The highly anticipated annual startup index from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation was released in the final week of May and it suggests a phenomenon which the leadership of KPOST Roofing and Waterproofing has known for many years. The Kauffman-funded researchers found that immigrants and Latinos started new companies or became self-employed at nearly twice the rate of native-born Americans.
According to a front-page story in the Wall Street Journal, “Immigrant entrepreneurs launched 28.5 percent of new businesses in 2014, up from 25.9 percent a year earlier and just 13.3 percent in 1996.” The report noted that this group created an average of 520 businesses per month per 100,000 people last year.
This tendency toward entrepreneurship is even more impressive when it is compared to the percentage of immigrants in the U.S. population. This most recent data show immigrants accounted for only 12.9 percent of the U.S. population in 2012, up from 9.3 percent in 1996, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
“We see this entrepreneurial spirit every day,” notes Keith Post, CEO of KPOST. “Our company, along with the other building trades, employs a great number of Hispanic workers and we have first-hand knowledge of this group’s self-starting attitude, honesty and tremendous work-ethic. These are the three of the traits of a successful entrepreneur. We promote our employees to position of leadership and reward them for their team’s performance therefore creating mini profit centers (companies) and fostering that entrepreneurial spirit”
Immigrants have traditionally had to struggle to find salaried employment because of language barriers and other obstacles. It is for this reason that many start “mom and pop shops” rather than joining larger companies. According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics highlighted by Alberto Davila, chairman of the economics and finance department of the University of Texas-Pan American College in this research, “it is really Mexican self-employment that is carrying this growth.”
How Does KPOST Roofing & Waterproofing Retain Talented Hispanic Workers?
“We start with respect,” noted Jayne Williams, Chief Financial and Safety Officer of KPOST. “We don’t just tell our employees how much we appreciate their hard work. We show them with our actions, such as promoting talented employees like Luciano Perez.”
After a few minutes talking with Luciano Perez, it is obvious that he is the type of self-starting, intelligent worker which this Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation could have easily counted in their entrepreneurial index. His enthusiasm for his work – he is the company’s Safety Manager/Certified Safety and Health Official, a crucial position in the KPOST organization – is palpable. However, he also has a rare gift which allows him to mentor other Hispanic employees: he is a born teacher.
“I conduct all our safety meetings in both English and Spanish,” Perez notes. “This shows our Spanish-speaking co-workers that we respect their heritage and skills and we are committed to doing everything we can do to ensure they come home to their families every night.”
Does he think his position and longevity with the company (he’s been with the company since it was founded) have an effect on building trust and rapport among the Latinos who work for KPOST?
“Maybe,” he modestly notes. “Because I stand up in front of these guys every week and I make it a point to try and get to know them and their families, I sometimes end up being a sounding-board for their future plans. I’m hopeful that my leadership demonstrates the respect KPOST has for our employees”
“If someone comes to me and says they are thinking of doing something else, I always say ‘what does your wife say,” he chuckled. “That’s always the first and most important question. Then I say, what does your heart say? I also ask them to consider the long-term consequences and opportunities of going to another company, or becoming self-employed. Some stay and some go, but they all know our company cares for them and want the best for their future.”
This understanding of the growing impact of Latinos on America’s future is also evident in the company’s long-range planning, let by KPOST’s President, Steve Little.
“Without our Latino families who work at KPOST, we would not be able to sustain our company…period,” notes Little. “As such, we are a microcosm of the rest of the United States. Immigrant workers are absolutely critical to many industries in our country, not the least of which are the building trades. It’s because of this that we have built human resource programs and promoted talented workers to support the retention of these valuable workers. As the Roofing and Waterproofing Partner of the Dallas Cowboys, we have an obligation to run our team like the Cowboys knowing that we have “fans” (clients) that depend on the KPOST TEAM to be there for them.”
“When one of our talented employees – Latino or Anglo – approaches me to talk about their moving on to start their own company, I ask them to give us a year. Let us teach them more about being a leader/manager and then they can make the decision. We want them to become an “intrapreneur,” using that entrepreneurial skill and energy to build a future within KPOST.”