Harnessing Passion, Persistence & Positivity to Reap Success
Life is determined by how you respond to the unexpected. Rosa Santana, Founder and CEO of Santana Group, had a successful 20-year career in the corporate world, then things shifted. The long-time staffing industry executive became the one looking for a job. “They decided to downsize and I got caught up in it,” she explains. “Was I angry at them? Absolutely not. It is what it is. I always think of any negative as an opportunity to turn it into a positive.”
Considering all that Santana’s accomplished since then, “positive” is putting it mildly. A few days after she was downsized, a former client called needing her to help fill five engineering positions. Santana didn’t have a company, but she had connections. “One of the best things about me is I’ve learned to connect people,” she explains. “I also don’t know how to say no,” she laughs. In two weeks, she’d filled the positions. “I hadn’t even had a chance to think through about starting a company.”
That former corporate client became the first client of what would become the Santana Group, her own consulting company, which has since evolved to include five separate companies providing innovative outsourcing solutions to organizations across a wide array of industries.
In spite of her early success with that first client, Santana wasn’t sure about the best path forward. She considered buying a franchise in the industry. “I talked to a couple of my old customers and they said, ‘Why are you going to buy a franchise with somebody’s else’s name on it? You’re the name we want to buy from.’” Then a partnership opportunity crossed her path. Things progressed and ultimately led her to create Integrated Human Capital in 2002 through a joint venture of which she negotiated majority ownership. Integrated Human Capital began delivering staffing and workforce solutions, and Santana simultaneously opened a cross border company, Workforce Management Mexico, in Ciudad Juárez, to offer the same service in Mexico.
IHC enjoyed quick success, but the partnership did not go well. Santana bought out the partners, becoming the sole owner. “Even though the partnership wasn’t going well, I kept moving the company forward.” And once she bought them out, she started expanding, growing from El Paso to Austin thanks to a contract with Dell. When she learned that Toyota was coming to San Antonio, she recognized the opportunity and opened an office here. “I became a supplier to Toyota’s first onsite supplier when the plant was just being built. Then I became the supplier of services to many of the onsite suppliers.”
And it all started with being let go. “If I hadn’t been downsized, I wouldn’t be sitting here talking about what I’ve created. I chose to see the alternative. It was the greatest blessing and I look at things that way. As hard as some things might seem, there’s always a positive side to it.”
Her success in San Antonio, coupled with two daughters who lived here and a growing number of grandchildren, spurred her to relocate from El Paso more than eight years ago.
“I love San Antonio. I like the greenery. I like everything. But what I really love is how business-friendly the city is. San Antonio welcomed me with open arms when I came here with my business. And that’s not typical. Most cities are extremely protective. They don’t typically allow outsiders in or it takes a long time for you to earn that. I was pleasantly surprised that San Antonio welcomed us the way they did. I feel like I’m from here. I just moved to a condo downtown and I love it. I’m in the middle of everything. It’s amazing. I’m forever grateful and it’s one of the reasons why I love to give back to the city in so many ways.”
And Santana does work to give back by volunteering in a variety of entities, looking for working boards where she can affect a positive outcome. From the United Way to the San Antonio Hispanic Chamber of Commerce to service with the Women’s Business Council and the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. “It’s important for me to be involved in the communities where we do business. I want to make an impact for us, but I want to make an impact for the community as well.”
Her daughters, Lisa and Nicole, are both intricately involved with Santana Group, and her goal is that they will ultimately take over the company. “They’re partners with me. My desire is for them to keep these businesses going.”
Yet, she’s not planning on going anywhere. “I love what I do. I have a great passion for serving my clients. I consider myself the chief sales officer in the company. So, I’m always going to keep selling and bringing in business, making deals. Hopefully, I will always somehow be a part of the business. I really don’t want to slow down.”
However, even slowing down doesn’t seem to be in her immediate future, with five grandchildren in the family, ranging from toddler to college-aged. “I want to be able to enjoy more time with them.” A devoted grandmother, Santana loves nothing more than cooking a big meal for her family. “When I first moved here, I said, ‘We’re going to have Taco Tuesdays every week at my house when I’m in town.’ I make everything from scratch. I love to cook.”
