projects. Then my father saved up enough money to get a house in Brooklyn that was sandwiched between two other buildings. We heard gunshots sometimes, but it was a home.”
The then-skinny school kid would begin each day by fitting his arms through the loops of a Pathmark grocery bag, weighing heavy of his family’s dreams and the books he carried. This was his make-shift book bag.
“I came home from school and told my mom how I was teased for my bag. That was the first time I saw my mother cry, because she knew a book-bag was a necessity but she just couldn’t afford it.”
His mother, Maria, met his father when they were both kids in the Puerto Rican town of Penuelas. They were separated when Vidal Sr. moved to New York City, but then reunited there and began a family.
“My dad and my mother are my ultimate role models. They didn’t have a lot of means, but if it wasn’t for their focus on education, I wouldn’t be where I am at today.”
Velazquez’s love for math came right out of a bag of beans. His family’s kitchen was the classroom, red pinto beans served as the calculator and his mother was his teacher. While his mother taught him math, his father encouraged his passion for video games. Velazquez and his older sister Catherine would lose themselves in hours of gaming on the Atari 2600.
“My love affair with video games began with that Atari,” he says. “I remember my father throwing a Pac-Man party for my sister and I when we finally reached a million points.”
Velazquez would ultimately graduate one year early from Edward R. Murrow High School, also in Brooklyn. He was admitted to The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art, one of the few free universities in the country.
As a mechanical engineering graduate, he caught the eye of Honda's Ohio center, which focuses on research and development on cars for the Americas. Velazquez began work as a car body design engineer.
“I worked on the steel structural body of the 98’ Honda Accord. I also worked on the Acura MDX and Acura CL, designing the cars' hoods among other areas.”
In 1999, Velazquez moved to Germany, where he became the first-ever Latino to help design a Porsche. He worked on the Cayenne, Boxster and Carrera models.
After seven years in the automotive industry, he enrolled in the MBA program at the University of California, Berkeley. Then, the one-time automotive designer and mechanical engineer joined Procter and Gamble as a brand manager for Downy and Gain.
“My parents couldn’t believe I went from designing cars to pushing fabric softener,” he says. “But what better place to learn marketing than Procter and Gamble? One out of six people on the planet have a P&G product in their home.”
Today, Velazquez has switched industries again: He has joined Microsoft as a Senior Product Manager for Xbox, where he has overseen key projects like the development of the new Xbox 360, the best-selling Wii competitor Kinect, special edition Halo 3 controllers and even basic components such as cables.
“At Xbox, I work on the hardware roadmap, coming up with the ideas and the products, and defining our target segments, value proposition, and feature sets,” Velazquez explains.
The wildly popular Xbox 360 Kinect is a motion-sensing 3-D system with real time voice and facial recognition. In its first two months, Velazquez says, Kinect has sold over 8 million units, outpacing even the iPad to become number one consumer electronic item on the market.
“There are a lot of unexplored opportunities with Kinect, like tracking your finger movements and facial expressions,” Velazquez adds. “We are constantly working on things that are five years down the road, including the next generation of consoles.”
Velazquez lives in Seattle, home to Microsoft, where he has founded the areas first chapter of the National Society of Hispanic MBA’s or NSHMBA. In an area with a small but growing Hispanic population, Velazquez takes pride in organizing social and business events with the goal in creating a tight knit community of professionals. His efforts have not gone unnoticed: In 2009, he won NSHMBA’s National Award for Excellence for his leadership of the Seattle Chapter.
“I feel an obligation for the next generation. We have to continue to provide them opportunities," Velazquez stresses.
Tragically, in February 2010, while Velazquez was a half a world away in Vietnam, his father and role model died in a car accident in Puerto Rico.
“You know, tragically, I never was able to find out more about his service in Vietnam,” he says. “I had planned to talk to him about his thirteen years of service to our country when I got back.”
Just like his father before him, Velazquez is a proud believer of the American dream and what it represents.
“Everyone in this nation has the opportunity to achieve success through intelligence, perseverance and hard-work,” he says.
“No matter what your circumstances are, you can always strive to achieve more and reach those goals if you set your mind to it.”
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