LANCASTER – Antelope Valley CEOs offered enriching advice to budding entrepreneurs at a roundtable discussion Thursday night, emphasizing how the road to a rewarding future is paved with personal responsibility.
The CEO Roundtable discussion at Antelope Valley College provided an enterprising forum for the 20 middle school students participating in the local Young Entrepreneurs Academy’s Class of 2015.
Sandy Smith, CEO of the Lancaster Chamber of Commerce and program administrator for YEA, said the middle school students, who range in age from 12 to 14, are halfway through the 30-week program, which seeks to transform local kids into real entrepreneurial successes.
When asked by Smith what he was doing when he was around the same age in school, Gus Camacho, CEO of Camacho Auto Group, said he was learning the importance of networking.
“The thing that I did which I think is really important is that I was always very involved in school clubs and organizations,” Camacho told students at the forum. “One thing you learn about being in clubs is networking. And networking is a huge part of being in business. Right now you guys are working on business plans together, but when it comes time to finish the product or to selling it, it’s about who you know that’s going to get you there.”
Howard Harris, owner of Antelope Valley Property Management, told the young business students that his involvement with the Lancaster West Rotary and the Antelope Valley Sheriff Boosters enforces the notion that “everyone needs everyone.”
“When you’re involved in a network, people get to learn that you are a man or woman of your word –that you’re going to do what you say you’re going to do,” Harris said. “And people admire, like and respect you when they know that you’re trying to make the world a better place than when you found it.”
Interested in the sacrifices that CEOs needed to make to get where they are today, Joe Walker Middle School student Karina Patel asked David Guenther, president of J. David’s Custom Clothiers, what he had to give up.
“I think the thing I have had to sacrifice the most is time,” Guenther told Patel. “I don’t want to scare anybody from being business owners, but it’s a lot of work. I’m not proud of this, but I’ve taken five days off in a row three times in 32 years.”
Lancaster City Councilwoman Sandra Johnson, CEO of University of Antelope Valley, agreed that the majority of business owners on the panel don’t take vacations and don’t work typical eight-hour days.
“And that’s because when you love what you do, if you’re passionate about what you do, then you’re not working,” Johnson said. “It becomes your life. And that’s what we really want to instill into you young entrepreneurs – to do what you love because you’ll never work the rest of your life.”
When the conversation turned to customer satisfaction, 12-year-old Giovanni Pope, a student of Amargosa Creek Middle School, elaborated on the importance of identifying customers’ needs.
“If you have this feeling in the back of your mind that a customer is feeling unhappy about something, you really need to touch on that because that’s going to be something bad for your business, and it would also be something bad for your reputation,” Pope said. “That can really spread, and if it spreads, it can put you completely out of business.”
Lilia Galindo, founder of Cafe Con Leche Radio, agreed that knowing her customers and their needs has been instrumental in reaching out to a well-informed Latino community.
“Through my radio program I give the local Latino community the opportunity to find where they can improve themselves with education, how they can learn English, and how they can learn computer and internet skills – all the necessary skills they need to get a better job,” Galindo said. “I want them to be part of the bigger picture of society in the United States. We came to reach the American Dream, and it’s very difficult.”
Other panelists who participated in the roundtable discussion include Tom Fuller, co-owner of Hunter Dodge Chrysler Jeep Ram Fiat, and Dan Jacobs, CEO of the Antelope Valley Fair.
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