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Hernan Vásquez honored as ‘Businessperson of the Year’


By Alan Abrams, La Prensa Senior Correspondent


Oct. 3, 2008: Hernan Vásquez may have been the only person among the 300 guests at the luncheon in the Toledo Hilton last Friday who was surprised when his peers at the NW Ohio Hispanic Chamber of Commerce (NOHCC) named him as the first recipient of its Businessperson of the Year Award.


For more than a decade, Hernan Vásquez has been at the forefront of so many efforts to increase awareness of Latino-owned businesses that even a partial list would fill a page of this paper.

Hernan Vásquez

The award to Vásquez, the Toledo businessman who is President/CEO of Mandell-Vásquez Inc., commercial HVAC contractors, and the first Latino member of the University of Toledo’s Board of Trustees was made at the NOHCC’s third annual Latino business and consumer expo (¡Explosión III!)at the Hilton and The University of Toledo Dana Convention Center.


“I was really surprised and honored, as well as very thankful and grateful,” Vásquez told La Prensa. “I really thought it should go to someone other than me, maybe even one of the leaders of the new generation, and I accepted the award in the name of all the other (Latino) businesses making a difference in the community,” added Vásquez, who did not play any role in the selection process.


Vásquez was one of the organizers of the NOHCC and served as its longtime president.


“This year’s Explosión also saw the introduction of another first, a professional speaker. Victor González, the highly regarded and well-known sales training and motivational speaker, really impressed the audience.


“We also expanded to two sites this year. We had 59 booths this year, which is triple that of our first expo three years ago. We needed more space than was available at the Hilton to handle the overflow so we were also at the Dana Convention Center,” said Vásquez.


Vásquez acknowledged the dedication and hard work of this year’s Co-Chairs, Monica Pérez (of Hickory Farms) and Lisa Olvera (of Corporate Intelligence Consultants).


Mini-bio on Hernan Vásquez
Vásquez was born in Santiago, Chile and raised in Lima, Perú.  He knew very little English when he came to the United States at the age of 16.


“English was my worst subject in high school. It was the only subject I ever failed, and I failed it twice,” he recalls with a chuckle.


Why did Vásquez come to Toledo? “My father had a manufacturing plant in Lima where he manufactured stoves, refrigerators, and porcelain enamel pots. The person who managed his refrigeration division was originally from Tecumseh, Michigan and had been educated at the University of Toledo and he spoke very highly of the engineering school,” recalled Vásquez.


“My father took me to the U.S.-American consulate in Perú where I learned that the University of Toledo College of Engineering was one of the highest ranked in the nation. My father had to make a business trip to Cleveland so I accompanied him and we stopped in Toledo. From the minute I walked through the corridors, I fell in love with the school,” said Vásquez.


Richard H. Mandell, the Mandell in Mandell-Vásquez, owned a manufacturer’s representative firm in Toledo.  When Vásquez was in his last year of college in 1969, one of his classmates who worked for Mandell doing estimates was drafted and sent to Vietnam. “Before he left, he asked me if there was any way I could help Mandell.  At that time, there was a problem with my credits being out of sequence so I did not go back to Perú for part of the summer as I had been doing,” explained Vásquez.


“I had always wanted to go back to Lima to work for my father after my graduation, but because there had just been a military coup in Perú, he suggested I stay in the United States for a year or two until the situation stabilized.  So I went to see Mandell and he told me that if I came to work for him, he would sell me 50 percent of the company.  I said I would do so if he would agree to sell me the other 50 percent of the company within four years. And he agreed.


“I graduated with my degree in mechanical engineering and a minor in electrical engineering and in 1974 Mandell sold me his share of the company so he could retire. And that’s how I found myself to be the full owner of Mandell-Vásquez,” explained Vásquez.


Then, as an afterthought, he added, “And it was also a good thing I took my father’s advice about staying in the United States. The political situation in Perú took much longer than just a few years to stabilize.”


Perhaps one of the most significant changes comes in the restructuring of NOHCC’s leadership.  “I have always encouraged new blood coming into the organization which now has 56 members, and I want to empower others to carry on with the Chamber.


“Thus, the new leadership will advance to higher office in stages. After serving for a year, the secretary will move on to become the treasurer; the treasurer will become the vice president and the vice president will advance to the presidency,” explained Vásquez, who stepped down as president to facilitate the process but will remain active in the organization.


Lupe Hinojosa

Gary Johnson, president of American Flooring Installers, is the new president.  Mark Urrutia serves as vice president, Lisa Olvera is treasurer, and Casey Arroyo is secretary.


A new position of executive director has also been created—named to the post was Thelma Briseño, originally from Defiance, Ohio and who also holds leadership positions with Viva South and the Sofia Quintero Art & Cultural Center. Vásquez praised Briseño’s “passion” for Latino interests as one of the reasons for her selection.

The mission statement of the NOHCC describes their purpose as being “to enhance, educate, nurture and network Hispanic business while preserving Latino culture.”


According to its Web site, www.nohcc.com, the NOHCC evolved from the former Northwest Ohio Hispanic Business Association (NOHBA) which was formed in 1987 by a group of Latino business owners who were alarmed by the low participation of Latino businesses in the private and public sector—Lupe Hinojosa, also originally from Defiance, was one of NOHBA’s main organizers.  


Incorporated in 1998, the NOHCC functions with a voluntary board and a network of supporters who together seek and advocate the economic development and success of Latinos in business.


As an advocate for the Latino business community, the NOHCC works with corporate America and governmental agencies to identify ways to provide opportunities for greater economic development.


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