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Hispanic entrepreneur profile: 'Recessions are good time to start business'


Engineering Annex
Photo courtesy of UTEP
 
EL PASO -- Antonio Rico had a good job as a telecommunications engineer, but he also had the business bug and wanted to start his own company.

"One night, you're nervous thinking about it -- you just want to do it," Rico said. "The next day, you just get out and do it, and nothing is going to stop you. If you really have the business bug, you're going to go pursue it.

"Nothing has given me as much excitement as owning a business."

Rico owns Electrosystems Engineers Inc., or ESEI, a licensed telecommunications engineering and information technology services company.

He ended up in engineering because it was the career his mother suggested.

"My mom once said, '(Engineering) is the best thing that you can study. It's the career of the future.' I didn't argue with her. I just signed up," Rico said.

He grew up and attended high school in Juárez, so he initially tried to register for college there. However, because he had been born in El Paso and was an American citizen, he would have had to pay as a foreigner to attend a Juárez university.

It was less expensive to attend the University of Texas at El Paso, so he enrolled. He graduated from UTEP in 1980 with a bachelor of science degree in electrical engineering.

After college, he worked in telecommunications engineering for El Paso Electric and El Paso Natural Gas. He learned a lot about the field but always believed he would follow in the business-oriented footsteps of his mother, who had run a clothing company out of her home.

Rico opened ESEI in 1988 with several other partners while continuing to work full-time on the side. He and his partners completed several small projects at night, but they couldn't devote enough time to make the business flourish.

"By 1994, the company was in a file cabinet, and we had kind of put it to rest," Rico said. "So when I decided to go on, I just took it out of the file cabinet and opened it up (again)."

Rico used his own savings to restart the company full time. Sixteen years later, he has about 20 employees and a new focus on the services the company provides -- IT managed services, IT consulting and network infrastructure services.

"It's kind of a big mission for a company our size, but we feel that that's what our local and global clients are looking for -- a one-stop shop," Rico said.

ESEI grew with a couple of large government contracts with the military, and at one time employed 80 people. When the company finished the government projects in 2008, Rico realized it didn't have anything else in the pipeline. The company and the services it offered were redesigned.

"Sometimes instead of dreaming, I need to be looking at the numbers, what the company's telling me É I was not paying attention," Rico said. "Times were good, and I had some very good people working and once those good people left, it put us in a difficult situation."

But he believes that the tough economic times of the past year provided an opportunity to focus businesses in very specific areas where they can make a difference.

"Recessions are a good time to start a business because you have to market yourself a lot harder, and when the growth comes back, people remember you," he said.

To expand a business, it is also important to increase your technical talent and expertise by investing in training and certifications for yourself and your employees, Rico said.

His biggest success, he said, has been keeping the company open for 16 years.

"You have good years, you have bad years, and then you have really bad years. There's nothing you can do about it. It's just part of the economy and part of the cycle," he said.

He will continue to grow the company. His goal is to have between 40 and 50 employees by 2013 while helping other young entrepreneurs learn from his experience.

"Really define what you want to do, and then be very involved" was his advice to new business owners. "Every decision that needs to be made, be really careful about it. Define your services. Get involved with other businesses. Let everybody know who you are and what you do."

Jenn Crawford is a senior writer for the University of Texas at El Paso.


Paso del Norte Entrepreneurship project

  • Hispanic entrepreneurs have always played an integral role in El Paso's business and economic growth. The Paso del Norte Entrepreneurship Oral History Project, a partnership between the University of Texas at El Paso's Institute of Oral History and the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, a Kansas City-based foundation devoted to entrepreneurship, identifies some of these prominent Hispanic business owners and tells their stories.
  • This is the 25th in a series of stories about 36 entrepreneurs.
  • Transcripts and audio files of interviews are available online at heho.utep.edu or by calling 747-7052.

Originally posted on El Paso Times.