What makes good and effective business leadership? Is it found in your engaging marketing strategies, enticing offers, or mesmerizing promotional items? For Martin Mayorga, only two things must be considered for this: keeping an authentic self and valuing your people no matter what. Joining Chris Webb, he shares the story of how his rough life in Latin America proved to be useful in building his values and motivation to become the successful CEO and founder of Mayorga Organics, LLC. He emphasizes how money-making strategies will only work best if business owners always align with their genuine goals and take care of their employees, even on a personal level. Martin also talks about his incredible feat of avoiding laying off people in his business despite the risks and challenges posed by COVID-19.

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Martin Mayorga: Ammunition As Playing Cards

Martin, welcome. How is it going?

I’m good. How are you?

Fantastic. I appreciate you jumping on. I’m excited. I’ve watched your story over a number of years. I’m pretty excited to discuss this with you.

Thank you. I appreciate it. It’s been a lot of years now. They add up.

Tell me more about it. What I’d like to do is get an intro, discuss how things have gone, where you’ve been and the company, and where it started all.

I always tell people I started by accident. I grew up in Latin America and bounced around. I saw what you see in these countries when you live there, where you’re not just on vacation but part of your everyday life. I think a lot of it. I put it behind me because I came to the US as a kid. I wanted to be an American kid. In the ’80s, that was tough. Up in the Maryland area, being Hispanic was not common. I wanted to learn English and assimilate. It wasn’t until I turned eighteen, I started going back to Nicaragua where it hit me like a ton of bricks. This is where I’m from and where I grew up. This is what made me who I am as far as the origin. This country has a lot of issues. Latin America has a lot of issues. They are issues that I feel don’t need to exist in the modern age.

One thing that I had seen that hit me when I was a kid, but I didn’t know what to do with it, seeing kids my age that would cut the wood down and walk ten miles to sell it the market for a dollar or be begging at the market. I never understood it when I was little. The concept of my family had enough to feed everybody. My dad was fortunate enough to have work. These kids are having a pretty rough way to sustain themselves. They had to work and be part of the workforce for their family to be able to eat. When I got back from the US to Nicaragua, I realized I’ve been extremely privileged. I’ve been very fortunate to have been able to live a revolution, live a major earthquake in Guatemala, be allowed in the US to start a new life and start the potential of the American Dream and have access to education.

People were victimized by the trappings of society and how poverty became systemic.

I felt like almost it would be hypocritical to go down the path of Wall Street, which I was studying Finance in college. I wanted to do the whole Wall Street thing, which seemed cool at that time. I felt like I can’t do that. I felt like I would be turning my back on something there. I have this thing where like, “Once I know something is wrong, once I know something needs to be done about something, I can’t shake it.” I can’t just be like, “It’ll get that well.” I have to figure it out. I stopped my path of Wall Street. I started going back to Nicaragua and said, “How do I re-engage with what I consider my home country? How do I do it in a way that adds value and represents these countries in a positive light?”

We’re seeing more acceptance culturally and racially in this country now or at least conversations are happening. Back then, being Latino, I didn’t have role models. They may be baseball players, but there were no business role models. In business, we were the people who do landscaping, pool cleaning, office cleaning, and home cleaning. There wasn’t any entrepreneurship. I felt like I wanted to start and build something to showcase that Latinos can be a positive force in this country, but also do it in a way that helps people in the country.

I felt like it was as simple as the way the dollar was handed off from the consumer all the way down to the producer and how everybody in the middle took a cut of that dollar. By the time the producer got it, it was a penny. I got into it. I started with cigars. I would go to Nicaragua, which back then, during the mid-’90s, the roads were so bad. It took five and a half hours to get there from the capitol. Now, it takes two hours. It was a different era. Everybody was armed. If you weren’t armed, you were nervous. When you got there, the first thing to do is get a sidearm. Everybody knew there was a couple of extras in the car.

We think we have problems here in the US. You speak into what you’re talking about is we have a lot of kids, even my kids at that point. Sometimes, when they look at me, they’re like, “Dad, this is detrimental to my life. This is where I’m at. My cell phone, this or that.” You look at him like you have no idea. As a child, you look at that you don’t think anything of it. As you get older and start learning, experiencing this, or looking at it through a lens, you realize, “This is a real thing. There are a lot of challenges.” That’s interesting you have to carry guns.

One of the things I tell people all the time that it took me a while to understand how weird it was, during the revolution, we didn’t go to school for a year. That night, there was gun fighting. We’d have to sometimes crawl into my parents’ room and hide in the closet because bullets would fly through. In the morning, all the kids would wake up, go, run out and collect bullet shells. We had a bag this big of bullet shells. AK-47s were like, “Whatever.” If you found like a 44 or something interesting, it was like, “These are baseball cards.” As a kid, one of the things that I tell people all the time, “Anything you see around, whatever you grew up with, it was normal.” It becomes normalized.

