A Legacy of Effort and Excellence
“Carve your name on hearts, not tombstones. A legacy is etched into the minds of others and the stories they share about you.” ― Shannon L. Alder
The pursuit of excellence. Wouldn’t we all like to say that it is our daily focus? Ah, but life always seems to get in the way. Deadlines. Conflicts. Guilty pleasures like reality TV or Krispy Kreme doughnuts. It’s easy to get lost online for hours between tweets and posts, pings and pokes. Before long, we’re making excuses or compromising. It just happens.
That’s not necessarily true with Andres Baquerizo. His daily pursuit of excellence is inspiring. Sometimes he wears me out just trying to keep up with him. Recently, I asked him, “What is the goal you’re chasing so feverishly?” and “Where did this drive come from?”
Andres described his strong desire to have people know who he is and what he stands for. From a mile away. “When people say hello to me, I want them to know that I am driven, passionate, full of integrity, and that my family is critically important to me.” Reputation. Etched in the minds of others.
He is a man on a mission. He says, “What I do today is very important, because I am exchanging one day of my life for it.”
His philosophy was shaped by advice from family members and the authentic examples they provide him. His is a family that doesn’t go through the motions, but is purposeful. About business. About family. About life.
Andres’s father, Ivan Baquerizo, taught him that you have to earn your way. As a kid, it was customary for Andres to travel with friends on vacation. Mr. Baquerizo required young Andres to create a budget for the trip, and to raise money to pay for it. Andres sold newspapers, cut grass, and did odd-jobs to make money. Once he could justify to his father that he had money to cover the estimated costs, his father would match the funds. But Andres knew that if he didn’t earn it, he didn’t go. Period. Because he had earned the money, though, Andres understood its value. It also taught him that time squandered could never be recovered.
Ever since he was a young boy, Andres has been pursuing championships. At age twelve he was the Bogota age group squash champion. He rode horses for several years and took home medals from those competitions. As a youth soccer player, he played on age group teams that won several city championships and at age sixteen his team won the South American continent championship. He began racing cars, and he was the circuit Rookie of the Year at age twenty. At age twenty-two he finished second in the Colombia national championship.
With a degree in engineering from Universidad de los Andes, Andres began working for his father at Ivan Baquerizo & Cia in Bogota.
Note: Andres’s father is a prominent Geotechnical and Structural Engineer who was part of the largest building move in a single day in recent history. The project involved cutting the foundations of a tall building and moving the building on large skates a couple of city blocks and reattaching it to new foundations. Yes, I said skates. Unbelievable.
After generating a track record of successful projects and rising to the position of Vice President of the firm, Andres and his wife Claudia moved to Miami. The move required Andres to start all over, in a new market, with a new language, and without the comfort of knowing the social and business dynamics in South Florida.
But the move to the United States also provided Andres with opportunity. He knew that any success he generated would be the result of his own work, and no one would ever question whether his position came from merit, or because he was the owner’s son.
Andres describes two thoughts that motivated him during his adjustment. The first was the debt that he owed to the people who had aided his development – particularly his family. He was driven by the idea, “I can’t let them down.”
The other motivating thought was a passionate focus on the reputation he would develop in this new market. When he met people in Miami they’d have no preconceived notions, no context to draw from. But in the future, how would they regard him? Andres says, “Where you are born means nothing. It is all about what you make of yourself. When people say your name, what do they think? What image do they have?”
Andres said this philosophy has a direct application to how he approaches work on behalf of his employer, HJ Foundation. HJ is a deep foundation contractor and part of Keller Group, plc. Andres believes that the Company must lay the best foundation possible, and have the philosophy that “Some family has saved all their lives to move into a condo project that we are building. They deserve our best. We’re not helping to construct an empty building. It is a family’s home, with all the dreams and expectations that go with it. We can’t be responsible for any project that isn’t our best work.”
Andres’s grandfather, Luis Meneses, provides him with a great example of making something out of your name – and keeping perspective in the process. He had been a championship boxer as a young man and then started work in a customer service position at the national electrical company in Quito, Ecuador. But he had a plan. He took the graveyard shift and began to study the blueprints from active projects. He’d occasionally ask questions of the engineers and they’d oblige this inquisitive young man from customer service. As the company was preparing to begin one of its largest, high-visibility projects, Meneses warned them that to go forward, based on the plans he had reviewed, would lead to a disaster. They investigated the details of his warning and stopped the project until they were able to modify the construction project according to his suggestions. The project was a success, earning him multiple promotions.
Meneses moved to Colombia and while working at Reynolds Aluminum, he designed a single joint pressurized can for aerosols and adapted it for use for shaving cream cans (by Gillette) and for soda cans. The patent might have been worth hundreds of millions of dollars. Meneses concluded that he had developed the product on company time and therefore any value belonged to the company. He signed his rights to the patent over to the company. For a framed one dollar bill.
Meneses was put in charge of the company’s operation in Colombia. After several successful years, he received an offer to run all of the company’s business units in Europe, a huge promotion. More money. More influence. But his wife said she preferred to stay in Colombia, so he politely declined the promotion. Family first.
This was one of many stories that Meneses shared with a young Andres that ultimately had a profound effect on Andres’s relationship with his own wife, Claudia. His grandfather taught him that the relationship with your wife is a special one, one worth working at, and one around which everything else revolves.
Claudia, his wife, is the Caribbean and Central America First Choice and Customer Service Head at DHL Express. She is a driven executive as well. Andres says that Claudia is “the best leader of people I’ve ever known.” I asked how two A-type personalities can co-exist, let alone raise two young children.
Andres replied, “It’s a partnership. I’m not going to change her. I don’t want to change her.” He echoes his grandfather as he describes his priorities. “I am passionate about my job. I love my family – my parents, my siblings, and especially my kids. But the single most important relationship I have is with my wife.”
When I first met Andres, to interview him for a Vistage Group, we shook hands and he handed me a piece of paper.
What’s this? I asked.
“My five year plan. It will let you know who I am and what is important to me. And if I’m to join the group, I expect you to hold me accountable to help me achieve these goals.” The paper included a chart with approximately ten items, with measurements, milestones and action steps.
That was five years ago. Most of those items were already completed by year three. Now Andres is working on another five-year plan. You can see evidence of his goals by how he spends his time and what he has accomplished.
Andres has gone mountain biking in Moab, Utah. He completed his first half marathon last week and finished in less than two hours. He has reduced his body fat to single digits. Andres was named ASCE’s Engineer of the Year in Miami-Dade County in 2011. He has been promoted to Vice President and Engineering Director at HJ Foundation. He has adapted his schedule to spend more time with his kids at home – which also allows his wife to travel, as part of her new job. He regularly takes his family back to Colombia to spend time with relatives, and reinforce their roots.
Andres comes from a family of philosophers. He peppers his conversation with ideas and maxims that he attributes to his parents, his grandfather, his father-in-law, and his wife. Their philosophies are grounded in reflection on how to live a life of meaning.
He also comes from a family of doers. They use their energy and efforts to pursue excellence daily and to etch a powerful legacy in the minds of others. And the rest of us witness their examples and feel compelled to share their stories. About business. About family. About life.