Five years ago, Santana was baking Christmas cookies when the phone rang with a surprise opportunity: the Head of Supplier Relations for Toyota wanted her to make truck beds. “’You want me to do what? I’m not an engineer. I’m not in manufacturing.’ But he explained, ‘We trust you. We’ve seen how you do business. You’ve built an amazing relationship with us. You run your business with a continuous improvement mindset, and we know you know how to hire people. The rest we can teach you.’”
Which is exactly what happened. Santana created Forma Automotive, which now produces 500 truck beds a day for the Toyota Tacoma. “We have a tremendous team that’s well-trained, utilizing the Toyota-production system standards, delivering a quality product to our customer every single day.”
And Forma’s production is about to grow: Toyota is building a plant in Mexico and Forma will be providing truck beds there as well. “And yet I knew nothing about truck beds five years ago. It’s pretty gutsy when you think about it. It’s pretty bold to say, ‘Yeah, we can build truck beds.’ But you know what I thought? ‘If Toyota thinks we can build them, why don’t I think we can build them?’ Of course, we can build them. They’re not going to allow me to fail. Because if I fail, they fail, right?”
“I used to tell everybody as I was building my business, ‘I haven’t done the biggest thing that I’m going to do yet’. I used to think that all the time. I just didn’t know what it looked like and what it was going to be. Until I got that call. Then I thought, ‘Ok. Here it is.’”
Then Oveana happened at almost the same time. “I seriously thought, ‘Do I do this or do I not?’ Because I was so busy with Forma. Who would have thought that eventually, Oveana would provide call center services for Toyota?” Oveana provides call center services as well as business process outsourcing to a variety of industries.
Her advice to others? “Stay focused on what your dreams are. Someone gave me a quote, ‘What you dare to dream, dare to do’. I always talk about dreams. If you dream about what you want to become, it can be done. Don’t let people tell you that you can’t. Look at me. I’ve gotten into things that I would’ve never expected.”
“Don’t be afraid to diversify. The thought used to be to stick to what you know, do only what you know and do it right. Don’t try to be everything to everybody. I believe quite the opposite now. Because diversification has allowed me to grow my business the way I have. If I hadn’t been open to ‘Yes, I can build truck beds for you,’ or, ‘Yes, I can set up a call center for you’, we wouldn’t be where we are. So, it’s not just being open for that opportunity to come to you but start thinking about opportunities and other areas that you could get into and go inspire your clients to utilize you in a different way. For us, staffing is anything related to putting people to work. Putting the right people in the right places and making those connections are what we’re all about. And it can be in any industry. I put people to work inside of the Toyota building, but now I add value to that, and I build truck beds for them. I take calls for them. Diversify.”
She also believes in staying focused. “I’ve stayed focused on where I’m going and what I want to get out of what I’m after,” she explains. “I always talk to people about all of the noise that happens and ‘If I’m going to start this business, this is where I want to take it.’ If you stay focused, stop listening to all of the noise … people will try to put you down or things will happen. If you focus too much on that, then you’ve taken all of your great energy and put it into negative stuff.”
Santana’s focus is paired with persistence and passion, which she credits for her success. “I have a lot of passion for what I do. That’s just the kind of person that I am. When people know that you’re genuinely hungry and passionate to serve, I find it’s really easy to attract the right people and to get those people to want to continue to do business with you. Without my passion, I wouldn’t be the person that I am, and constantly talk about being persistent but being pleasantly persistent. You can be aggressively persistent and turn people off. I’d like to think that I’m pleasantly persistent.”
That passion dovetails with her positive outlook.
“I’ve learned that I can’t control everything. The best I can do is take each situation at a time and try to figure out how to make it better.”
“I don’t sweat the small stuff. And it really is all small stuff. If you can’t control it, why stress about it? Focus on where you’re going and where you’re headed. Don’t let any of this distract you.”
By Dawn Robinette
Photography by Jason Roberts