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For some entrepreneurs, starting a business is the culmination of a lifelong dream. For Belinda Guadarrama, CEO of GC Micro Corporation, it was an act of desperation. The native Texan fell into IT in her home state. She then moved to California to support a company that sold software nationwide. One day in 1986, she came to work and there was a “closed” sign on the front door of the building. The company had gone dark without notice.
Guadarrama was stunned. She allowed herself only a few hours to panic and grieve. There wasn’t much more time since she couldn’t sustain herself without a steady income. Instead of editing her résumé or making cold calls, the young professional decided to take matters into her own hands. Guadarrama started her own company. She called it GC Micro Corporation, and just days after her unexpected layoff, the company was ready for business.
There was just one problem. While Guadarrama had courage, ambition, and chutzpah, she needed something else—clients. Her previous company took out ads in magazines like PC World to sell products to the general public; she enjoyed working with large companies instead. So Guadarrama decided to pivot and set herself up to serve big, complex corporations.
The strategy worked. Fast forward thirty-five years, and the minority- and woman-owned business has dozens of employees, billions of dollars in inventory, $80 million in revenue, and a reputation for serving Fortune 500 companies and leading government agencies like NASA. Guadarrama has advised three presidential administrations, and GC Micro has helped launch satellites.
They’ve done it all on word of mouth—without ever taking out an ad.
How did she pull off her unlikely version of the American dream? By focusing on the right things. “I’m passionate about small business and about understanding market needs while putting the right people in place to build relationships that last,” she says. “At GC Micro, our basic principle is to focus on our customer’s needs. We’re not a success unless our customers are successful.”
Back in 1986, Guadarrama sent out five hundred typed letters via US mail. She was offering to find obscure software solutions and stitch them together to handle very specific institutional tasks. Leaders at the University of California system responded, and UC Davis became an early GC Micro client. But Guadarrama didn’t meet with them on her own. She assembled a small team of engineers and brought them with her to early client meetings to ensure all technical concerns and issues were satisfactorily addressed.
With money coming in, Guadarrama focused on infrastructure and strategy. She first got registered as a small business, and later as a minority-owned entity. The move opened new doors, and when customers started asking for memory and other components, she evolved from a software reseller to a hardware and software integration, services, and solutions company.
As GC Micro Corporation grew, Guadarrama became more interested in leveraging her academic background in economics and her experience as an entrepreneur to help other small businesses. The leaders she’s met usually need advice on how to back up their ideas and passions with smart business strategy and an understanding of real-world finance.
She remembers being rejected for loans twice despite having a profitable business. “I had to work with consultants and mentors who taught me how to do new things so I could grow the right way,” she recalls.
Then, Guadarrama learned to partner with local regional banks whose managers would observe her business, look at her books, and discover her potential. Now, she helps others take a similar approach. She’s also on the board of directors at Summit State Bank, where she helps Sonoma County small business and nonprofits access funding in California.
Guadarrama has accumulated several accolades from groups like the US Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and the US Department of Commerce, but she is quick to share credit with GC Micro Corporation’s dedicated employees. “I empower people here to do meaningful work and make decisions on the spot. I treat employees like business partners, and they in turn treat our clients well.”
She also invests time in training and development. Employees go through ninety days of training before they talk to a customer. An actual human—not a machine—answers each and every phone call. “The secret of GC Micro’s continuing success is our wonderful staff,” she notes. “Everyone here recognizes that we are only in business because of our commitment to our customers’ success.”
The results are undeniable. After nearly four decades, GC Micro is still working with many of its first clients. The lobby is filled with numerous awards from their customers for the outstanding service and support provided. And the awards also include accolades for Guadarrama on her endeavors on behalf of the small business community, including the NASA Public Service Medal, the highest honor a civilian can earn from that agency.
In May 2015, Guadarrama’s company did something few other women-owned tech firms have done. She and GC Micro Corporation won a ten-year NASA Solutions for Enterprise-Wide Procurement (SEWP V), Government Wide Acquisition Contract (GWAC). The deal has a $20 billion maximum lifetime value, and GC Micro’s hardware and services are used on major high-visibility projects. GC Micro strives to provide the latest technology for their clients with complex configuration and integration services working with major vendors like Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE).
“I have had the pleasure of working with Belinda and GC Micro for almost 25 years,” says Brian Vineys, federal partner business manager at HPE. “Belinda has shown unequalled leadership in an industry that has undergone an amazing amount of change over the last quarter century. She is passionately committed to delivering the best products and services to her customers. For Belinda, no mission is too small, no rollout is too large—but they are all treated with equal importance.”
When Guadarrama sees news about NASA launching a rocket, she knows her company has had something to do with it—and has been on a similar trajectory itself.