Search This Blog

Sunday, August 30, 2009

The Brain Behind Deckers Corp.

Goleta Grapevine Interviews Angel Martinez
By Silvia Uribe
When I read that Forbes Magazine listed Deckers Outdoor Corporation as one of the best 200 small companies in the country in 2009, and that Deckers is considered among the market's 10 best stocks, I was intrigued. I wanted to meet the person able to put a company at the very top of its game. After talking Angel Martinez's executive assistant, Michelle Apodaca, the interview was confirmed within a couple of hours.
I decided against asking him about Deckers. His results on that front speak for themselves. Success is the only thing that doesn't need an explanation. Instead, I wanted to find out how Angel Martinez thinks and how he sees life. After all, what we do emanates from who we are.
Casually dressed in jeans and a sport shirt, in Deckers headquarters on Fairview Avenue, Martinez invited me to have a seat while Apodaca offered me a glass of water. His personality was calm and rather quiet, but he was all down to business. I was there to ask questions and he was there to answer them. No preambles. This gave me a glimpse of how he conducts business.
Tell me about Angel Martinez as a little boy.
I was adopted by my grandma's sister and her husband before the Cuban revolution of 1958. I got to the U.S. when I was three years old, from Cuba. I saw my biological dad again 36 years after I left Cuba. At 18, I became a U.S. citizen.
Those were tough times that we went through, not unlike some other people. Those years taught me to take advantage of all that was offered to me, and I never took anything for granted. We spoke Spanish only at home. My dad was disabled due to an accident, and he passed away when I was 14. I was left to take care of my mother, and there was little money. We were on welfare, and I had to fill out the government papers all the time. Those responsibilities force one to grow up very quickly.
What's the most important thing that you learned from your family?
Besides the fact that family is the most important thing in life, Cubans are big on education, as Chinese and Japanese are. I cannot remember education not being the number one topic of conversation at home. It was not an option for me not to go to school or do my homework. I always did very well in school. I even taught myself to write in Spanish. I don't remember missing one day of school. Okay, maybe one.
I heard that in high school you were very good in track and field, is that true?
I was athletic but I was small. I discovered during P.E. that I could run. It was difficult, there were a lot of setbacks, but I was always very determined. I set a record in my high school that still prevails, I'm told. I had a great coach who helped me a lot.
What would you say to those kids who want to drop out of high school and to their parents?
Kids want the easy way out. They want to get a job to earn some money and buy a car. They will get a lot more than that if they invest time in their education. I would tell parents that they need to be uncompromising in their expectations. The answer to "I'm not going to college" is that it is not an option. And, please, don't tell me that a college education is not within their reach. College can be free, if you really want to obtain an education. There are tons of programs and scholarships that will pay for everything. The community needs to work on the new generation of kids to make them realize the importance of education.
How do you feel about bilingual education?
I'm all for bilingual education at home, but we need to understand that we're in the U.S. We need to emphasize the need for everyone to learn English. People use bilingual education as an excuse for not getting a good job. As the head of a company who has a pool of individuals to choose from, I am going to hire the ones that are best prepared. I don't care about excuses. If they are not as prepared as others, I just won't hire them, it is only logical.
I don't believe in affirmative action either. Affirmative action as an entry way to opportunities, that's one thing. But if we're talking about lowering the standards for certain groups, I don't think this is fair for anyone. I feel offended when someone implies that I cannot perform at the same level as everyone else. Those who don't perform will get behind. Don't lower the bar just for me. Let me clear it where it is, and maybe raise it a little bit.
Since we've been talking about policy, what do you think of the American embargo on Cuba?
RAn anachronism. The embargo is a crime against the people of Cuba. It has given Fidel an excuse for decades. Every single failure of his dictatorship he blames on the embargo. You want to get rid of Fidel and Raul, get rid of the embargo. In Cuba people have been working with no hope of getting ahead. A maid working at a hotel makes more than a doctor there. It is simply not fair.
Look, my sister died at 44 because she had an asthma attack. No one had a car to take her to the clinic, and when she finally got to the clinic, there was no medicine to help her. The Cuban government has played a hoax on the people. Three generations have been wasted. If you want to know about the potential of Cubans, go to Miami and look what they've done.
What's the real origin of the recession and when is it going to end for the average person?
Greed is the main reason of any and all financial calamities throughout history. People want to take a financial advantage at the expense of others. Investors had no limit to their greed. Banks were lending to people that couldn't pay back. People in the government and Wall Street made a lot of money, until they didn't. People suffer. They cannot go to school, or take a vacation, and they don't have a job.
Now, we need to understand that things are different and people need to have a plan. Let's be realistic about what we have and how we spend it. The frivolous buying and the waste needs to stop. Fortunately, Deckers sells quality shoes, which are a primary need. We provide value with our product. But people will have to stop wasting. As a society, we need a fundamental shift in values. If we don't have a lot of money, we need to pay attention to how we spend the money we have. If we don't understand how we've been victimized, we're almost asking to be victimized again.
For how long have you been married and how many children do you have?
Thirty years. Frankie and I met in college. We had four children: three boys and a girl. Our oldest son, unfortunately, passed not too long ago. Their names are Adrian, Lucas, Julian, and Olivia .
Who was your role model?
"El Viejo," my dad, first, and then probably my high school track and field coach. He gave me a sense that I could do anything. I will never forget what he told me once when we were at a national meet in Fresno. He noticed that I was very nervous and said: "You're just an attitude shift from greatness." This changed my life forever.
What inspires you?
My children growing up, watching people succeed, and the families that depend on me. Here in Goleta, we have 300 employees and many more globally.
What's your next goal?
Well, I have business goals with the company. I also want to see my children moving forward in their life and having opportunities. I want to be a great-grandfather sometime in the future.
What's your secret to success?
There's no mystery to success. It is simple. Get a good education and perform at your best. The more complicated you make it, the more difficult. This is America! Everyone can make it. We just have to have a vision for our life and follow that vision.
Silvia Uribe is a freelance writer with a Latina perspective.
Cross-posted at the

