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Five groundbreaking Latino CEOs share their advice for success

Key Points
  • Latinos are responsible for 82% of the growth in the U.S. labor force since the financial crisis of 2007-2008.
  • Growth within the Latino population is six times faster than non-Latino population growth.
Berto Guerra Jr., CEO & Chairman of Avanzar Interior Technologies stands on the floor of his San Antonio manufacturing plant

"¡Si, se puede!" Yes, you can.

Three words launched five Latino CEOs in San Antonio on their joint venture to success.

At 18% of the U.S. population, Latinos are responsible for 82% of the growth in the U.S. labor force since the financial crisis.

That's according to the Latino Donor Collective U.S. Latino GDP Report, prepared by researchers at the California Lutheran University Center for Economic Research & Forecasting and UCLA Center for the Study of Latino Health & Culture.

Yet how are Latinos — a group growing six times faster than non-Latino populations — preparing themselves to assume executive leadership roles?

Meet the 'Five Compadres'

Toyota's Five Compadres, Tier 1 suppliers for its San Antonio pickup truck production plant. From left: Frank Herrera, Berto Guerra, Rosa Santana, Fernando Reyes and Max Navarro.
  • Frank Herrera, CEO of Hero Logistics | Provides in-house logistics.
  • Berto Guerra Jr., chairman and CEO of Avanzar Interior Technologies | Manufactures vehicle seating.
  • Rosa Santana, owner and CEO of Forma Automotive, became Toyota's first-ever Hispanic woman-owned direct Tier 1 supplier | Provides fully assembled truck beds for Tacoma trucks.
  • Fernando Reyes, founder of Reyes Automotive Group | Produces injection molding and carpeting for the pickup trucks.
  • Max Navarro, founder and chairman of Vutex | Assembles parts kits for conveyance to the assembly line.

The group is made up of a lawyer, a STEM professional, a staffing expert and two multiventure entrepreneurs, all established Latino business leaders from diverse industries.

And while the five had no automotive manufacturing experience, Toyota still approached them to become the company's first Latino manufacturers to provide products directly to the company with no middlemen — otherwise known as Tier 1 suppliers.

Toyota decided in 2003 to purchase 2,600 acres of ranch land in predominantly Latino (64%) San Antonio, and build its new Tundra and Tacoma pickup truck production plant.

Among the company's first tasks was to identify and train local businessmen.

Today, the Compadres' businesses assemble various auto components, including wheels, tires and fully constructed truck beds to vehicle interiors, including carpeting and plastics.

CNBC Invest in You: Ready. Set. Grow sought out their best advice for young Latino entrepreneurs searching for their own route to success.

Max Navarro: No experience? No problem!

The jump into manufacturing was not easy.

"A lot of us had business background, but none of us knew how to build a truck," said Navarro, founder and chairman of Vutex, the first San Antonio-based Hispanic-owned scientific research firm.

"But we all brought together some kind of common denominator that helped each other grow."

Navarro said that lack of experience often leads to a self-doubting, "can't do" mentality, yet for him, no experience is no problem.

Toyota's Texas plant, with the help of the Compadres' companies, now produces more than 200,000 pickup trucks annually.

"Ultimately, we answered that $64,000 question, 'Are people going to be able to manufacture trucks in San Antonio?'" said Navarro.

"There's no doubt in my mind that question has been answered. Yes."

Berto Guerra Jr: Surround yourself with smarter people

In the beginning, the Compadres were paired with seasoned Tier 1 Toyota suppliers to form joint ventures. They traveled all over the U.S. and to Japan to learn the businesses, the suppliers' processes and the "Toyota Way."

"One piece of advice my father always gave me was 'Don't be afraid to surround yourself with people who are smarter than you,'" said Guerra, chairman and CEO of Avanzar Interior Technologies.

Guerra grew up in San Antonio with his family and lived in a small room behind his father's barbershop. His father gave Guerra his first job — greeting customers as they walked in and offering them a shoe-shine in return for a few cents.

Humility was a lesson Guerra learned from an early age.

"There's no shame in acknowledging when you need help," said Guerra. "Especially when the help of others guarantees your long-term success."

Rosa Santana: Believe in yourself and lift up others

Rosa Santana, Forma Automotive CEO & Santana Group Founder
Santana Group

The four original Compadres became five in 2014 when Rosa Santana, the first "comadre," joined the team a decade after the Texas plant opened. With her, she brought more than three decades of staffing industry experience and previously provided human-resource services to her now-fellow Compadres.

"I think all the Compadres come from underserved communities and somehow, somebody gave us an opportunity," said Santana, CEO of Forma Automotive.

Santana now serves as a direct provider of fully assembled truck beds.

"Sometimes I think Latinos, especially Latina women, think we can't do as well, or we are not equipped to be leaders," she said. "We have to do everything to empower ourselves and empower our people."

Frank Herrera: The Latino agenda is the U.S. agenda

"We must understand that we are advancing not only the Latino cause, but equally as important, the U.S. cause," said Herrera, owner and president of Herrera Law Firm and chairman of Hero Assemblers and Hero logistics.

An estimated 55 million Latinos live in the U.S., according to the U.S. Census Bureau. That number represents 18% of the country's population, and officially makes Latinos America's largest ethnic or racial minority.

Herrera said Latinos need to leverage their role in the workforce by understanding themselves to be a key driver of future U.S. economic growth.

"If the United States 100 years from now will be predominantly Latino, then we have to prepare ourselves to assume those leadership roles."

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Fernando Reyes: Remember, "si, se puede"

"Si, se puede," said Reyes, founder of Reyes Automotive Group.

Born and raised in San Antonio, Reyes has decades of business and entrepreneurial experience, including stints at the Department of Defense, the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the IRS.

In 2007 and 2008, he was chairman of the San Antonio Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

At his inaugural dinner, Reyes addressed his fellow Compadres.

"I said, 'To my Compadres, I know we're going to do well for San Antonio, we're going to do well for our country and we're going to show everybody we can, because 'si, se puede.'"

Since then, Reyes has continued to remind himself, his fellow Compadres and his community that "¡Si, se puede! Yes, you can!"

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Disclosure: NBCUniversal and Comcast Ventures are investors in Acorns.