That was the thought of how things and poverty became systemic and how poverty became almost a habit and behavior. People were victimized by the trappings of society and the trappings created by society and systems. That was what I saw in Latin America. The people who grow our food and produce a lot of things that we consume in this country and pay a lot of money for were being taken advantage of. They’ve been victimized by a system. I say victimized as of the economic victimization, which leads to other impacts. It felt wrong. I always had this thing and maybe because I was a scrawny kid who had got in a lot of fights when I moved to the US because I didn’t speak English. I hate the concept of bullies. I hate the concept of somebody who takes advantage of somebody. To me, there was nothing worse than seeing wealthy people and companies take advantage of the poorest people in agriculture. I felt like I had to do something.

One of the things that is rolling around in my head is you were looking at ammunition shells as baseball cards. That analogy or reference was massive. It puts a whole new perspective on your experience. It’s not that you looked at this like this was detrimental. This was the way of life. This was normal. You did what you could with it to the best of your abilities. I’m reading a book and it’s Unfu*k Yourself. It’s by Gary John Bishop. It talks about these situations in life. It specifically talks about victimization and how, at certain points in life, we come to a point where we’re either going to accept where we are and develop our future or we’re going to live within our past.

DTTN 3 | Business Leadership

Business Leadership: Nobody likes to lay off people, but sometimes it’s the harsh reality of running a business in order to survive.

 

I have a lot more questions for you because I’m intrigued by your backstory. It’s phenomenal. I’m assuming you looked at this and said, “I’m not going be run-of-the-mill. Not only am I not going to be run-of-the-mill, but I’m going to help the mill reproduce its thoughts. I’m going to go back, re-engineer this, grow this to a massive difference and more of a philanthropic design rather than simply after a capital design.”

Yes, I think I was fortunate to see such opposing worlds. I’m very careful even talking about my history. One of the things I hated in my industry is people now are coming out like, “My family is farmers.” Your family bought a farm after they bought a bank. Everybody wants to do this whole like, “I came from nothing and built this thing.” The reality is what I saw and what we lived through, to me, was a powerful element where I said, “When I was a kid, it didn’t hit me.” One of the things that stuck with me during the revolution, we left very quickly because a lot of things were happening where my family’s life was in danger.

My dad came home when I was a kid, “We’re going to Disney World.” I was young. I was like, “Sweet. We’re going to Disney World.” We were in Managua. We all piled in the car. We drove to the Costa Rican border. We left the car, crossed the border, and never looked back. Leaving our house and everything. It was funny because it was a matter of the narrative you want to create. One of the things I don’t like is in my industry, a lot of people will go, “We lost everything.” We did, but we got it back in a lot of other ways. We maybe didn’t get a house and a car back, but I got to come to the US. I got to have a free education in a public school system in the US. I got to play baseball and ride my bike.

I’m very careful about the origin story of who I am and what the country is because it’s not arising from this terrible thing. Latin America has had its history and issues, but it’s also had some great things. I’ve been very blessed to have the combination of both the Latin American culture, community, and family with the freedom and opportunities in this country. I feel like all I’ve done was melded the two together and say, “I’m going to take these opportunities, but I want to use them towards what means a lot to me, which is my communities of Latin America.” I say communities because I was born in Guatemala, grew up in Nicaragua, and lived in Costa Rica and Peru. I’m from Latin America. I feel more in touch with Nicaragua, but it’s more about taking back what I’m made of and connecting that with the opportunities and dots that I can connect here in the US.

I understand that. I look at somebody like yourself, understanding some more depths of your story and where we’re talking here. I’m looking at the posts that you’ve made on social media and following them there. Me, as a person, I don’t look at it as a woe-go as him, “He’s been through this. What a torment and how this has been detrimental to his life, but he came out like a diamond in a piece of coal.” I look at it more of a mission as something that somebody took where they were, regardless if they started out with $1 million, $500 billion, or even nothing. It doesn’t matter. They took what they had and developed something that they aspire to. Something where it was true depth and a core of who they were, which is a lot of stories.

You find out what you’re passionate about. It doesn’t necessarily have to be money. It could be money. If people want to be passionate about making more money, that’s fine. I think they’ll miss a lot in life if it turns more about the journey. You find what you’re passionate about and go for it. You do whatever it takes to go that direction instead of looking at somebody and saying, “We’ll go as him. He had this terrible lifestyle. He was looking at ammunition shells as baseball cards.” No, that’s more about putting it into the perspective of, “I was here, but I saw this vision and this is where I’m going with it.” The bigger piece of the story is what you’re doing now and how it’s impacting.