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Summer Naps

By Silvia Uribe

One of the reasons that I love summer in Santa Barbara is because it is a feast for all of my senses. There's no other place where I've felt such delight just staying still, with my eyes closed, and discovering all of those little pleasures that one can easily miss with the business of our daily lives the rest of the year.

In the peacefulness of my room, just as I'm preparing to take my week long awaited naps, I know I'm in for great treats. As soon as I lay down on my bed, I can see the blue sky. Some days it is a light blue, and some others the blue is very intense, as if someone had lifted an imperceptible veil from it. There are some clouds at times, which are the perfect trigger to start my imagination in a predictable wild track. I start looking for identifiable shapes and briefly, follow their paths in the air.

When my heavy eyelids start closing in slow motion, I can hear the chirp of baby birds waiting for their mom to feed them, or a hawk racing high in the air, trying to find his next prey, or a seagull calling on her peers to join her on her way back to the ocean.

As I'm falling dead to the concerns of life and awaking to the unreal world of my dreams, I can also feel the soft wind coming through my open balcony. My bed is right next to it, and while alone, there's nothing obstructing that breezy touch that comes and goes in waves over my skin. Delightful! This gives me not only a nice sensation but also great relief from the heat that my bedroom walls keep as if they were afraid that the sun might not come back the next day. If I stretch enough, I can touch those walls and feel the warmth filtering through from the other side.

Oh, and the perfumes of summer. The water from the sprinklers showering the soil, and the grass, and the flowers, and the trees… Freshness all around! The impression is so strong that, unexpectedly, those smells seem to come to me right here, right now, as I'm writing. Particularly, the smell of the wet soil - it immediately brings childhood memories of the family "hacienda" in Mexico, and the horses, the bulls and the cornfields. These memories, like a magic wand, cast a comforting spell of happiness that I let easily invade me.

