Alvarado, Linda: 1952—: Entrepreneur

views updated

Linda Alvarado: 1952: Entrepreneur

Linda Alvarado personifies the classic American dream. Born to a poor family in New Mexico, she earned an academic scholarship to college and began an unlikely career in the male-dominated construction business. She told the website for the book, American Dreams, that when she opened Alvarado Construction in the early 1970s, "the number of women in our industry was less than one percent." Since then the company has become one of the most successful contracting firms in the country, building multi-million dollar hospitals, airports, and stadiums. In the early 1990s Alvarado was asked to step up to the plate and join six other Denver entrepreneurs in a bid to buy a major league baseball team. At the Colorado Rockies' first home game, Alvarado was in the owners' box, cheering. In achieving these things Alvarado has broken through several glass ceilings, both as a woman and as a minority. She is the first female CEO to head up a major construction firm. She is also the first woman and the first Hispanic to buy a major sports team. These "firsts" have made Alvarado a role model, a position she is proud to play. As she told Enterprising Women, "I view my path as one that will open doors of opportunity for other women and people of color to pursue."

Born in Albuquerque, New Mexico, in 1952, to Lilly Sandoval and Luther Martinez, Alvarado was the only girl in a family of six children. Though her father worked for the Atomic Energy Commission, the family was very poor and she and her brothers were raised in a three-room adobe house that her father had built, which had no heat and no indoor plumbing. Despite these hardships, her parentsboth practicing Protestantsinstilled optimism, pride, and faith in Alvarado and her brothers. "My parents were very, very, positive people," Alvarado told American Dreams. "It was clear what your priorities were growing up. There were high expectations in school, that not only would you bring home an A, but you would tell them what you had learned." It paid off. Alvarado won an academic scholarship to college. Her parents also encouraged Alvarado and her five brothers to participate in sports. "My father played recreational baseball and would take us to watch the games as young children," she told Enterprising Women. "As we grew older, we began playing baseball and other sports." At Sandia High School Alvarado lettered in basketball, volleyball, and softball and also played soccer and ran track. However, her parents expected more. She recalled on the Hispanic Magazine website, "you couldn't just be a member of a club, you had to assume a leadership position." Alvarado became president of the Girls Sports Club and captain of the girls' softball team. Her parents' belief in hard work and commitment would give root to Alvarado's future achievements. "I think [my success comes] from an ability to remain optimistic," she told the Albuquerque Tribune. "We come from a very humble background. It's part of, I think, growing up in New Mexico that grounded me in who I was as a Hispanic, our culture, our values about family and work."

At a Glance . . .

Born Linda Martinez in 1952, in Albuquerque, NM; daughter of Lilly Sandoval and Luther Martinez; married Robert Alvarado; children: Heather, Jennifer, Robert Jr. Education: Pomona College, Claremont, CA, BS, economics major.

Career: Alvarado Construction, president, CEO, and founder, 1976; Palo Alto, Inc., president, 1980s; Colorado Rockies Major League Baseball team, co-owner, 1993.

Memberships: Denver's Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, founding member and past chair, 1976; Advisory Commission of Educational Excellence for Hispanic Americans, commissioner, 1990s; United States Hispanic Chambers of Commerce National Conference, co-chair, 1996; member, board of directors for: Qwest Communications, Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Co., Pepsi Bottling Group, Pitney Bowes Inc., 3M Company, Norwest Bank, Lennox International, US West, Cyprus Amax Minerals, and Engelhard.

Awards: National Businesswoman of the Year, Denver Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, 1994; Revlon Business Woman of the Year, 1996; National Minority Supplier Development Council Leadership Award, 1996; Business Woman of the Year, United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, 1996, 2001; Horatio Alger Award, 2001; honorary doctorate, Commercial Science, Dowling College, NY; Frontrunner Award, Sara Lee Corporation; "100 Most Influential Hispanics in America," Hispanic Business Magazine.