Before we get to that point, talk to me more about the failures, hurdles, issues that you had, and how you came out of them. The reason why is the whole point of this show is to help those business owners who went through a hard situation or looking down on their luck and don’t know how to get through it to let them know that it can still come out of it. It may be mindset or action. Whatever your perspective is. Tell us more about that.

Successful people are cognizant enough that they didn’t get to where they are alone.

I think my main setbacks and challenges with hindsight being at my fingertips now. It’s when I’ve taken my eyes off the business. The core is my need to be entrenched in the business. I found somebody who embezzled money from me. They did it by not depositing tax payments for payroll and creating dummy accounts and making me think the deposits were made and me not finding out until a year later in $250,000 tax liens. That was when I was fortunate enough to have money to lose. Before that, it was cash. I started with nothing. I left school early and I had $140,000 in debt. I had no ability to finance myself. It would bother me a lot when people are like, “It’s just a friends and family thing. Go ask your friends and family for money.” I was like, “My family has nothing. I don’t have wealthy friends who are going to stroke checks to me.”

That was part of the challenge of being an immigrant that people don’t recognize. We don’t have the generational resources that being in this country for a few generations provides. They may seem very petty to some people, but as an immigrant, I don’t have friends. A lot of the challenges have been not having money and trying to grow a business through nothing but people believing in me and still probably believe in me. What I found is when you believe in yourself, you are true to yourself, and your name means something, you can learn lot of credibility that is as good as a loan. That’s how I built the business, but we’ve had a lot of challenges.

My biggest issue that I’ve had generally had been overexpansion. I have such an appetite for making something that makes an impact in Latin America. Historically, I have confused it with, “More here means more there.” I ended up having too many placements. At one point, I had twelve coffee shops. I was 29 years old. I wasn’t even 30. First of all, we were barely making money. Some of them were losing money. At the end of the day, we were moving the needle on coffee. I was selling milk, dairy products, pastries, and sandwiches. The challenge had been financial.

The challenges have also been that I’m so obsessed with my vision and perspective of what I want to do. It’s been a lonely ride because I put in countless hours. I tell people all the time, I didn’t take one day off until my daughter was about 3, 4 years old, which was fifteen years into the business. That was me saying, “I’ll take Sundays off.” I did not take one day off for about fifteen years like wisdom teeth pulled at 9:00 AM at the office by noon. Those are typically the challenges of penetrating into a market that’s noisy. It’s the typical business challenges that, to me, are part of the game. The embezzlements and the other bad ones. The challenges, expect them because they’re going to come. It’s part of running a business.

This show was named Development Through The Noise and you said going through the noise of the business. It is a big, noisy environment. There are so many different things thrown at you, especially even internally like you were mentioning. We want to do specific things. Like with IMF, we have so many different diverse directions, but yet we’re only putting a few in for the light simply because we know. Me, as I want to grow in multiple different directions, I try to focus on one task and then all of a sudden, something else will come into play. I’m like, “I could do that. That fits in with my vision.” I started applying certain areas or certain times to it, but what I missed was is I need to find more time. I’m the worst at it. I squirrel every minute I can get.

That’s the beauty of the development. It’s enjoyable. Getting down to the specific growth in business is enjoyable. We miss a lot of things and it is lonely. They say, “It’s as lonely at the top as it is at the bottom.” It’s finding that passion and drive. Being lonely sometimes motivates us to start looking at things from a different perspective, self-development, and understanding where we’re at, which brings me to a question I have in my mind. 2021 is going to be detrimental to the companies trying to rebuild that trust from their employees. A lot of companies that had a lot of employees, they laid a lot of them off, even their top players, the guys or gals who thought that they had a solid job and they were never going to have to worry about missing out, income, and not going to work. That’s going to create some trust issues.

Trust issue is a mental game. It’s no longer a financial game where you can pay the lien back or simply pivot and make it different like COVID. A lot of businesses looked at COVID, in general, they said, “This is new. We’ve never been down this before.” Our consulting firm, we looked at that and said, “No, you’ve been down bigger hurdles. You’re just looking at this from a media perspective. This is very minor. You need to pivot and make a different direction with your business.” What are your thoughts on cohesion? What are your thoughts on the internal employee gaining that trust back in development? I know you have a different story, which I want to hear about how you handled COVID. What are your thoughts on how to build that trust? You have a good trust circle within your company.

DTTN 3 | Business Leadership

Business Leadership: There is nothing worse than seeing wealthy people and companies take advantage of the poorest people in agriculture.