Living a few blocks away from the beach, I cannot hear the sound of the waves when I'm napping; this would bring heaven to earth for me. However, I can smell the ocean from my room. The smell of the ocean is stronger during the summer months. I can almost hear my dad saying, "Fill up your lungs with this air. More, more, until you cannot take anymore in. It is very good for your health." This thought makes me smile and repeat the sideway/upward arm motion that accompanied his words, as I used to when my dad and I went on our walking expeditions on the beach.

I'm lucky enough to have my 80-plus year old mother living with me in Santa Barbara. She's very energetic and is always looking for something to do or somewhere to go. Cooking though, is the one thing that she's taken upon herself to do for the family. No one is saying no, as you can imagine. Usually, I nap a little before she starts cooking. Imagine to be awakened by the sweet smells of a variety of chiles, and other spices for flavor and smell combinations that are to die for. I've seen these make the pickiest culinary "connoisseurs" lick their fingers.

Some could argue that one can see, feel, smell, hear and savor all these things during any other time of the year, and they might be right. However, if you ask me, summer is to the seasons as high definition is to television. During summer, sounds are sharper, colors and smells are stronger, and things, in general, are better defined to give more pleasure to our senses. Oh yeah!

Silvia Uribe is a freelance writer with a Latina perspective.

Cross-posted at

Where the Horses Are

Large Furry Friends Await You at Raintree, Circle Bar B, and El Capitan Ranches

By Silvia Uribe

For people who have never been to California, some of the first things that come to mind are celebrities, surfing, tanned sculpted bodies, and the still prevailing old image of the wild West, replete with horses. It is true that you can find almost all of the above anywhere in California, including our beloved Goleta Valley. Except that the horses are not in evidence-at least at first glance.

I have always been amazed by the strength of these animals and the great distances that people were able to cover on their horses in the past. When that thought comes to me, I can't be thankful enough for other, more modern, more comfortable, faster transportation alternatives. However, having grown up with horses, I know how close one can feel to these very intelligent furry friends who seem to communicate with us with their huge lashed eyes, and who can teach us very good lessons in life-such as not to be too trusting of individuals (whether horses or people) that you don't know very well.

Click to enlarge photo

I set off to find out where the horses are in Goleta Valley, and how horse lovers here relate to this versatile animal that can simultaneously fill the role of pet, hobby, sport, and therapy. I also wanted to find out how much it would cost to maintain one. (I've never given up the hope that one day, I might be able to have my own again.) In this journey of discovery, I got more than I bargained for.

I started by simply looking for boarding services, and found out that you can shelter your horse at El Capitan Ranch (685-1147) for $600 per month (stall, shavings, and two feedings per day included), or $55 for overnight services.

For those interested in taking riding classes, Raintree Ranch Equestrian Center (451-9909) offers riding lessons at $65-$75 per hour. Not only that, they have summer camps, offering five-day sessions for $550 per session.

But, for those who really want to pamper themselves, I found something that I would describe as exquisite; something that not only brings you closer to horses and nature, but also helps you relax in a great atmosphere, even feel transported to a different world-a western summer vacation world. The Circle Bar B Ranch (968-3901) has packages that include a two-night stay, a bottle of chilled champagne upon arrival, two rejuvenating 60-minute massages in the privacy of your room, two therapeutic hour-and-a-half horseback rides through the gorgeous countryside, and three squares a day. On Sundays through Thursdays, you and a guest can enjoy any two nights for $690. And, you can also enjoy tri-tip dinner and live theater on the ranch's premises (at the Circle Bar B Dinner Theater) for another $45 per person.

Here's an idea. Next time that you want to surprise your honey with a romantic getaway, without having to travel great distances, go to any of the several ranches located right in our backyard and have all the fun you want and deserve.

