Eliseo Rojas arrived in New York from Peru at the age of fifteen. He didn’t speak a word of English. His neighborhood was just two blocks from Yankee Stadium, and in those days (the early 1970s), he recalls the Bronx being speckled with burnt-down buildings. For many in the area, there wasn’t a clear road out. Rojas’s path was mapped by high school teachers who both saw his potential and wanted to invest in his education—one that led him to the Ivy League. He ended up at Columbia University where he played on the soccer team, and, after graduating, married a graduate from Barnard College.
Rojas launched his career in investment banking and transitioned to procurement, where he found his calling in supplier diversity. His corporate career culminated with the title of chief procurement officer for the Fortune 500 marketing and advertising services company Interpublic. He then branched out to form a consultancy a few years ago. Today, Rojas serves small and midsize businesses as the leader of ETR Business Solutions, focusing on minority- and woman-owned firms.
So, how did you get the entrepreneur bug?
It’s what I’ve known my whole life, even though I spent much of my career in corporate. My grandmother was a single mom and she fiercely provided for her four children, including my mother. They both had an incredible work ethic and ingenuity. I remember my grandmother cooking for large groups at her house and then selling the food to workers at construction sites. Or hand washing clothes for the neighborhood to make money.
My mother had a child at sixteen and always worked alongside her. That’s why I’ve always been passionate and supportive of women businesses.
And here you are today leading a venture of your own to help entrepreneurs. How would you describe your business model?
We are essentially the McKinsey of the small/medium-sized market. We serve clients from $1 million to $350 million in revenues, representing a range of industries and sectors. We work with them to provide resources and services—business assessments, financial reviews, growth strategies, access to capital, and other advisory services.
How did you become inspired to launch a consulting company?
It’s rooted in my purpose in life—to share my knowledge and experience with underserved communities and help them achieve their objectives. My entire career has been colored by that. As a senior executive and chief procurement officer, I made it a priority to participate in advocacy groups and boards of directors around these causes. Today, I’m still chairman of the board of the Women Presidents Educational Organization.
That purpose is driving what I’m doing today. I wasn’t able to fulfill it completely in the corporate world, but it gave me the tools, ability, and knowledge that I can now share with others.
Can you share any lesser-known resources for minority businesses?
It’s not a secret, per se, but certification is a must for a minority- or woman-owned company. If you’re looking to do business with Fortune 1000 companies or government agencies, it’s a requirement for their vendors. It also allows you, at the very least, access to people who can help you navigate through different organizations. Supplier diversity and procurement professionals are there to help companies get to the right resources; if you’re out there on your own, it’ll be a lot more challenging.
What other advantages does certification provide?
Certification agencies provide access to capital, development, and networking. They partner with consultancies like ours to coach companies. For example, an agency will hire us to offer three hours of one-on-one advisement to each of their members, customized to their needs. Certifying agencies also host valuable gatherings where you get to meet corporate and governmental agencies and other business owners that you could potentially do business with.
Looking across your portfolio, which high-growth industries are your clients tapping into?
The highest growth potential is in technology—especially artificial intelligence—and all the tech innovations that are helping the economy grow. The health industry is very strong, too, and companies that can help that industry will do well. Finally, automotive is typically consistent and therefore a strong arena to play in.
Those industries all come with unique challenges. How did you build a team capable of consulting across a broad spectrum of businesses?
The team we’ve put together is comprised of professionals who, at a minimum, have twenty to twenty-five years of expertise in the corporate world. Two of our members have been business owners, so they truly understand what it takes to be successful in this environment—from HR to operations to sales, finance, IT, and legal negotiations. There is a common value that unites us as a team: we are all devoted to leveraging our knowledge and experience to help people.
In the short term, what outlook do you foresee for the small/midsize market?
Resilience is the name of the game. These companies are what I call the engine that drives the global economy. Anywhere you look, it’s always the small and medium businesses that are hiring, creating new products, fueling the economy by spending. They are driving the market, not the huge companies. I predict that will only increase with the proliferation of technology and other advancements.
Any parting words of wisdom for startups?
One thing that continues to be a big challenge for minority-owned businesses is getting access to capital. It’s extremely difficult and not always handled in a fair way. My message is that when you’re going for capital make sure your story is clear, relevant, and powerful—so that funders will want to invest in you, regardless of who you are.
A message from The National Hispanic Business Group:
Congratulations to Eliseo Rojas on this well-deserved recognition. Eliseo’s accomplishments, strong partnerships and his relationship with the Hispanic Community, are an example to all Hispanic Americans that through education, dedication and commitment, one can achieve great heights. He is a well-recognized corporate leader in the field of Procurement and Supplier Diversity. We in the MWBE community are honored to call him our friend. The National Hispanic Business Group is proud to support Eliseo Rojas!