 

Frankly, one of my double-edged sword characteristics is I’m brilliant. That’s all you can do. Sometimes, even as a company, as hard as you try, you may have to lay people off. Nobody likes it or nobody should like it. Sometimes it’s the shitty reality of running a business and having to survive. I even told my wife when we started dating, I was like, “I always want to know the truth, even if I don’t like it. I want to live in truth.” We as individuals owe it to each other to let other people know what their truth is and what their truth is in context to the bigger picture, which is a company.

I’ll be honest with you. One of my biggest lessons and challenges through COVID has been the psyche of the general population is that the employer is going to screw you over. It’s very hard. It’s almost like, “I’m going to screw you before you screw me thing.” You have to earn your employees’ trust. It’s not just because I was honest with them about COVID. I hadn’t been honest with them about everything. It’s that reality of you have to have that open, honest conversation. The most interesting thing I faced was that employees were the ones who were hesitant to it because they don’t believe it. It’s fake because I do think we live in a time when people are faking that. I tell people, “There’s no company. It’s me. It’s Erin trying to do her job.” There’s no magical Wizard of Oz behind the curtain.

We’re all trying to figure the shit out. I’ve never run a company of this size. Every day I wake up, I’m doing a job I’ve never done before because every day we grow. I’m running a bigger company. I have no experience as a CEO. We all have to figure this out together. I think coming at our staff in that approach, which is like it’s real, “I’m not some arrogant guy. I’m the CEO. I know everything.” I’ve made mistakes. I’ll continue to make mistakes, but at least, I’m going to be honest with you and share with you the realities of the situation. If the unfortunate reality comes up where somebody has to be laid off, we have to also lay that out in context. We need to survive as a company because we have a lot of stakeholders. It’s communication. That’s such a strangely missing link in humanity is honest communication.

You get to the point. We deal with a lot with executives in my company. We found that a lot of these guys and gals don’t understand that not only is transparency your biggest asset, but it’s also a development tool for your employee. When you’re sitting there and being transparent and honest with your employee, if they don’t fit within your organization, the best thing you can do is confront that immediately. The reason why is because it’s not about you as a business or you as a leader, but it’s about them. As a true leader, you are responsible for developing your employees, whether it’s outside or inside of your organization. Your job is not to be the guy who walks in, holds his suit high, and doesn’t say anything to anybody except for maybe his receptionist and that’s it.

No, that’s not your job. Your job is to be down there in the trenches, working with your employees and showing them that you’re willing to do what they’re doing, but at the same time, do what’s right for them. Know where they fit within the organization. If they don’t fit, you confront them and say, “Marylou, Jason, or whoever, unfortunately, this doesn’t work, but let me talk to you about what I think will as far as where your personality is and where we’ve seen a lot of positive come out of you. What do you think? What can I do to help you grow in life?” Not, “We’re terminating you. Have a good day. We’ll walk you out.”

“No, what can I do? I’ve taken responsibility for you and your family as soon as I hired you, bottom line. Now, it’s my job to put you on the right path or at least give you some guidance that hopefully you’ll grasp and puts you on the right path. It’s not my job to fire you because I need to make a buck and get back to my office. It’s my job to be responsible for you as I am for my children, wife, and family. You are now family.” This leads me to a question that I have for you. I don’t know if you’re excited talking about it or not.

I don’t know.

Honest communication is strangely the missing link in humanity.

In this show, there’s never an agenda other than some common crafted questions in my head. During COVID, I remember seeing a post. This specifically talked about how you sat down with your CFO. You guys crunched numbers down to the last penny because your desire was not to lay anybody off. Please tell me how you can be such a true leader and grow so massively. Also, tell me what your thoughts were when you were sitting down with your CFO and you were talking about if you were going to take your pay cut or if you were not going to take any money. I can’t remember the exact complete write-up. It’s been a long time. What were your thoughts? What was happening? Describe this whole story and how that mentality, because that’s what I’m reflecting on, blew your company up. If I’m not mistaken, you guys have grown quite substantially.

We’ve been growing substantially for years. I’ll tell you what it is. Fortunately, for myself, I’m a numbers finance person. I find my safety and comfort in the ones and zeros. Everything else is like, “How do we get the market to like us? How do we get our consumers to buy our product? How do we get our coffee to taste good?” If you don’t have that backdrop of the financial model, your ability to see those numbers, and see how they stack up into reality, which is keeping people paid, frankly, I’ve been through some tough things and probably fundamentally bankrupt 5 or 6 times, I’ve found that everything is in your P&L. If you have good numbers and good information, your future is written there and you have to extrapolate out the right elements.