As for me-facing the fact that I cannot afford to maintain my own horse due to the very common, however acute, pains of recession-I'll just keep my boots and hat ready to bring back those childhood memories by spending a couple of days having fun, western style, with horses. Yeeeehaaaa!

Silvia Uribe is a freelance writer with a Latina perspective.

Cross-posted at the

Monday, August 3, 2009

Famous Nails

Goleta Grapevine Interviews Phucthanh "Anthony" Le

By Silvia Uribe

If you live in Goleta, Isla Vista, or UCSB, you've almost certainly seen his face, particularly if you like to have your nails professionally done. His name is Phucthanh Le, but you might know him as Anthony.

The owner of Famous Nails was born in Saigon, Vietnam, 42 years ago. He is the father of two beautiful girls, nine-year-old Le Vi and one-year-old Le Madelynn. He always has a smile on his face and is the hardest working person I've met. I remember a time when my nails were screaming for help and I decided go see Anthony that night. He was working on his last client, and when he saw me he signaled me in. Since he took me, I assumed it was not too late.

He was already working on my nails when I noticed that all employees were gone and his wife, Phan Thoi, was also leaving, wearing an exhausted expression. He finished the work on my hands quickly, as usual, and as usual did a first class job. I offered him a ride home, but he preferred to walk the short distance in the fresh air. I wished him a good night and jumped in my car, surprised to discover that it was 11:30 p.m. I had no idea it was that late!

With this experience in mind, I decided to interview Anthony, so we got together at a restaurant near his business in the Kmart shopping center on Calle Real. He told me that it was 1991 when he first immigrated to this country, landing first in Santa Barbara, then going to Oxnard, then New Jersey ...

Le: My brother came here in 1975 after the Vietnam War. He was in the military first, living in Port Hueneme, and then he became an engineer. He brought us and our parents here. We are nine siblings total.

Grapevine: What made you decide to come to Santa Barbara?

I had just finished college. You know, I studied acting. For a while I had big dreams of becoming a famous actor in my country. I am also trained as a dancer. I did ballroom dancing. I knew that if I came to the U.S., I would have to give up my dreams of being an actor, since I have no connections in that world here. However, I wanted to be with my family. I missed them, they're very important to me.

What was your experience as a recent immigrant?

Oh my God! Everything was so hard in the beginning. I didn't speak the language and that made things very difficult for me. I started taking ESL [English as a second language] classes, and it took me two years to feel confident. If I have an accent now, in those days it was way thicker, so it was hard for people to understand me.

I then started working at a doughnut place, preparing, baking, and selling doughnuts. I would get up at 3 a.m. every day and there was little money. It was then when a couple of friends, and very important people in my life, James Truong and Tru, introduced me to the nails world. It was a big cultural shock for me because in Vietnam this kind of work is never done by a man. I didn't want to do it, but you have to be open to other ideas and ways of doing things if you're going to live in a country other than yours. I accepted, I learned, and I started working for them.

The money was great. I was making four times what I was making baking doughnuts! A year later, I got a job offer to do the same thing in New Jersey. I felt bad leaving the people who first offered me an opportunity, but I needed to look for a better future, so I took it. I moved there and I was not only making double the money, but I was learning nail design, and business management, and dealing with employees and suppliers. I worked there for 10 years.

While you were living in New Jersey, you went back to Vietnam and met your wife?

We started dating and after a year we got married. It had to be like that because the distance was too much and the price of going back and forth was very high. [Laughs at the memory. In 1997, after they married, she came with him.]

Why and when did you come back to California?

My wife and I made the decision and came back because we wanted to move closer to the family and have our children grow up near them.

How did you become an entrepreneur and start your business?

[Le's eyes light up and a big smile shines on his face.] I don't really know how it happened. The opportunity to buy the nail salon came, and with the help of our family, we were able to purchase it. Look, I know the business well, I love dealing with people and making them happy, and I have good employees, which are not easy to find these days (Vietnamese are very patient and skillful with small tools). I have all I need: A good business, even in these times. I have a great family. I'm a very lucky man!

