Juan Marquez had ample management experience when he started his maintenance company, Mop Crew, in 2007.

“Now that I’m doing management,” he said, “you learn to treat people as human beings. One of the skills I learned is being able to talk to people, except now it’s trying to do it for the good of the project.”

Before, he’d been talking to people for the good of his crew as a gang member in East Los Angeles, dealing drugs and going in and out of prison. He survived multiple bullet wounds and multiple stabbings.

“I love my homies. I grew up with them, but it gets old,” he said. “And I’ve done so much now.”

It was a transition that started a decade ago when Marquez, now 40, came out of prison and had to rush to the hospital to visit his then 4-year-old daughter who was ill with a bone infection. It was then that he opted for a more stable life.

While his operation is modest – Mop Crew employs three and had revenue last year of around $360,000 – he earlier this month landed a competitive bid for an $85,000-a-year contract with the California Department of Transportation to provide janitorial and staff support to 10 field offices in the L.A. area.

The contract lasts for a year with an option for an additional two years.

It wasn’t an easy process. He made 30 unsuccessful bids over the course of 18 months before winning the Caltrans bid. He said it took extensive research and help from Andre Gueno, contracting officer for the Metro Expo Line project, to make sure the Caltrans bid was as good as it could be.

Mop Crew, which provides janitorial and project support for the construction industry, already had a contract managing warehouse shipping and receiving, providing administrative support and consulting services as a subcontractor for Skanska USA’s work on a seven-mile stretch of the Expo Line light-rail project.

“We had recommendations from certain people that we knew,” Gueno said, “and Marquez was (someone) that we had to meet with first.”

He recalls finding Marquez to be a hard worker and a likable guy upon first meeting him three years ago.

“I had my own company for 18 years,” Gueno said, “so I have a soft spot for guys that are hustling, trying to get their stuff going.”

Marquez said he is looking to expand his business by the end of the year and hire four more employees. He makes it his mission to hire and help young men and women who have grown up in underserved communities.

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