Today, Guillermo Cisneros is known as the person responsible for leading the West Michigan Hispanic Chamber of Commerce to its fastest growing year since it began, but that was not always the case for Cisneros.
Ten years ago, Cisneros came to the area a couple of months before marrying his wife, Amanda Van Wyk, who happens to be a native of West Michigan. The pair had met in Madrid, Spain, where Cisneros had spent half a decade developing a career in human resources and accounting at an international company. While Cisneros hoped to be able to continue working in the field of human resources once he arrived in West Michigan, he had a very hard time getting a job in the field. “I had few connections and networks, and I hadn’t built the rapport that I had back in Spain,” says Cisneros.
So, after applying to countless jobs in the field of human resources and being rejected time and time again—Cisneros ended up taking a job at Home Depot. “After almost two years of looking for work, I found myself sweeping the entrance at a Home Depot, and I was grateful that I had a stable job, but I was also deeply disappointed because I didn’t feel valued professionally,” shares Cisneros.
Cisneros ended up working at Home Depot for almost two years as department supervisor, a time in his life that he says helped him to really understand what being an immigrant to the United States is like. “I know exactly what it’s like not to have the connections, the resources and support needed to thrive economically,” explains Cisneros.
To address some of these gaps, Cisneros took the reins of the West Michigan Hispanic Chamber of Commerce as its executive director in March of 2017 and turned it around to become a hub for resources and education for entrepreneurs and business owners. But Cisneros says sometimes language or lack of knowledge can be a barrier for many business owners. “There are many Latinx-owned business in the community that work with cash only, don’t know how to balance their payroll and budgets, or how to build credit.”
According to Cisneros, it’s just a lack of knowledge, and that can be easily remediated by sharing these resources and knowledge. “If we surround ourselves by experts, they can share with us what to do and what not to do. Since coming to this role in March, I wanted the chamber to become a place for Latinx to feel welcome to come and learn how to better manage their business or how to start a business,” states Cisneros. And that is exactly what Transformando West Michigan offers business owners in the area.
The goal is to increase economic advancement by bringing partners throughout West Michigan to share their knowledge and resources with the community.
Four years ago, the chamber didn’t really have a programming around the needs of Latinx in the community, and it was noticeable says Cisneros. “At our largest fundraiser three years ago, about 90% of our attendants were people who weren’t part of the community, but this year we turned it around and 50% of our attendants were Hispanics.” For Cisneros, the success they have had connecting with Latinx in the community is evidence that the community is responding to the chamber’s mission and work. “They feel motivated to come to us and access our resources.”
But at the chamber, not everything is about entrepreneurs at businesses, and through the newest program “Building Bridges Through Education,” the chamber is working to help the Latinx college students to better access opportunities—the kind of opportunities that their parents didn’t have when they first came to the country. “What I experienced when I first came helped me to think about developing something that prevents that from happening again with a new generation of Latinx students.”
The Hispanic Chamber of Commerce has over 600 members and has been in existence for the last 15 years. Cisneros’ role is to develop partnerships throughout the community so Latinx owned businesses have access to the resources that the rest of the community has. “Since coming to the United States, I have become more sensitive to the needs of my community, and, because of my experience, I have realized that we have to use our talents to help others. In my role as the director, I want to make sure to be the door for others.”
By Michelle Jokisch
Haz clic para leer en Español: Guillermo Cisneros