Your nail salon is always full. What is your secret for success?

I guess my secret is great customer service, a clean business, making customers feel good, and attending to their needs. You know, Silvia, I'm very appreciative of the customers because they help me stay in business. I'm happy for the clients that I have. I consider them friends. That's why I stay as late as they need me to stay. They are busy people with tight schedules, and I understand that. I want them to always feel welcome at Famous Nails.

Silvia Uribe is a freelance writer with a Latina perspective.

Cross-posted at the

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Are Ethics Important?

By Silvia Uribe

In this case, candidates for public office will have the last word. But let me start by asking you a question: Isn't it true that, based on the understanding of our social norms, morality, honesty, and honor are - or should be- key ingredients in our daily life, no matter who we are, or what we do? Moreover, society talks about these components of the human fabric and regards the individuals who possess them as ethical, principled people whom one can trust, and are examples to follow.

Imagine my surprise when I learned that there are people and activities that may be exempt from these important moral standards; much less did I think that the exemption could be institutionally granted. Yes, this is the case with politics and politicians. An ethical behavior is not a requirement for candidates running for public office, according to the California Elections Code. Go figure! In other words, decency and principles are considered optional for candidates up and down our state, every time there's an election. They may choose to embrace these principles and act accordingly, but if they opt out, that's okay too.

In our city, the Santa Barbara Candidate's Manual includes, this year, a set of eight documents which are all the statements, disclosures and commitments that candidates have to make regarding their campaigns, their finances, and everything that they need to know and do in order to be in compliance. It is required for candidates to file each document, and in doing so they abide by certain standards.

The only one exception in this packet is a single page called, "Code of Fair Campaign Practices"(basically a code of ethics), which appears under the subtitle, "Optional". Here are some examples of what the California Elections Code, section 20440 reads:

"Code of Fair Campaign Practices

... (2) I SHALL NOT USE OR PERMIT the use of character defamation, whispering campaigns, libel, slander, or scurrilous attacks on any candidate or his or her personal or family life... Or, (3) I SHALL NOT USE OR PERMIT any appeal to negative prejudice based on a candidate's actual or perceived race, religious creed, color, national origin, ancestry, physical disability, mental disability, medical condition, marital status, age, sexual orientation, sex, including gender identity, or any other characteristic… Or, (4) I SHALL NOT USE OR PERMIT any dishonest or unethical practice that tends to corrupt or undermine our American system of free elections… "

In total, there are 7 points along these lines. You can go here and check them out. The big surprise comes at the very end of section 20444, which reads:

"In no event shall a candidate for public office be required to subscribe to or endorse the code."

How is this possible? We all know what happens when doctors, teachers, athletes or even clergy act unethically. When they do it, they know it is wrong, and they take the risk, understanding that they're going against the laws of society. Moreover, if others find out about their wrongful conduct, these individuals can expect to have serious public and private consequences. Apparently, it is not so in the political realm.

We all know that if we don't make certain standards of conduct mandatory in politics, we can anticipate politicians lying, stealing, letting down their constituents, or doing whatever they want to do. If we want honesty in politics, however, we should demand candidates' commitment to ethical practices beginning on the campaign trail. Otherwise, we are equally immoral and culpable of enabling the same behaviors of which we later complain about.

Now, we only have to wait. It will be really interesting to see which candidates will sign the "Code of Fair Campaign Practices", and by opting out, which ones will not commit to conduct an ethical campaign. This will be important information to determine what we can expect from each candidate, and future official, this and every time there's an election. In my view, politicians' ethics and positions on issues are equally important.

According to the City Clerk's Office, this information will be available to the public the last week of August.

Silvia Uribe is a freelance writer with a Latino perspective.

Cross-posted at