As a young entrepreneur, Roberto Espinosa exuded confidence when he moved from Mexico City to San Antonio, Texas, nearly two decades ago to expand his family’s wood furniture manufacturing business into international markets.
The business thrived for many years with Espinosa’s guidance, reaching markets across the United States, Australia, Germany and other countries. Eventually the family sold the business, and Espinosa turned his entrepreneurial sights to owning a restaurant.
“I’m always looking for the next opportunity,” said Espinosa.
Then the unthinkable happened: Espinosa was injured in an elevator accident at the restaurant. He was unable to work during his recovery, putting a strain on his personal finances and raising questions about his future. The restaurant closed soon afterward.
“I thought I was invincible—until the invincibility shield wore off,” he said.
Today, Espinosa is drawing upon his life’s lessons by assisting other entrepreneurs in his role as a financial advisor at Northwestern Mutual and co-founder of the Asociación de Empresarios Mexicanos (Association of Mexican Entrepreneurs), or AEM.
“Small business owners shouldn’t have to work alone,” said Espinosa. “They can achieve more success when they’re part of a team that can help them plan for the future.”
That’s one of the main reasons he and a handful of entrepreneurs founded the AEM in 1996. The group wanted to establish an organization that would support Mexican entrepreneurs in the United States and American professionals interested in working with Mexico as they navigated the cultural and business nuances of operating an enterprise in a foreign country.
Nineteen years later, the AEM is an international resource for entrepreneurs, with more than 1,000 members in 26 chapters—seven in Mexico and 19 in the United States, including Texas, California, Florida, Massachusetts and Washington, D.C. Members have access to experts through conferences, workshops, one-on-one mentoring and more. The AEM also has youth chapters to develop future generations of entrepreneurs.
“We were all facing the same challenges and realized we could learn from the advice and experience of others. We also wanted to shorten the learning curve for other professionals following the same entrepreneurial path,” said Espinosa, who now serves as chairman of the AEM’s San Antonio chapter.
Espinosa uses the analogy of how a single word—such as “fútbol” —can have such different meanings depending on your country of origin.
“People agree to meet for fútbol, and the guys from Mexico come in shorts and cleats and the guys from the United States come with helmets. The game rules are different, the field is different, the way you work as a team is different. It’s the same in business.”
For Espinosa, the AEM experience taught him that he was a better entrepreneur when he had access to a team of professionals who could provide expertise and support as needed. “It’s very hard for business owners to do everything on their own,” he said.
Espinosa has been bringing that same team mentality to his work as a financial advisor for a decade. As an entrepreneur, Espinosa never imagined he’d pursue a career in the financial services industry. But that changed after the elevator accident, which he called “one of those life-changing situations that forces you to stop and think about the future.”
“Small businesses have the energy, flexibility, and entrepreneurial spirit that can lead to success.”
While recovering, Espinosa found himself listening more to his financial advisor, who was with Northwestern Mutual, and doing the things he had been suggesting—things like saving for the future and emergencies and covering risks.
The idea of serving as a financial advisor became appealing when Espinosa realized he could maintain a level of independence and be part of a team at Northwestern Mutual.
“I have the backing of a company with an amazing reputation and good products,” he said. “I don’t have to be the ‘lone ranger.’”
More importantly, Espinosa had the unique perspective of being a former entrepreneur who could work with business owners to advance their professional and personal goals. His clients include physicians, certified public accountants and other small business owners.
“I’ve been in their shoes,” he said. “I know the challenges they face paying taxes, meeting payroll, finding the right people and getting through market cycles.”
He views himself as a “connector” who can assist entrepreneurs in finding the attorneys, business coaches and other professionals they need to succeed. Even social events, such as AEM mixers, can lead to promising business connections.
“From start-ups to growing businesses, all entrepreneurs are working to achieve a higher level of success,” he said. “In most cases, success isn’t the result of one action. It’s about having a plan, taking continued steps and making adjustments as life requires.”
Being part of a team can empower entrepreneurs to take the necessary steps to succeed now and in the future.
“Big corporations may have advisors, boards, accountability partners and consultants that small businesses don’t have,” he said. “But small businesses have the energy, flexibility, and entrepreneurial spirit that can lead to success.”