Addresses: Office Alvarado Construction, 924 W. Colfax Ave., Denver, CO, 80204. Website

Broke Through Construction Glass Ceiling

While a student at Pomona College in Claremont, California, Alvarado took on her first non-traditional job as a laborer with a landscaping company. She was the only woman on the crew but she loved it, recalling to the Albuquerque Tribune, "I got to wear Levis, be outside in the Southern California sun and get a tan, and work with all the guys, and you're going to pay me to do this?" However, following graduation in the early 1970s, she had trouble finding a job. Though she had majored in economics, she longed to work outside again. "I like to say that I have one of those great unplanned careers," she told American Dreams. She finally found a job with a construction company. Though she had grown up surrounded by boys, it was not always easy being the only woman on the construction site. "The restrooms were quite an experience," she recalled to the Albuquerque Tribune. "I'd find drawings there, of myself, in various situations of undress. But always wearing my hard hat." Nonetheless, it was where she wanted to be. "I liked being on the construction sites watching the buildings come up out of the ground," she told American Dreams. "When a super structure went up, it was to me a great sense of the creative process, that ended up with this structure of great permanence and beauty."

Because of her skill and commitment to hard work, Alvarado moved up from a support position to a project engineer role. She also returned to school, taking classes to further her new career, including blueprinting, estimating, surveying, and computer scheduling. "When I started in the industry, computers were just beginning to be utilized for estimating and scheduling," Alvarado told American Dreams. "One of the most important classes I took was in the early critical path scheduling, which enabled me to develop my niche." She eventually learned all phases of the construction business, from bid proposal to contract creation to final construction. She explained on the American Dreams website, "As I was on these construction sites, there were very, very large projects going on. I began to dream about building a project of my own. It was a pretty modest dream at the time, and I began to think of it as a possibility. I decided I would start a small construction management company." She later told the Albuquerque Tribune, "I saw the profit margins my old boss had, and knew I could do it."

Alvarado encountered resistance when she started to seek funding for her construction business. "I had this great little business plan, and had this blue suit, and went to several banks and was rejected by all of them, six banks," she told American Dreams. Fortunately her parents stepped in, mortgaging their house for a $2,500 loan. "It was the bridge money needed to get me over the gap until I was able to get a small business loan," she added. Alvarado Construction was incorporated in 1976. Its first contracts were simple paving jobs and small projects such as bus stops. However, as she recalled to the Denver Post, "At night, I dreamed of building high-rises." Although she encountered sexism for being a woman in a traditionally male field, she was inspired by it rather than dejected. "Being an optimist by nature, this gave me some sense of personal mission to show that women could succeed in this field," she told American Dreams. "You have to smile, because what people are looking for when [a contractor walks] in the room is somebody six-foot-five and burley. And in reality, I'm five foot five." Through her hallmark commitment to hard work, Alvarado began landing larger contracts, and Alvarado Construction became one of the fastest growing firms in the industry. During this time she also married Robert Alvarado and raised three children.

Expanded Business Skills Beyond Construction

In the early 1980s, Alvarado and her husband moved to Denver and soon started another business. Alvarado Construction was building a strip mall, and approached Taco Bell restaurants to become an anchor tenant. Of that deal, Alvarado recalled to the Albuquerque Tribune, "I learned a valuable lesson: She who controls the land controls the deal. I sold the shopping center and kept the restaurant." With that fast food franchise, the Alvarados established Palo Alto, Inc. As of 2002, the company owned over 150 Taco Bell, Pizza Hut, and Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurants. Alvarado is the president of the company and her husband is the CEO and chairman.