For me, going into the numbers and that’s where I find my safety. It’s also where I find the areas where I say, “We opened this massive facility in Miami. We have all this space.” I always retreat back into the leverageable assets, “What assets do I have that I can leverage? Where are the opportunities in the market that I can leverage into?” We did things like, “We’re going to get into addressing a major supply chain issue where people couldn’t get food.” There was a lot of food being imported and the market had stopped distribution channels. We stepped in and did some interesting things with rice, beans, and lentils. We were putting that to market. It was quick and crazy.

My responsibility was to make sure, like you said, “If you decided to come onboard to Mayorga, I am not responsible for you to feed your family and keep a roof over your head.” That means that my warehouse needs to become a rice warehouse or my facility needs to put out flavored coffee. Whatever it might be, that’s what I need to do. I need to make sure. It was a matter of looking at things very pragmatically, which are, “What leverageable assets do we have? What is the market condition now? How do I quickly leverage my assets into that market?”

Those assets are also soft assets like my experience in the food industry and the supply chain and my reputation with it. When you’re dealing with a race for food and nobody could get anything but Martin calls him, “He’s the guy who helped you out,” it allowed me to leverage the assets of my reputation as well and then go out into the marketplace and do interesting things. The beans were born out of that. Now, we’re selling black beans all over the country.

I love how you played it down. I’ve seen your posts. You guys grow. You’re very humble and I appreciate that. You’ve been making comments back when we were talking about your childhood. You were like, “I don’t want to be the guy who said he came from nothing because we all adapt.” I understand that, but reflectively, you have come from a very hard backdrop. It was not easy. Not only are you a Latino and coming into the US trying to develop off of something that was not normal, but you have a background that was tough. In your development within your company, these are hard challenges. I say media posts because that’s where you and I got to know each other.

I looked at some of your growth. You were reaching out to these different markets, but you were staying with your design, which is supporting that foreign farming community and cutting out that middle guy who’s simply sitting back behind his computer and pushing buttons. They are capitalizing on something that shouldn’t be capitalized on because it’s taking a loss for somebody else who’s working their asses off, quite frankly. You’ve created this beautiful creation of a business that is supporting all these families.

DTTN 3 | Business Leadership

Business Leadership: When you believe in yourself, your name means something, and you can learn credibility that is as good as a loan.

 

I guess what I’m saying is, “Don’t discount it.” You did come from hard and you’ve been through a lot. You consistently develop at larger scales. You do it for that core reason. You find a good quality grasp on things through the numbers. I completely understand that comfort, but you’ve got a hell of a vision and manifested some pretty big moves. You’re playing a chess game of life and you’re right there at checkmate loss.

It was funny you used the term of a chess game. There are two elements. Number one, I feel like the issues we have in my home country and Latin America are so embedded. They were leftover from commendation. We’re still dealing with a lot of colonized people, communities, and industries now. I feel like, “I have a certain window of life. Within that certain window of life, I have a certain window of impactful years where I can make a difference.” I look at my life as, “If I’m fortunate enough to live to 90, what do I want to look back at? Do I want to look at the guy who played it safe, made enough money to go have a comfortable life, and had six sports cars? Do I want to look at a life where I can look back and be like, ‘Holy shit, I changed the trajectory of families of people who worked for me?'”

To your point, even if you worked for me for two weeks, I want those two weeks to have been an improvement in your life to put you in a better place and a better trajectory. That’s how I’m wired. I tell people all the time, “I’m not the warm or fuzzy manager leader, but I will create opportunities for you. I will challenge you so that you can be the best version of yourself. I’ll support you in any support you need.” If you need that pat on the back, it’s not me maybe because I’m a little hard and I grew up in a very survivalist mentality.

I believe in empowerment over everything. One of the things that frustrate and saddens me more than anything is when I go to Latin America and I go to these producing areas, some intelligent, capable, and brilliant people are having to make a living, collecting wood and sand for a dollar. Why? They’ve not been empowered or given the opportunity to do any fucking thing other than to survive. To me, a status thing that concerns a human is to not have the ability to look forward, create and be the best of themselves. That’s what drives me. That’s an unstoppable drive for that reason because I don’t give a shit if I lose everything. Trying to move the needle is my purpose in life.

Moving that needle is so important, but you’ve got to find what needle you’re trying to move. You found a needle you’re moving. You’re doing a hell of a good job at it. It’s very admirable the design that you’ve put together. When you reflect on things, it’s very humble. At the same time, it creates an atmosphere where people who are looking for the hard truths to not only trust but at the same time, develop. Development is huge. You said two weeks. When somebody comes to work for you for two weeks, a week, or a day, you’re looking to help them develop in life.

