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 Independent.com