Latinx culture has played a huge role in the development of the United States, but all too often, stories of its most impressive entrepreneurs are lost to a system that is frequently unsupportive of non-White ethnic groups.
This is partly because members of these groups are often characterized as “illegal,” and many live with the difficulty of speaking Spanish or mostly Spanish in a predominantly English-speaking country. But in reality, 81% of Latinx Americans living in the U.S. are citizens, and they have an enormous economic impact. Systemic racism remains a real issue in the U.S., but these legendary Latinx entrepreneurs did not let anything stand in their way.
- Latinx Americans represent some of the most successful entrepreneurs in the United States.
- The number of business owners from Latin backgrounds has grown 44% in the past 10 years, compared with 4% for all other groups.
- The most legendary Latinx entrepreneur on our list is Gustavo Cisneros, who developed one of the world’s largest media conglomerates.
- The Latina with the highest net worth is Geisha Williams, former chief executive officer (CEO) of Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) Co.
The Venezuelan fashion designer and creator of the global brand House of Herrera is one of the most iconic and influential Latinx entrepreneurs. Her elegance has been well known in the fashion world since her first store opened in 1981. Now, her fashions are found in more than 100 countries around the world.
Herrera designed dresses for several former first ladies, including Jacqueline Kennedy and Michelle Obama, and she won numerous awards for her fashions over the years, including the Council of Fashion Designers of America’s Geoffrey Beene Lifetime Achievement Award in 2008. In 2018, after 37 years in fashion, Herrera passed the torch to American designer Wes Gordon, naming him the brand’s new creative director.
Alberto ‘Beto’ Perez
This Colombian dancer and entrepreneur is best known as the creator of the fitness program Zumba. But he wasn’t always dancing to the bank. He was born to a single mother and was working three jobs at the age of 14 to help make ends meet. After winning a national dance contest, Perez was accepted at a Cali, Colombia, academy, where he studied dance while teaching workout classes on the side.
In 1999, he moved to the U.S., where he created the Zumba workout program. Since then, he has created a clothing line, workout videos, and a fitness empire. Zumba is taught at 200,000 locations in 180 countries, and Perez continues to license new instructors every day.
This legendary Latinx entrepreneur was once deported back to El Salvador from the U.S. before making his entrepreneurial start. In 1990, he finally became a U.S. citizen and opened Todos Supermarket in Woodbridge, Va. Now, the company employs nearly 200 local residents in a 75,000-square-foot store that caters to the area’s large Latinx community.
He has become a community activist, helping other immigrants achieve their education and income goals. This is important when you consider that 42% of Hispanic families in the U.S. have an income of less than $25,000.
He also founded the Hispanic Organization for Leadership and Action (HOLA), which supports the career advancement of members and is located within the U.S. Office of the Comptroller of the Currency.
This Cuban American migrated to the U.S. at just 5 years old and earned a degree in industrial engineering as well as an MBA. Working her way up, she was the first Latina to lead a Fortune 500 company as chief executive officer (CEO) and president of Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) Co.
Now, she continues to lead the way in developing smart grid technology and renewable energy integration. She also works with organizations, including the Institute of Nuclear Power Operations, to advance sustainable energy policies.
According to a recent study, 60% of surveyed business owners reported that they did not feel knowledgeable about basic accounting or finance. But even knowledgeable minority business owners have a difficult time securing funding. Among Latinx-owned businesses that applied for more than $100,000, only 20% obtained federal funding in the past year.
That’s why third-generation Mexican American Ramona Ortega created her company My Money My Future (MMMF) and her DineroDiva brand. The digital platform offers financial advice for Hispanic investors to help them succeed and close the racial wealth gap experienced by so many in the U.S.
Adriana Cisneros is the CEO of one of the largest corporations privately owned and operated by a Latina: Grupo Cisneros. The conglomerate started as a trucking company owned by her grandfather before her father, Gustavo Cisneros, turned it into a media machine. Cisneros produces media, like shows and movies, but also boasts a digital media advertising company, a property investment company, and a space-based cellular broadband project.
He built the organization from the ground up, without the need to answer to public shareholders. Cisneros was able to assemble a range of assets in several different markets, forging connections with big names in broadcasting, telecommunications, beer, and baseball. He has acquired hundreds of brands and positioned the company to be a major player in Spanish-speaking broadcasting, the fastest-growing media market in the world. His net worth is now $1.1 billion.
Honorable Mention: Rebecca Alvarez Story
While not yet a legend, Story is well on her way. The founder and CEO of Bloomi, an intimate care brand with its own Clean Standard for ingredient transparency and green manufacturing, has established herself as a leader in the wellness industry. The sexologist and social impact entrepreneur works with people around the globe to help them maximize their sexual agency. Her intention is to help others be the “CEO of their own bodies” through empowerment and education.
The 2021 Well+Good Changemaker sells these products as well as others that meet the company’s Clean Standard. She travels the world and gives talks about sexual agency, health, self-care, and innovative intimate healthcare products.
What does it mean to be a legendary entrepreneur?
A legendary entrepreneur is an individual who has overcome significant barriers to establish measurable success.
Who rose to the top of the success ladder?
With privately held companies, we could not confirm everyone’s wealth. But Gustavo Cisneros of Grupo Cisneros has a net worth known to be $1.1 billion.
Which population group is the most entrepreneurial?
The Latinx community wins hands down. Though this group represents 19% of the U.S. population, they are starting businesses at a faster pace than all other ethnic groups. There has been a 44% growth in Latino-owned businesses over the past 10 years, compared with 4% for non-Latinos, according to a study at the Stanford University Graduate School of Business.
The Bottom Line
These Latinx entrepreneurs have paved the way for others in the community to create wealth and contribute to the economy of the U.S. and, in some cases, of countries around the world. Whether that’s through groundbreaking innovations, new mergers and acquisitions, or showing others how they can impact their communities, these and other leaders have proved that much is possible with talent, passion, vision, and tenacity.