You made reference to something that I was confronted with. I had a business owner who sat down with me and he said, “Chris, I’m going to ask you one question before I switched and came to you guys and worked with your company.” I said, “Okay.” He said, “You got to give me exactly what comes right to your mind. You can’t filter it. You can’t do anything. I challenge you to this.” I said, “What do you get?” He said, “At your funeral, what do you want people to say?” That was a strong question. Immediately, I came out and said, “That guy helped me get on the right path.” That was my exact response. “That guy has a lot of money. That guy’s work ethic is out the roof. That guy has cool cars. He was this.” No, that guy directed me on the right path.

If you talked to a lot of business owners, especially the ones who are thriving who are behind the shadows, those guys are the ones who say that common theme. Like you, you want to help people get on the right path. That’s what life is about. When I die, I don’t want to look back and say, “I hit all my goals.” No, I want to go, “I did the best I could with the journey that was given that I developed through my process.” I want those people to say, “He got me on the right path.” That’s what it is.

A good leader is somebody who others want to be like.

One element that’s important to note there is the people who can say and recognize and who are also cognizant enough of the fact that they didn’t get to where they are alone. I even feel guilty when I do shows. I was like, “I have this show with 50 people behind me. They should be talking and chatting.” For me to sit here and have a conversation with you or talk to anybody about the successes that I’ve created, it’s not me. It’s me in tandem with the people behind me and people who have given me a helping hand. It’s those who have that awareness to say, “I want to know that the day I die, when I’m on my death bed, and I look back or whatever it might be is because they realize they didn’t get to the next step alone.”

You have a level of self-awareness and humility that come in at the same time, where people could say, “That’s why I would move the needle for others is because others have moved the needle for me.” If you don’t recognize that, you’re not a leader. That’s my perspective of leadership. I tell people all the time, “A good leader is being somebody who others want to be like.” I want somebody looking at that, “I want to be like that guy. I want to treat people that way. I want not to give a shit. He doesn’t give a shit.” Whatever it is. To me, you want to emulate that. The only way with this is to be yourself, but also to recognize that we don’t get very far enough. Nobody does. That’s an important aspect to remember. That’s why the people who are successful recognize that and know that they owe it to society to then be given back and helping other people along as well.

I still have developments in that direction to be reflective. As I said, I was reading that Gary Bishop book. There are certain aspects in it where I’ve applied it. It’s more like a parable situation. We’re applying it and we can look at it in multiple different ways, depending on the time in life. It is impactful to reflect and make sure that we’re constantly working on ourselves to be who we know we are because we can get lost within ourselves. We can get to the point, especially when you’re growing a business and working all those hours, you’re grinding. I was up until 3:30, 4:00. I turned around and got back up at 6:00. I gave myself a little half-hour there. It started all over again.

We do that and get in this mind focus of, “I got to do this,” which creates a centric “I.” It’s us. Whereas if we’re not spending that quality time in reflecting and saying like, “You did. I should have 50 people behind me.” That shows a good leader. That’s what we have to do is constantly understand that we did not get here alone. We got a lot of people who were against us. We had a lot of naysayers and jokers who were telling us how we couldn’t make it and why. We had to cut through that noise. At the end of the day, there are a lot of people in our lives who helped us get here, whether they knew it or not, even those naysayers and haters.

They’re the best. I love people who come back in. If you want to see me do something, tell me I can’t do it.

I made a post that specifically said, “I didn’t make it here by my own will, but by the naysayers and haters out there.” I definitely appreciate it. Back to that one, I’m sure we talked about this. At the beginning of COVID, did you lay off a bunch of people? Did you not lay off a bunch of people? How did this look and why? Walk us through this.

We had an open conversation, which was, “What do you guys want to do?” I hated the thought of the fact and it goes into the social issues that I face and that Latinos face, which is, my staff are hardworking immigrants who depend on this fucking job to feed their family. They don’t have the luxury of like, “I’m going to sit it out for a month and work from home.” I felt like the world’s biggest hypocrite. They’d be like, “Guys, business is great because as you know, the food sales and direct businesses shut up. I should have gone up 10 X.” As a business owner, you can be like, “That’s great. Let’s send more staff.” We didn’t know back then. People could be dying. We could be sending COVID home to families.

DTTN 3 | Business Leadership

Business Leadership: If you have good numbers and information, your future is written there, and you have to extrapolate out the right elements.

 

We sat down and said, “What are you guys comfortable with? What do we think we’re comfortable with?” At the end of the day, leadership is going to have to decide what we think is best. We said, “People want to keep working.” We did a survey and people were like, “I’ll be on the bus until the wheels fall off.” Everyone was in it. I said, “All right, fine.” We staggered the production. We did our thing. We said, “We’re going to give everybody a wage. We have a lot of opportunities ahead of us.” One of the things that I’ve been wanting is always to be a leader in the minimum wage issue. Our company-wide minimum wage is now $18 an hour. It used to be $16 an hour. We gave everybody more liberal sick leave, etc.

