When he says, “I looked around and noticed there weren’t any people like me,” David Gomez isn’t being arrogant. He’s simply speaking the truth, referring to the executive-search industry in the 1970s. Gomez—whose father emigrated from Mexico and whose mother was born on the way—realized he was all alone as a Latino working in the recruiting world. In fact, there weren’t many Latinos working at a high level in the United States. He set out to change that, and has devoted his whole career to helping advance the cause of Latinos in the American workforce through David Gomez & Associates, his work with the United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, and other efforts. Here, he shares why these causes have become his life’s work.
I’m 61 years old with 6 kids and 13 grandkids. I think I’m the oldest and most experienced Latino in executive search. When I started working, I was so conflicted, because I looked around and noticed there weren’t any people like me. I always wondered why, and then realized it was because I’m Latino. I started David Gomez & Associates as an executive search firm; things were difficult, but we were growing very fast.
Henry Cisneros served on San Antonio’s city council and was elected mayor of the city. We knew each other, and he called me to help start a network of Latino business leaders called the New America Alliance. We wanted to get Latino visibility on corporate boards, but when we met, it was just 40 Hispanics sitting around a table pounding our fists. I knew then that in America, the Latino had not yet arrived, and I set out to change that.
We had to change things because Latinos were growing at such a fast pace in America. I thought that if left unchanged, we would become a huge liability the country couldn’t carry. Think about it: if we had immigration reform back then, millions and millions of dollars would now be in our national treasury. In my own company, I decided to focus on giving Latinos a vehicle to corporate America, but my colleagues got upset and told me I was bankrupting our company. In many ways they were right.
As I started to focus on the Latino worker, American businesses started to pigeonhole us and paint us into a corner as the “diversity” company. They would only call us for special projects, and we started to crash and burn. I had put $2 million into inventing a job board for Latinos called iHispano. I had a wife and kids, and there was no looking back.
Executive search is all about finding the best and brightest, but the Latino talent pool was too small. I realized someone needed to do something to help the Latino become immersed in corporate America. If I didn’t do it, who would? I took it upon my shoulders, but didn’t know how heavy of a burden it would be. As corporate America started to point to me as a diversity specialist even more, my other C-level clients just dropped off. I was willing to risk it, because I knew that if I was successful, then at some point the Latino would really become an important part of American business.
1978: David Gomez & Associates opens its doors in Chicago
2001: Henry Cisneros, the second Latino mayor of an America city, contacts Gomez to build a network of Latino business leaders called the New American Alliance
2002: Gomez becomes a cofounder of the Bank of Lisle, which grows into a $400 million bank
2010: DG&A doubles its 2009 revenues
2010: Gomez finds a new CEO of the USHCC, Javier Palomarez, and joins the board to help the organization rebound into a strong advocacy engine for Latino businesses
2013: The USHCC names Gomez the chair of its national convention
Even though it was hard, we spent the first 10 years working like crazy and built an Inc. 500 fastest growing company by hiring employees that might be passed up by other firms and giving them more opportunity and more compensation. We demand high levels of performance and integrity from clients and candidates, and we use inclusive methodology in health care, our current focus, and other areas. We’ve built a data warehouse of Latino and mainstream clients who have demonstrated the best characteristics. While mainstream candidates can focus on their verticals, Latinos have to be willing to change fields. They might go from consumer goods to insurance, because there are just not enough Latino professionals to fill the void. Unless a company comes to someone like me who can use inclusive methods to mine data and find Latino professionals who can do this, they will not succeed in this kind of hiring.
People thought I would crash and burn—and I did for a while—but American corporations are finally understanding the value in what we offer. I put this inclusive methodology in place around the right vertical, which is health care, and we started to take off again. We’ve doubled revenues every year for the last three. We are in 20 states and ready to become one of the fastest-growing companies again. High-level companies know they can trust us to bring the best executives, and Latinos want to come to us because they know we will give them four looks when other companies don’t even know what to do with them.
Five years ago, I was asked to find the CEO of the United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. They were at an all-time low and had lost their identity. They needed a great CEO that understands brand management, rebranding, and operations. I found them Javier Palomarez. He’s joined their organization, I have joined the board along with others, and we have brought it to its highest point yet.
While our corporate board numbers haven’t grown in proportion to our demographic, that’s due in part to the Latino entrepreneurs who are opening small businesses in record numbers. We support them through the chamber with training, access, and capital. My whole life, from the time Henry Cisneros first called me to today, has been about trying to help Latinos be the best they can be in the American business world.