"Perseverance and persistence have kept me going," Alvarado told American Dreams. "They are very important, to the extent that I believe I will outwork most people in finding a solution." These traits have propelled Alvarado Construction through the 1980s and 1990s into a multi-million-dollar contractor. With offices in Denver and San Francisco, the company has completed major construction projects throughout the West, including convention centers, military facilities, airports, and Alvarado's dream jobhigh-rise buildings. In 2001 she was the lead contractor for the $360 million Mile High Stadium, home to the Denver Broncos football team. "It truly has been difficult at times, but rewarding to see what Alvarado Construction has built," she told the Albuquerque Tribune.

Alvarado's entrepreneurial skill drew the interest of several major corporations, who asked her to serve on their governing boards. The first was Norwest Bank, which invited her to join their board when she was just 27an unusually young age for a board member. She went on to serve on the boards of Qwest Communications, The Pepsi Bottling Group, 3M, Pitney Bowes, and Lennox International. A 2001 study released by the Washington D.C.-based Hispanic Association of Corporate Responsibility noted that no other Hispanic in the nation sat on as many boards as did Alvarado. The study went on to add that Hispanics are mostly absent from boardrooms, holding barely one percent of all board seats in the country's top corporations. Alvarado is also active in the Hispanic business community. In 1976 she was one of the founding members of Denver's Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, for which she served as chairman in the late 1990s. Of the group, she told Rocky Mountain News, "Our goal is to continue to open up doors of opportunity for Hispanic enterprise and multiply the numbers of Hispanics in positions of leadership." She continued, "It would be nice to believe that discrimination is not there anymore, but it's not true."

First Hispanic Woman Team Owner

In 1992 Alvarado was approached by a group of six Denver business leadersall menwho were seeking to purchase a major league baseball franchise for the city. After meeting with the governor, the group prepared its bid for the $95 million franchise. "I was the first woman to write a check," she told the IMDiversity website. "It was high risk, since the sizable deposit check would be lost if we didn't get the franchise." But the group won the bid, and the Colorado Rockies baseball franchise was born. Not only had Alvarado become the first Hispanic to own part of a major league sports team, but as she noted in Enterprising Women, "it was the first time in history that a woman, not through marriage, but as an independent entrepreneur, had become an owner of a major league franchise." She continued, "It was viewed as a significant breakthrough and created great feelings of pride for women and Hispanics in this non-traditional role, generating media and speaking requests."

Involvement with the Colorado Rockies has also helped Alvarado pursue another of her passionsgiving back to the community. "I take kids on tours of the stadium, and take them to the sports box and talk to them about careers in journalism, and to the offices to talk about marketing, and in the bullpen to talk about careers in sports," she told the Hispanic Magazine website. "We let them sit in the front bleachers during the games, where the mayor and the president sits, and I say to them, 'Someday you'll be here too.'" This commitment to youth helped earn Alvarado a prestigious Horatio Alger Award in 2001, at a Washington, D.C., ceremony presided over by the President of the United States. Past recipients include American presidents, artists, business leaders, and sports heroes. The award recognizes people who have triumphed over adversity through hard work to become a success and an inspiration for others. Alvarado believes that success is obtainable for all, but has acknowledged that vigilance against racism and sexism must continue. "Given a level playing field, people can succeed," she told the Albuquerque Journal. "We need to continue to advocate for a level playing field in all areas. We are in the game, but getting in the game doesn't keep you there."



Albuquerque Journal, September 27, 2002, p. 4.

Albuquerque Tribune, September 30, 2002, p. 5.

Denver Post, June 25, 1996, p. E4; September 21, 1997, p. 6; June 12, 2001, p. F9; October 19, 2001, p. C1.

Rocky Mountain News (Denver, CO), February 8, 2002, p. 20B.


"A Hands-On Dream Builder,", (March 24, 2003).

"Linda Alvardo," American Dreams, (March 24, 2003).

"Linda Alvarado: Women in Construction," IMDiversity, (March 24, 2003).

"Take Me Out to the Ball Game," Enterprising Women, (March 24, 2003).

Candace LaBalle

About this article

Alvarado, Linda: 1952—: Entrepreneur

Updated About content Print Article