It got to the point where we were getting so hammered with orders that we decided, “I know you guys are riding or dying on us, but I didn’t feel right. Janine didn’t feel right. Aaron didn’t feel right. Our leadership said, ‘We don’t feel right.'” We’re almost like capitalizing on people’s need to work because there’s more money to make. I did something that was very contrarian, where I called our clients and said, “We’re not shipping for two weeks. We’re shutting down.” We were talking to big national clients like we were salesmen. I was like, “I’m sorry, but I can’t sleep at night knowing that I get to make more money as a company because people are now putting themselves at risk and working longer hours.”

We gave everybody two weeks off-pay. We reconvened and said, “All right, guys.” One of the biggest things about COVID was it was a moving target. Again, it was communication. We didn’t have to do any layoffs. We didn’t have to do anything dramatic. I’ve always valued our production staff. I’ve always said to people like, “If it wasn’t for them, there’s nothing for us to do. If a product is not moving, what’s the point?” It hit me across the head of like, “Our staff are so important to us and relevant to society and getting food on shelves” If you can’t pay them $18 an hour, then what are you doing if you can’t give them good benefits or hear them out and treat them as people who bring value to your home?

One of the things I teach my kid all the time, I’m like, “Whatever you have is not thanks to me. It’s thanks to everybody you’re seeing on the floor, the facilities and the buyers. It has nothing to do with me.” It was another eye-opener of that. It jelled us nicely. When we started having a morning check-in every morning, when all staff checks in on Zoom and how is everybody doing, it deepened our connection and relationship. We started going back in during the week. It was a big learning lesson. I told you that and told it to them. I said, “I’d rather wind down the business than have people getting sick and potentially dying of something because I want to make money.” We lost clients and we have to shut down. That’s what we did.

The wind has been an eye-opener. I always say, “We had a fire.” I had a friend who came to me. He was like, “Don’t ever waste a crisis.” I was like, “What are you talking about? That’s crazy.” After that, I learned it’s those moments and that gut-check time that makes you realize like, “This is an opportunity. It’s an opportunity to check in with other people, ourselves, and each other and look at the priorities.” We were going for it. We got into this other world of diversified products. We were donating 500,000 pounds of rice and beans to the food banks. The staff was working hard to load trucks. This was like us now jelling and, “We’re going to get through this together. Whoever needs anything, bring it up and we’ll be there for you.” It was nice. A year into it, we’re all pretty worn out, but we still have that nice connection that we had before. That’s one of the benefits, too. We already had it. It strengthened us and made us big and together.

It reflects again what kind of leader you are as well as what team you have. People say, “Shit falls downhill.” I’m here to tell you, you’re right on many different realms. It’s not just the shit that falls down, but it’s the true leader. The true leader, his mentality, focus, and drive are going to be replicated. If you have crappy employees, 9 times out of 10, you got a crappy leader. That’s how it is. It’s good to hear your story. It’s good to see some of the ins and outs of your company and talk through these things. I do want to ask you. If there’s one thing that you could tell other business owners out there who have looked at COVID or their situation as a detrimental piece, or even the guy who’s starting out who’s an entrepreneur running fifteen different companies and not sure exactly what direction to go, what would you tell them that is a key point of development, understanding, and growth?

The biggest thing is, if you don’t have a purpose and a why of the reason you get up every day to do this and grow a business that’s more meaningful than all the shit that’s going to come at you, then you’re going to have problems. What I would say is do a self-audit of, “Why am I doing this? How meaningful is this?” I’ve gone through this. I have to be honest with you. When you’re in your twenties, you have twelve shops, and your name is everywhere, your ego kicks it over. All of a sudden, your why and vision becomes skewed. I’m going to be honest. I started chasing money. Guess what happened? I started making less money.

You better be ready to be the best of yourself if you want the best from other people.

When I said, “I don’t give a shit about money. I care about my purpose,” it became a completely different trajectory. You have to understand the reason you’re doing this and it’s got to be authentic. Again, that’s something we do all the time. There’s nothing wrong with saying, “I want to make money. I want generational wealth. I want a jet or whatever it is,” but you better believe it and it better be for you and not for society and your ex-girlfriend to be impressed and be upset that she left you for another guy. Trust me, I heard some crazy reasons why people do what they do. Believe in what you do and believe in it beyond. The crazy shit is going to come on you.

It’s funny because people were, “I want to be an entrepreneur. What can you tell me? How do I prepare for the hard stuff?” I was like, “It’s coming.” If you can’t even fathom thinking about it, you’re in the wrong place. This whole entrepreneurship thing has become such a fun game and it’s not. You’re going to war every day against people who want to take your business, who want to take money from you who, and who want to take your vision. You better believe in who you are, what you’re doing, and why you’re doing it. That, to me, is the ultimate. There’s no wrong answer as long as it’s true to you.

