On Thursday, November 5, Arthur Velasquez quietly sat down inside Lecture Center F1 to listen to UIC Business students’ SWOT analysis of a business (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats - a common exercise in Professor Miller’s classes). Though he's neither student, staff nor faculty, Velasquez knows UIC well; he grew up in an apartment building that used to stand across the street from the Hull House museum. He and his siblings spent their summer days involved in Hull House activities, received some of their education there, even bathed in the Hull House public showers.
It’s been years since Velasquez had a Chicago address. Today he was visiting Chicago from his home in Florida, and, finding himself between meetings, he wanted to drop by to hear this particular SWOT analysis, of Azteca Foods, Inc., the company he founded in 1969.
The student presenters began with some background: how Azteca started, how it expanded, which markets it’s competed in over the years, who have been its customers, who its competitors. From here the presentation dove into the SWOT analysis, about ten minutes of framing the core issues for the organization. From the analysis, the students moved to recommendations, which were focused on communications (mainly social media), new ways for consumers to engage with products, product innovation and, lastly, expansion of private label production.
Once the students were done, silence settled on the lecture hall. Velasquez slowly stood up from his seat and turned to face the students. “My daughter [Renee Togher, Azteca’s president] is always telling me I need to be on Facebook,” he said with a laugh. “And now I hear it from the business schools, too.”
At Professor Miller’s urging, Velasquez took the podium, and regaled the class with stories from Azteca’s history: how simple the production setup was in the beginning, how Azteca was originally meant to be an economic driver for Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood, how the company landed some valuable patents, how it expanded into new markets - including Europe - and how it got back out of some of those markets. Velasquez also shared a lot of business insights, about the higher margins enjoyed by successful innovators, about the financial planning required to start a small business, and about knowing when to make a deal, when to walk away from one, and how to keep yourself from crying over spilled milk.
For nearly an hour, students listened with rapt attention, until, in what seemed like no time at all, the following class was knocking at the doors of LC F1, waiting for the business students to clear out. Velasquez folded his hands and looked around as students grabbed their backpacks and made their way out. This was his twentieth year visiting UIC Business. “I just like to share,” he said. “I’ve been where these students are.” After a pause, he added, “but the students give back. Talking with them every year, it keeps me young.”
For more information about the Executives in the Classroom series, check out the UIC Business BS Management program.