Staff Reporter

Hector V. Barreto, the new chairman of the Los Angeles-based Latin Business Association, has some big shoes to fill.

His father, Hector Barreto Sr., an immigrant from Guadalajara, Mexico, was the founder and president of the United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, the first national organization devoted to serving Latino businesses. He also was an adviser to Ronald Reagan and George Bush.

The younger Barreto, 36, is accomplished in his own right. Before the age of 30, he had founded his first business, Barreto Insurance and Financial Services, which helps Latino business owners with financial planning for themselves and their employees.

He recently formed a second business, TELACU-Barreto Financial Services Inc., a securities broker serving the same community. He sits on the board of TELACU as well.

Barreto, a 10-year member of the Latin Business Association, this year took over as chairman of the 1,200-member organization with the goal of doubling its membership this year, then doubling it again next year.

Question: What's your background? You didn't grow up here.

Answer: I actually grew up in Kansas City, Mo. I went to college there Rockhurst College in Kansas City. After college, I went to work for Miller Brewing Co. in Dallas. I was an area manager for the brewery, and my responsibility was to be the liaison between the brewery and their distributors in the state of Texas.

Q: What made you start your own business?

A: When I got the job at Miller Brewing Company, they immediately sent me to Texas because of the large Latino population. They wanted some managers that really were bilingual and bicultural. So I moved to Texas and I handled that market for them. Eventually I handled all of their South Texas territory, which is an 80 percent to 90 percent Latino population.

I moved to California, and was looking for a change. It was a great experience working for the corporation, but I always kind of wanted to have my own business. My friend offered me an opportunity to get involved in his business. The problem was that they weren't really in the Latino community. They were basically doing estate planning for senior citizens in Orange County. And I learned the business at that time from him. But, I mean, it wasn't really what I ultimately wanted to do. So I left him and I started my own business in Los Angeles.

I didn't really have any contacts in Los Angeles. I'm not from here, I have no relatives here, I really didn't know anybody here. So my father suggested that I get involved in the Latin Business Association. He said that would be a great place to meet some people.

Q: How has your business changed in the last 10 years?

A: I've really grown with my clients. In the beginning, we dealt just with life insurance. When my clients got employees, then they needed employee benefits, so we just started working with them on health insurance programs and other employee benefit programs.

And now is the next level. Now they've gotten larger, they need to retain those employees. They need to start planning for their future. In the Latino community, this whole concept of insurance and financial planning is sometimes a very foreign concept. They have never done it before they never had an opportunity to have access to these programs at the companies where they worked. You didn't have professional agents and brokers calling on them because the perception was that these people don't have any money, and they don't speak the language.

Some of those clients were five or 10-man shops. They have 100 or 200 employees now. So my practice and my company have grown accordingly. And the future is very bright because, again, the penetration in this market is so small.

Q: What issues are facing Latino businesses?

A: An issue that's always been big for us is access to capital. We're a very entrepreneurial population. We love business. We love to be in business. Some of that is cultural and historical. In Mexico, it's very common to start your own business, have maybe two or three businesses.

You have a lot of companies that come here some first, a lot of second generation. And they run into the roadblocks that any other business runs into. But they just don't have the support systems in place to help them get what they need, which is a relationship with a banker, a relationship with a lawyer, a relationship with an accountant, a relationship with an advisor somebody who can help them when they run into problems.

Q: Are banks starting to get more involved?

A: Banks now are coming to the party, so to speak. They are starting to realize that they really need to do some things differently with regard to how they approach the Hispanic community. You cannot take the forms and formats that you've used in evaluating risk and evaluating the potentiality of a business and overlay that on what is really a new business segment. Some of these businesses haven't been around for 20, 30 years. They've been around for two or three years, five years, but they are experiencing incredible growth. A lot of times the financial institutions say, "Well, not a long enough track record. Need to see more." My father used to always say, "The banks ask for us a track record, a track record, a track record. How can I ever have a track record if they won't give me a track to run on?"

Q: You mentioned your father. He was the founder of the United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, and you're sort of carrying the torch.

A: I tell people that we have a mutual admiration society. There's no way that I would have gotten to where I am today unless I had the father that I had the nurturing, the counsel, the support, the confidence that he gave me about doing what I do now. So, yeah, I know that he's very happy that I'm kind of continuing in the family business, so to speak.

But he also challenges me. What my father tells me is, "If a poor kid from Guadalajara, Mexico, can come to the United States, not speak the language, start all these businesses, start a national organization, advise presidents of the United States, then I expect a lot more from you, because you had a lot more opportunities than I did."

Q: You're also filling some big shoes by following Frank Moran as chairman of the LBA. He was a pretty vocal spokesman for the Latino business community.

A: Frank's also a hard act to follow. Frank and I are very good friends and we have known each other for a long time. One of the important things that Frank did, and I'm going to continue that, is he dedicated himself to do a lot of outreach.

When Frank came in a couple of years ago, the Latin Business Association was still a well-kept secret. We did a good job with the corporations. The politicians knew who we were. And we actually had a reputation across the country. But there were still a lot of people in Los Angeles who didn't know what the Latin Business Association was about. So Frank made a commitment to really get out there and spread the word about what Latin Business Association means, why it's important. He did a phenomenal job, and I'm committed to continuing on the work that he's done.

Q: And your plans?

A: What my mandate this year has really been is to get back to the basics. The Latin Business Association does business development well, they do education well, and they advocate well. There are other things that other organizations need to do things with regard to the social issues, some things to do with political issues. Those are better left to other organizations. We need to concentrate on business. So that's really what I'm here to do. That's what I was elected to do. We're still going to continue the outreach. But we're also going to make sure over the next couple years that people are very clear about the different advantages and benefits the Latin Business Association offers, and really try to grow that membership.

Hector V. Barreto

Title: Chairman

Organization: Latin Business Association

Born: 1961, Kansas City, Mo.

Education: Rockhurst College, bachelor's degree in business administration, with emphases in management and Spanish, 1983

Most Admired Person: His father, Hector Barreto Sr.

Turning Point in Career: Moving to California to start a business

Personal: Married

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