Paying it Forward

Life is filled with moments that can change the course of our lives. For Mark Madrid, recently appointed president and CEO of the Greater Austin Hispanic Chamber of Commerce (GAHCC), that moment took place in the third grade. Born and raised in Friona, Texas, located in the panhandle and part of Tornado Alley, Madrid admits that his prospects seemed dim. But when he won a blue ribbon in the school’s picture memory contest, he found hope.

“I didn’t want to stay on the farm and when I won that contest, it told me that I could compete and win. It was a great equalizer,” he shares. “I remember it like it was yesterday.”

Madrid comes to the GAHCC from the Houston Hispanic Chamber of Commerce (HHCC) where he served as chief operating officer. The GAHCC began its hunt for a new CEO last summer with the retirement of longtime president Andy Martinez. In a moment of serendipity, Madrid met up with a few board members last fall at an event held at the University of Texas at Austin. When they told him that they were looking for a new CEO, he said, “That’s very, very, very, very interesting.”

While he grew up in the panhandle, he considers Austin home. The high school valedictorian attended UT on a full scholarship and earned a BBA in accounting. For his first job out of college, Madrid traveled to New York City to work on Wall Street for JP Morgan. Although he inherited his father’s entrepreneurial spirit—his dad owned a welding shop for 40 years—the young banker who landed a dream job admits that he could have been better prepared for life in the Big Apple. Outside of his parents, Marcos and Maria, there were few mentors in Friona. “That’s something I definitely consider a priority,” he says. “Mentors can share experience that your parents of other family members can’t.”

After two years, he left New York and returned to Austin and then Houston, where he worked at National City Bank. But in 2007, the financial meltdown was already scorching Texas and the bank closed. He learned the news on New Year’s Eve. “Needless to say, that was an early night,” he admits.

Rather than mope, he took the time to reevaluate his life and decided to leave banking and pursue a profession in business that allowed him to pay it forward. He approached the HHCC, initially working as a volunteer, but four promotions later, he became the COO.

He thrived in this position, winning numerous accolades, including being named one of Houston’s “40 Under 40” by the Houston Business Journal and “Texas’s Modern Hispanic Gentleman” by Texas Monthly and Ketel One vodka. The honor included a donation to his charity of choice. Following his mantra, “Servant Heart and Business Mind,” he opted to create the Mark L. Madrid Scholarships to be awarded to college students majoring in business from the University of Texas at Austin and the University of Notre Dame, where he’s currently pursuing a master’s in nonprofit at the Mendoza College of Business. He’s the inaugural candidate, selected by the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and Notre Dame.

According to past GAHCC chair Geronimo Rodriguez: “Mark was selected following a comprehensive, competitive selection process which yielded 12 applications, nine interviews and included staff input. I am confident Mark will help us support small business and entrepreneurial growth and increase our economic development efforts.”

According to the last census, there were 33,000 Latino-owned businesses in Central Texas earning an estimated $4 billion in revenue. At the GAHCC, Madrid plans to expand individual and corporate membership, as he did at the HHCC, but he’s also hoping to increase the chamber’s visibility within the community.

With a mission of supporting and growing the business interests of its members, chambers of commerce are naturally insular. The GAHCC, however, has initiated programs to reach out to the community, from scholarships to programs like Hispanic Austin Leadership (HAL) that encourages civic awareness, leadership, and networking among business leaders and professionals in the Latino community. Small businesses can also find help constructing a business plan, becoming certified as a minority/women-owned business, and gaining access to capital at the GAHCC.

When asked how he defines success for any chamber of commerce, Madrid responds, “Testimony, members saying they increased their personal, business, education, and financial wealth and they can quantify it, gaining a new client or procurement contract. When they say, ‘I’m a better person because of the chamber.’”

Valerie Menard