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Carlos Linares Building Community, Building Bridges

Carlos Linares
Building community, building bridges

In the American myth, the model of success is usually represented by a straight line moving upward at a sharp angle. As the line climbs, one acquires a better position, more power, higher pay, and greater prestige. There may even be room to represent the personal pleasures associated with family and friends.

If, however, one drew a model of Carlos Linares’s life, it would look more like a doodle full of squiggles, false starts, abrupt changes in direction, and peaks and valleys which appear to alternate in totally random ways.

That representation is a result of the fact that Carlos has a more complex, and more meaningful, view of “success” than the standard model suggests.

His wandering began early. As the son of a pastor in the Seventh-Day Adventist Church, Carlos moved around a great deal. When he was nine, his father was called to lead congregations in Salt Lake City, Ogden, and Provo. Over time, Carlos exhibited the classic signs of being “the son of a preacher man,” wandering through periods of uncertainty and doubt about how he ought to live his life. He knew that education was important, but he didn’t find the kind of supportive but challenging environment he needed until he came to Westminster. He got his BA in international business (with honors) in 2001 and finished his MBA (again with honors) in 2005. At the same time, he was working at Zions Bank, first as a loan officer and later as an assistant vice president in the Private Service Division, where he cultivated high-net-worth clients and managed a portfolio of private banking services for them. It looked like, after a few false starts, he was on his way up that graph of success: he met or exceeded all the goals he had set; he became a top producer at the bank—he was clearly a rising star.

But something was missing.

He liked the people he worked with, but he wasn’t sure that banking was where he belonged. He was troubled by the fact that while he saw significant growth in the Latino community, very few of his clients were Hispanic. He noticed that when he went to events sponsored by the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, he felt welcomed, at ease, embraced by people he felt a part of but did not see in his office. So when a leadership position at the Hispanic Chamber opened up, he thought about it a great deal. One day, he summoned the courage to ask his wife if she would leave him if he took a job which would require him to work harder, be around the house less, and not pay him very well either.

With her permission and support, he left banking and joined the Chamber. It was a decision that did not comport with the straight-line model of success, but it is one he does not regret.

As the President and CEO of the Utah Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Carlos is able to make a difference in his own community and help other communities relate to each other. On a more personal level, he finds the work endlessly challenging. He gets to wear many hats and perform many duties ranging from event planning to business development, with stops along the way for political advocacy and the development of programs to promote leadership and professional growth among his members.

Carlos and the rest of the state can see the results. The Latino population in Utah has increased almost 200% between 1995 and 2004 and represents a $6-billion market. Hispanic businesses are developing to serve that market. Nationally, the Department of Commerce reports that Hispanics are opening businesses at a rate three times the national average. While many are small businesses, there are over 1,500 Hispanic-owned enterprises employing more than 100 people each and generating $42 billion in gross receipts. Some of those businesses, of course, are located here: the Office of Ethnic Affairs reported in 2005 that there were 4,700 Hispanic-owned businesses in the state. At the same time, Anglo-owned firms are launching initiatives to penetrate the market. Carlos and the Utah Hispanic Chamber of Commerce provide help and advice to any firm interested in doing business with the state’s Latino population.

That advice tends to focus on the very practical aspects of developing relationships within the Hispanic community. Carlos notes that “if someone sincerely treats us well and speaks our language and makes us feel welcome, we will come back again and again . . . with friends and family. Business is all about relationships. If you don’t build relationships, it’s kind of difficult to get to that bottom line.”

In terms of Hispanics seeking to build a business, Carlos and the Chamber stand ready to help. For example, he knows that Hispanic business owners often have difficulty getting access to capital and contracting opportunities. So he, along with several ethnic chamber leaders, is working with the state Office of Economic Development and Office of Ethnic Affairs to discuss the problem and come up with concrete plans to help these business owners compete and bid for those contracts. At the same time, he sees a new generation coming up that is comfortable with technology and perceives unlimited opportunities for growth and advancement.

Like this new generation, Carlos is optimistic about the future. Utah has generally welcomed Hispanics and embraced the growing diversity in the state. While the current debate about immigration policy has created some tensions, he believes they will be resolved in an equitable way. After all, he knows that immigrants come to America and Utah to work hard and provide a better life for their children and families. And those are the sort of traits we all admire and ought to welcome in our state.

As Carlos looks back at the years he has spent at the Chamber, he is satisfied by what he has accomplished. But Carlos doesn’t look back all that often; most of his attention is focused on the future, on the next challenge, the next opportunity, the next steps he can take as he continues to chart a jagged and unpredictable path to success.

Carlos Linares will be stepping down from his role at the Utah Hispanic Chamber of Commerce in October to start his own company, but he will remain active as a chamber member and supporter. His new venture will focus on organizational and leadership development, marketing strategies, and cross-cultural training. He has also accepted a position as an adjunct professor at the Bill and Vieve Gore School of Business.