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Presence Voices: Hispanic Heritage Month with Sam Elizondo

How does your Hispanic heritage shape your values or choices?

My father was born in Mexico, and my mother is also Hispanic. Because my father’s first language was Spanish, he always struggled in his everyday work with the language barrier. But I think one thing that he did for me was to emphasize that I have an opportunity, and I need to make the most of it. I think that was very important to him, and he also showed me the value of hustling—my father always had a job, but he was always doing something on the side, too, to make extra money to provide for his family. And so I think a lot of my work ethic comes from my father. Unfortunately, there were several barriers that prevented my father from receiving a high school diploma. My mother did get a GED. In our family, they both really stressed the importance of education.

Having a strong work ethic has helped me get to where I’m at today. Also having empathy for others is really huge for me, and I think that comes across in my sales process—being genuine to folks and wanting to help. Wanting to be a natural leader as well as help people comes naturally for me and that’s what I feel like we do at Presence. We’re trying to help students and trying to help directors with their teams. That has been instilled in me since I was a kid—we always want to help others and show empathy to others in any way we can. I think that’s what I bring to Presence—it’s what my family taught me growing up—we’ve lived a lot of hard times and know that we struggled and worked really hard to get to where we’re at, and you need to continue on.

What was your journey like to Presence and sales?

I worked for a company called Education Management Corporation, and they had several schools underneath them. One of them was called the Art Institutes. I gave creative career presentations and once again, it was all about the student and helping them figure out what they wanted to do after high school. That was my sales approach. I wasn’t trying to push something to them. It was more about letting them know this is an option, and if you choose to go this route, great. So I’ve always been that way, and always given folks and these high school students an idea of what’s available to them. And if it’s a good fit for them, it’s something that they could do, and better themselves. So that was my first journey, and I was with that company for 16 years. I worked my way up to management and was a manager for quite some time—I managed teams all across Texas, Arizona, Nevada, and Colorado.

Next I moved into staffing, and I was working with marketing directors, copywriters, UX designers, helping them find jobs. I would partner with companies such as Whole Foods, Indeed, SolarWinds, to help them fill spots.

I originally moved into that staffing position to run the office, but I ultimately wanted to be an individual contributor in sales—that’s what led me to seek a role at Presence. I liked the Presence mission, and I liked what they had to offer. It was a big change and in many ways I was starting over, but I thought to myself, “Hey, I’ll just work hard and get to where I want to be. I initially started out as a School Partnership Associate, and moved up as a School Partnership Director, and then I became a School Partnership Director, producer, and manager of the Texas team. Now I manage the West Coast team. It has been a lot of movement in a short amount of time.

Can you talk about a time when your culture and heritage made a difference in your career, or helped you to overcome a challenge?

There are certain parts of Texas that I just feel a connection to. It’s known as the Valley in South Texas and that’s where I’m from. The population is 98% Latino—we have a lot of things in common because of our upbringing, and so it does help with sales. I can relate very well because that’s where I grew up, and it makes the conversations really smooth. I feel like I’ll go the extra mile because I know the students and I feel a bond to them.

For example, I am an alumni of Texas A&M Corpus Christi. They asked if I was interested in being a mentor, and they asked if I would want to be a mentor with a Hispanic student. And I absolutely said, “Yes, I want to be a mentor to an Hispanic student.” Obviously I just want to be able to help as much as possible. The young woman I mentored was so sweet, so nice. She reminds me a lot of myself when I was in college and was wondering, “What the heck am I going to do now?” My oldest brother is a dentist. My sister went to dental school, too. My niece and nephews would tell me “Oh, I’m an engineer, I’m this and that.” I didn’t have such a clear idea of what I wanted to do or be when I was young, but one thing was clear—I want to help people. That was my thing. I asked myself, “Well, how am I going to help people? I could be a doctor. I could be a psychologist…” I went into sales and I think to myself there are always issues, and we help come up with solutions and hopefully make people’s lives—whatever we’re helping them with—easier and better. So that’s where I feel like I’m able to help folks.

Would you like to share anything about your family?

One cool thing is my wife is not Hispanic, but I met her because she could speak Spanish. She started out as a Spanish teacher, and she is now a school counselor. We met on a Memorial Day weekend, camping. She’s like, “How do you know how to speak Spanish?” I’m like, “How do you know how to speak Spanish?” We now have two young children, and we both work hard to make sure that they stay connected to my family’s language, heritage, and culture.

I’d like to share two stories that my parents told me that I think are unique to Hispanics. My father and my mom grew up in the time where they would pick cotton. This was very common among the Hispanic population in Corpus Christi. My mom said the first time she went out there she cut her hands up and she said to herself, “Forget that!” My dad picked cotton for many years.

My dad was a musician who started playing Tejano music. He played with Freddie Martinez who is known as the founder of Tejano music. Freddie is a platinum recording artist and he’s still playing to this day. He named his first son after my father. Freddie is my sister’s godparent. So my father played music throughout Texas and Mexico, even when he was living here in America, until he met my mother—she put an end to that. So I thought those were a few good stories to share.

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