Taking an Unexpected Turn Into the Family Business

Santiago Rodriguez, Owner, America Truck Driving School

Santiago Rodriguez left his family’s business less than a year before the crisis hit. His grandmother was ill. His father had to leave for their homeland of Argentina to care for her for an extended period. And the property the company owned was about to be seized through eminent domain. Necessity has a way of pulling one in. “I needed to come back and run the business,” he says—a surprising comment from a man who never saw himself in that position and who didn’t ask for it, either. So how did he end up here?

WHEN FAMILY NEEDS YOU

For as long as he can remember, Rodriguez’s parents have been entrepreneurs and business owners. “I’ve always thought similarly to them, wanting to find a business idea I thought could work,” he says. He just never imagined it would be their idea that he would latch on to. “When I first started, I wasn’t in that mindset.” So, what changed? Pretty much everything.

Rodriguez’s parents started America Truck Driving School in 2000 while their son was still in school himself. He dabbled in the family business, helping them “plug holes in the office,” as he describes it, while he was getting his psychology degree. By 2007, Rodriguez was ready to set out on a new challenge. He took a job working in the financial industry until he got the call that his family needed his help.

“My grandmother became ill, and my father went to Argentina to care for her,” he recalls. “When I started working for my parents all those years ago, I was just an employee. Coming back, I was making all the important decisions, choosing how to expand; it all became my responsibility.”

LEADING WITH CREATIVE PROBLEM SOLVING

Now at the helm of the family business, Rodriguez had two issues to deal with. The first was a freeway expansion near the company’s training site. America Truck Driving School was about to lose the property it used to train drivers due to eminent domain. Rodriguez needed to ensure a fair price for the land the company was going to have to give up. He wasn’t required to accept the first offer, but it meant he had to give up the lot prior to receiving any money for it. That lead to the second issue, finding a desirable new location and figuring out how to pay for it. Regulations and a need to be close to a freeway made it tough to find land.

“I had to get out of one property, lease a temporary location and find a way to purchase a new location simultaneously,” Rodriguez says. “Our family utilized every avenue of pulling and pooling money we could.” He knew what his answer was: “I needed to take a loan against the cash value of my whole life insurance policy.”1

Rodriguez called Warren Duthie, his Northwestern Mutual wealth management advisor, who said, “I’d known Santi (Santiago) for a long time. We’d played hockey together and were friends before we started working together, so I knew he had the mindset of an entrepreneur. He sees the world differently. Entrepreneurs sometimes need nearly immediate access to liquidity and capital, and we made that happen by using the cash value of his life insurance policy. I’m glad it worked for him and for his family’s business.”

Rodriguez says the move was the key to gathering the funds needed to buy the new location for the business. “I secured the money within a couple of days. We were doing whatever it took at that moment, and I don’t think we could have gotten the property without it,” explains Rodriguez. Crisis averted.

Warren Duthie, Wealth Management Advisor, Northwestern Mutual

AN OPPORTUNITY FOR REINVENTION

With a new, permanent location safely secured, Rodriguez says he’s back to focusing on ways to expand the family’s business. He explains the moment when everything clicked for him: “More was being asked of me, and I just decided to take over. If it was going to be something that I was going to do, I wanted to run it my way.” Today Rodriguez is making plans to grow operations, upgrade equipment, add another training location and perhaps train employees for local municipalities or other companies.

Growing his family’s business in a healthy way is at the forefront of Rodriguez’s mind these days, and with good cause. His parents are still involved, and so are some of his siblings, but there’s also a new generation to think of. Rodriguez is married with two children of his own to teach about the family business. Who knows? Someday there just may be more entrepreneurs ready to take the helm.

1 Loans taken against a life insurance policy can have adverse effects if not managed properly. Policy loans, including any accrued interest, must be repaid in cash or from policy values upon surrender, lapse or the death of the insured. Repayment of loans from policy values upon surrender or lapse can trigger a potentially significant tax liability, and there may be little or no cash value remaining in the policy to pay the tax. The policy will lapse if loans become equal to the cash value while the policy is in force and additional cash payments are not made.