Gutierrez recently became president of the San Joaquin County Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. He is also vice-chairman of the California Hispanic Chambers of Commerce, and he is chairman of the San Joaquin Partnership.
He says all those positions connect with each other and are part of his mission to serve the Latino community as well as the wider business community.
In August, he met with Business Journal editor Elizabeth Stevens to talk about the growing influence of the Latino community and the priorities of the Hispanic Chamber.
CVBJ: What was your first job?
Gutierrez: The first job I ever had was mowing lawns. That kind of allowed me my first interaction with folks from a working sense — how to be responsive and communicate and talk about all the things that needed to be talked about to get the job done. Finding out what they needed done and then figuring out how I was going to get it done for them.
Then that kind of lent itself to my first few jobs in high school doing customer service, working in concession stands. I had a paper route. I worked in a pizza restaurant here, Dave’s Pizza, for a couple years. So all those jobs were now interactive jobs, customer service jobs. I think that’s been the core foundation of my working experience.
CVBJ: How did you get to work for Richard Pombo?
Gutierrez: I got recruited. I had just taken a political science class. This was in 2000. I was in a Delta College class, and I was taking a political science class in the spring, and I met one of his staff members at a social event. We started talking and he said, ‘Have you ever thought about doing an internship?’
I worked in his office from 2000. Worked on campaigns in the 2000 election cycle from August through November, and then fell in love with it and worked there until 2004. I enjoyed every minute of it.
That’s where I got to meet folks from the Council of Governments and I really got engaged with the business community.
CVBJ: What do you think are some misconceptions about Latinos as a political group?
Gutierrez: I don’t know if it’s necessarily a misperception, but the perception over all sometimes has been that they’ve been less engaged in years past.
I will tell you today there’s a lot of folks in the San Joaquin area that are beginning to realize the impact that the Latino community is having on the business community in an influential way. And also the impact from organizations like the Hispanic Chamber being as that we’re very active on the advocacy side.
One of the things that have learned being a part of this (Hispanic Chamber) organization, there’s not necessarily always a level of knowledge coming from the business owners of different business practices that are needed, whether it be ADA issues and compliance to different permitting processes to how to obtain licenses for various types of jobs.
CVBJ: I’m not sure that’s only a Latino thing.
Gutierrez: There’s not a whole lot of differences when you walk into a store if it’s owned by a Latino business owner versus anybody else. I think there’s a lot of commonality in how we operate from a business perspective. But I do see tendencies of just kind of a general awareness factor.
Awareness factor isn’t always necessarily about the owner and the operator, it’s about what they’re connected to that’s providing that source information. So, (that would be) the chambers of commerce or partnerships or business councils.
A business that’s inclined to be a participant in the process is typically a part of a larger organization because that’s where they get their information from.
CVBJ: Is that what you do as director of government affairs for Food 4 Less?
Gutierrez: I work with the Legislature. I work with Congress.
Part of my operation, and how I have to manage information or work advocacy, is to be a part of a larger group. It provides kind of a coalition to get our message out as far as where we’re standing on a particular bill or how we operate in the community. We’re part of a group to do that, not necessarily just the company.
That’s why I also sit on the state Hispanic Chamber of Commerce Board as a vice chair.
The other part of it is is that my involvement with the community has been one that I’ve naturally wanted to be a part of. I enjoy working partnerships with other industries and folks in the community to make sure we have common goals and common purpose.
CVBJ: What are the priorities for the Hispanic Chamber?
Gutierrez: Finding someone to be CEO to be in this chair day to day and continue that course of success, drilling down on what the specific needs are and continuing to build up those programs that have worked and then looking at opportunities to expand to new programs that are more relevant than maybe they were three years ago or 10 years ago,.
One of the marriages I see as far as priorities is concerned is to work better with the (San Joaquin) Partnership and the Business Council with the Hispanic Chamber and make them more aware of what we have to offer because when a constituency becomes the majority here in the area, you want to make sure those other organizations that are marketing this area are doing it it relative to their working base, right?
One of the things I’m very proud of is this board we have here at the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. We’ve got a lot of great talent representing a lot of different industries, a lot of experiences we’ve talked about, they’ve all participated in. I’m very proud of what we are accomplishing together, their investment in the organization. You don’t always get that engagement, and everyone’s very engaged. We have a great staff that helps us facilitate a lot of those things.