Hispanic American entrepreneur Linda Alvarado (born 1951) broke new ground in the construction industry in the 1970s as one of a pioneering handful of women in her field, and later as an owner of the Colorado Rockies, Denver's Major League Baseball team. "What I still hope for and long for is the day when people will truly be judged not based on where they came from, and their gender, but really on their ability," she reflected in a profile for the book American Dreams. "That is a dream that we can't let go. America is a country of immigrants and our success is built not on everybody being alike, but on our diversity."
Born Linda Martinez, in 1951, Alvarado grew up in a less than affluent part of Albuquerque, New Mexico. Both grandfathers had been Protestant missionaries in the area, a profession her parents followed as well before settling down with a family that numbered five sons and Alvarado, their sole daughter. Her father, Luther Martinez, had a job with the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission, and had built the family's three–bedroom adobe house himself. It had no heat, however, nor indoor plumbing, and Alvarado's mother, Lilly, carried water from a nearby drainage ditch just to wash the family's clothes. Her mother also took in ironing to make ends meet, which Alvarado later said had a tremendous impact on her own career. "My mother had a great attitude about work, she had a strong work ethic," she told Elizabeth Llorente in an interview for Hispanic magazine. "Instead of narrowly focusing me by saying 'Only girls are supposed to do this, only boys are supposed to do that,' she inspired me to try things. And my father let me work on his car."
Won College Scholarship
Alvarado's parents further encouraged their daughter by absolving her from housework herself, she noted in another interview, this one with U.S. News writer Marci McDonald. "That was her gift to me," Alvarado said of her mother. "She did the housework so I could study." All the Martinez children were expected to do well in school, and at Sandia High School Alvarado excelled in sports, too, and served as captain of the women's baseball team. "My parents were very, very, positive people," Alvarado asserted in a profile for the book 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."
Alvarado went on to Pomona College in Claremont, California, on an academic scholarship, and majored in economics there. Needing a part–time job to help pay her way, she applied for a job as a landscaper on campus, eschewing the traditional cafeteria jobs normally open to female students at the time. She battled administration officials to get approval, and began what would be a long line of early jobs as the sole woman on the team. Sometimes she encountered a frosty attitude from co–workers, but Alvarado liked the job immensely. "I got to wear Levis, be outside in the Southern California sun and get a tan," she told Albuquerque Tribune's Dan Mayfield.
After graduation, Alvarado took a post with a California development company. She was intrigued by the construction business, and went back to school for additional training in bid estimating and blueprint reading. Again, she found herself the target of discriminatory attitudes, especially on the job sites. "The restrooms were quite an experience," she recalled in the interview with Mayfield for the Albuquerque Tribune. "I'd find drawings there, of myself, in various situations of undress." Other times, she was relegated to the office for filing chores, which she disliked, and when she realized the profits that the company's owner was making in the business, she decided to strike out on her own. "There were no women," Alvarado said in an interview with CNN's Carol Lin many years later about the construction industry. "And while there were Hispanics, I think the stereotype of women being secretaries and Hispanics being laborers [was prevalent, and] really what I was looking to do is to become an owner of a company, which seemed a little naive at the time."
Turned Down by Banks
Alvarado drew up a business plan for her own construction management firm, and took it to six banks, each of which turned her down. At the time, there were no laws on the books that compelled state and local authorities to consider bids from firms owned by women or minorities, and the idea of a woman running a construction firm did not seem like a potentially successful plan to the loan officers. So Alvarado's parents took out a mortgage on their home and loaned her the $2,500 start–up costs. "You can imagine how I felt," she told McDonald in the U.S. News interview, "knowing that if I screwed up, they'd lose everything."
With that loan, Alvarado launched Martinez Alvarado Construction Management Corporation in Palo Alto, California, in 1974, with a partner whom she eventually bought out. The company's first projects were small ones, known as flatwork in construction–industry jargon. They were simple paving jobs, but Alvarado's company soon progressed to building bus shelters for municipal transportation agencies. She found an early trick that helped avoid discrimination by signing just her initials, not her name, when submitting proposals. As the company grew into a general contractor firm—a management company that hired all the labor for a project—she relocated to the Denver, Colorado, area with her husband. There, her company began to win larger and larger bids, thanks to Alvarado's excellent track record in bringing a project to completion on time and within the specified budget. Two decades after she launched it, Alvarado Construction was helping build Denver high–rise office buildings, bus stations, airport hangars, and even a convention center.