You said, “If you’re an entrepreneur, you’re going to war every day.” That’s absolutely it. A lot of people don’t understand. They think they’re coming into this that they’re going to work for a few hours here and there, run their own business, do what they want to do, goof off and everything is going to grow fine and dandy. Even when they get into it after they’ve worked for so long that they’re going to have all this time off, be able to sit on the beaches of The Bahamas, and drink mojitos if they want or whatever. What they’re missing is there is, “With much is given, much is owed.” It’s a derogatory term, but I don’t consider it derogatory. The burden that comes with owning multiple companies or with having multiple employees is massive. It’s not to be undervalued.

You come in every morning. You wake up expecting 80 different challenges that are going to throw you off course. I heard it from a great man, Louis Spagnuolo. He said, “I come into the office every morning and run five items that are going to move the needle.” I tell my employees, “If they can get those five items done, moving the needle doesn’t have to just be money. It could be task-oriented or personal development. As long as they get those five things done, they can go home. You don’t have to clock in and clock out your ten hours. You can go home.” What’s crucial to our life and development is understanding what those five things are to move the needle. As an entrepreneur, you got a lot more that you need to do. At the end of the day, you go in with that passion, that why, and it all turns out to the best direction and the way you need to go.

One other thing I would add is that you better be the best version of yourself. Are you better? It’s discipline. I’m not a disciplined person, but I’ve faked it for 25 years so far. I can fake it until one day I die. You have to lead by example. If you’re lazy, disorganized, sloppy, or whatever it is, you’re setting the bar. If you’re not proving that you are going to challenge yourself and be a disciplined individual who’s going to rise to every challenge and push him or herself to the limits of what they have, you’re wasting your time. It’s not a fun game. It’s not easy. You better be ready to be the best of yourself if you want the best from other people, too.

Martin, it’s cliché to end on something like this on a note that we’re discussing and the story that you have. You’ve hit every point, where you’ve come from, your development, your hardships, and you’re focusing on the employee. It’s so real. It’s good. Talking to somebody like yourself makes this show worthwhile. As humble as you are, I’d say keep it humble. Also, you say you’re real and you are. You are very transparent. I would say reflect on those pieces of your life that have been hard because it is a big differentiator. It might not be different from your neighbor who was there when you were growing up.

To a lot of people who are reading, those were some badass times. You were crawling into your parents’ bed when bullets were flying. You were coming out of a country that your parents told you, “We’re going to Disneyland.” You were like, “I’m excited.” At the end of the day, you came from a total mindset of a rhetorical lifestyle that’s going to go consistently. You’re going to feel the norm. You’re going to play the norm. You’ve developed something pretty substantial out of it. I’m not talking about money because the money is there. I’m talking about you’ve developed something that is developing a massive amount of other people’s lives. Good for you. I appreciate you taking the time to educate and talk to us about your story. It’s been very impactful.

DTTN 3 | Business Leadership

Business Leadership: If you’re not challenging yourself to rise to push yourself to the limits, you’re wasting your time.

 

I hope honestly that it at least touches one of the podcasters or one of the people who listen to the show lives and helps them see, “This business thing is not for everybody, but at the end of the day, you can do it if you put your mind to it, as well as looking at the employees.” If you’re not getting respect from your employer and you’re not being treated the way you should be, there’s a true leader out there looking for somebody like yourself who will fly into the shadows, lift you up the best that they can, help you get on your feet, and find your why. I appreciate it.

I appreciate everything, the kind words, and your time, too. It was fun.

No problem at all. I appreciate it. Listen to some more shows. If you want to do another one, we’ll do a part two someday. Thanks a lot.

Good talking to you. Take care.

You, too.

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About Martin Mayorga

When you ask Martin Mayorga where he’s from, you might hear a different answer each time. That’s because he was born in Guatemala City, Guatemala, to a Nicaraguan father and a Peruvian mother. Soon after, his family moved to Managua, Nicaragua. When Martin was 7 years old, the Mayorga family left Nicaragua to live in Costa Rica for about two years before moving to Peru–ultimately moving to the United States.

When he returned to Nicaragua in 1991 at the age of 18, Martin witnessed the impact that many years of turmoil had on farmers that depended on the land to survive. At that moment Martin found his calling: to empower Latin American farmers by showcasing their artisanal, sustainable products to the U.S. consumer. He decided to use his education in International Business and Finance from Georgetown University for good instead of evil.

During his time away from the office, Martin enjoys traveling, hiking, and letting his inner hippie run free.