Alvarado moved into the fast–food franchise business after winning a project involving the construction of a strip mall. She talked with Taco Bell executives about putting in one of their relatively new restaurants in the space, and saw that the profit margins were excellent here too. "I learned a valuable lesson," Alvarado said of this project in the interview with Mayfield for the Albuquerque Tribune. "She who controls the land controls the deal. I sold the shopping center and kept the restaurant." Alvarado soon launched a second company, Palo Alto, Inc., which became a franchise–holder for some 150 Taco Bell, Pizza Hut, and Kentucky Fried Chicken outlets. Her husband ran the company.
Attained Historic First in Sports
In the early 1990s, Alvarado was invited to take part in a consortium of local business leaders attempting to bring major league baseball to Denver. The group made a bid for a National League expansion team, and each investor had to put up their own money for a deposit when the proposal was submitted. If they lost the bid, the money was lost as well. But their group won, and Alvarado became a co–owner of the Colorado Rockies, which played its first season in 1993. The achievement brought Alvarado an important first: she was the first Hispanic woman to join the roster of Major League Baseball team owners, but she was also the first woman to become owner of a team on her own—that is, without inheriting an ownership stake from a husband or family. "This is the first time any woman, as an entrepreneur earning her own money, was able to bring capital to a major league franchise, and that's the kind of progress we're seeing in our community," she reflected in the Albuquerque Tribune article.
This secondary career gave Alvarado's day a new focus, she told Enterprising Women writer Judie Framan. "I used to read the business section first," she confessed. "But now, I go to the sports section first. I follow baseball with great interest, and I enjoy reading not just the box scores, but the strategies of the other teams." She viewed the dual professions as not entirely unrelated, she explained in the same interview. "I believe that construction and sports are the last bastions of male dominance. Having grown up in a very competitive, male environment, I am comfortable working with men," she asserted to Framan. "So, while my career may still be viewed as non–traditional, I view my path as one that will open doors of opportunity for other women and people of color to pursue."
Active in Business Community
Back in the mid–1970s, Alvarado was a founding member of Denver's Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, and has served as its chair. "We have many success stories in our city, but minorities and women still do not share economic opportunity in proportion to our population," she said in a Denver Post article by Robert Schwab. "The Hispanic Chamber's goal, what we want to do during these opportunistic times, is to ensure that there is development of minority–or community–owned businesses." She holds seats on several corporate boards, beginning with one on the Norwest Bank board that came when she was just 27 years old. A 2001 survey discovered that Alvarado held more board seats in Fortune 1000 companies than any other Latino, male or female. Whenever she gives one of them up, she suggests a replacement who is another Hispanic or a woman, she told Carol Hopkins in a Notable Hispanic American Women interview. "I'm not there because I'm good," she said. "I'm there because someone ahead of me was great."
At her company, Alvarado tries to hire women engineers or Hispanic executives whenever possible. She is a National Women's Hall of Fame inductee, and the recipient of numerous other honors for her work and dedication to leveling the playing field for all. The mother of three, she confesses that she still never really learned the art of housework, thanks to her mother's sacrifices, and that realm of her own household is supervised by her husband. She does excel at inspiring others to think outside the box, however, and likes to give tours of the Rockies home field, or of construction sites, to groups of schoolchildren. She takes them around, pointing out the various responsibilities of the workers on duty that day, but always finishes with a visit to her office. There, she told McDonald in the U.S. News interview, she points out her leather chair and advises them, "that job you want to aim for is mine."
Contemporary Hispanic Biography, Gale, 2003.
U*X*L Biographies, U*X*L, 2003.
Albuquerque Tribune, September 30, 2002.
America's Intelligence Wire, October 4, 2003.
Denver Post, September 21, 1997; October 19, 2001.
Hispanic, Spring 2003.
"Hispanic Trailblazer Breaks All the Barriers," US Dreams,http://www.usdreams.com/Alvarado6869.html (December 7, 2004).
"Take Me Out to the Ball Game," Enterprising Women, http://www.enterprisingwomen.com/ball–game.htm (December 7, 2004).
"Work of Their Own," U.S. News,http://usnewsclassroom.com/issue/030224/usnews/workown.html (December 7, 2004).