Alumni Advice: Take the Road Less Traveled By

By Felipe P. Martinez, ’03

Dear Thunderbird Students,

I truly hope you are enjoying the summer in Glendale, although it’s likely that you’re already too busy with work to enjoy the weather, so I do appreciate and thank you for reading this.

Mr. Martinez. Photo courtesy
Mr. Martinez. Photo courtesy

Over the years I have met many Tbirds, and the ones I find to be truly happy share one common characteristic that as a student you may not yet be aware of.

While it is true that you can make a ton of money if you hit the right consumer or venture fund with a bright idea, there are literally millions of people that are trying to do that in Palo Alto.  However, economic principle dictates that it is easier to make money in developing economies than it is in developed ones. Ironically, comfort lies the opposite way.

I know that the ideal is a job with a $100K+ salary right out of school, followed by renting a house, building a family, and so on. These things have a high priority for the majority of us. But as a Thunderbird alum, I want to tell you that there is a slightly different path that you might want to look at.

Have you considered looking for a job with a $60K salary, renting a house, and building a family?

“No chance; that would never work.” “Why put in hard work for such a small paycheck?” “That would definitely not fit my budget.” These, among others, are the answers to that question that motivated this article. The reply I never get to give is:  “Well, yes, if you keep thinking about major cities like New York, Chicago, Houston, or Phoenix.  But how about Silao? Or other towns that may be hard to find on a map but are currently in the middle of an industry specific economic boom?”

Silao, Mexico…I know what you’re thinking: “Isn’t that where they shot a Narco?” Well, that’s an aspect that I don’t know and have never seen. What I do see is a boom in automotive manufacturing not seen since the boom in Detroit at the beginning of the Twentieth Century, along with a huge opportunity for hungry, qualified Thunderbirds.

GM's manufacturing plant in Silao. Courtesy
GM’s manufacturing plant in Silao. Courtesy

The biggest complaint in town from the VPs of GM, Toyota, Mazda, Pirelli, Honda, American Axel, and others goes mainly as follows: “We have established processes to follow and the work force does not see the benefit in following them.”

This is exactly where Thunderbird tolerance and cultural understanding thrives! It is essential to get people to work together in order to achieve the necessary productivity. You have the academic and cultural tools to help cultures collaborate, and these most excellent companies NEED THEM in a hurry!

Don’t like cars? How about urban development? The same problem exists (I am told) in the shopping malls of Kwigaly, Rwanda. “Urbanization in the Africa of today is an untapped tool for development and economic growth,” says Joan Clos.  Not into building either? Just pick an industry and figure out where the boom is located.

To return to my earlier question, how can you balance your personal goals with a smaller salary than you’d receive in Houston? In the places I’ve mentioned, as well as many others around the world, you can rent a 3,500 square foot home – with a pool – for less than US$500 monthly. You can have access to private bilingual schools for relatively modest amounts. Nannies and cleaners can also help for moderate costs. And you’ll likely find private, state-of-the-art hospitals, in case you need them. The trade-off? What you might consider comfort, like watching live NFL games or having an HBO suscription, might not be available.  These areas are full of executives lacking the unique knowledge and perspective that you leave school with, and, sadly, there are no Thunderbirds.

One of the maxims I learned at Thunderbird: “What does an opportunity look like?  It certainly does not come gift-wrapped and beside a cake… it probably looks like a grenade without the pin.”

Sure, that is what these places may look like from Glendale, but the benefit is that after you put in a few years working overseas and living great while you’re doing it, you have the option of transferring back to the USA with the added benefit that, when you do, you will have far more knowledge and experience than your counterparts.This is designing your life as a true Thunderbird.

Save the links for later. Courtesy
Save the links for later. Courtesy

On the subject of leaving your comfort zone, you know, as business students, that taking calculated risks entails higher rewards. Consider the advantages and flexibility that being in your 20s and 30s right now brings.  Later on, you can always come back to play golf in Arizona. Think much later: you will definitely not be in the mood for this type of work when you are in your 60s, but you will be in the mood for golf!

If you’ve made it this far, you might be wondering what my credentials are to be recommending a path like this to you.  Well, I have moved homes 18 times, and lived in Ireland, England, Canada, the US, and Mexico.  I remember the ‘93 Bishopsgate Bombing in London like it was this morning; I was 12 blocks away when it happened. I have also been mugged with my wife by 7 gang members, in downtown Chicago to be precise. And my favorite: I experienced a shootout right in front of me while stopped at a light. That was in Tempe 12 years ago. Don’t get me wrong, I love the US; these experiences serve as a reminder that bad things happen everywhere, but opportunities don’t.  Let me also confess humbly that at any Tbird Pub reunion these stories do not even get me a seat at the bragging table. Such is the life of a Tbird, so full of memories.

If renting a house and building a family is high priority for you, and you are willing to get some adventure, then the true Thunderbird way is an option. The important thing is not how much money you make before taxes, but the memories that you make through adventure and friendship. Remember this and you’ll be far more likely to find the happiness that I’ve seen in many Tbirds.  The money will show up if you take some risks!

 Check out the Silao Automotive Cluster here.

Felipe Martinez is the CEO and VP of Organizacion Emyco, a Footwear company founded in 1926, comprising retail, wholesale, and manufacturing, based in Leon Gto., Mexico.

In addition to serving on the Board of the Thunderbird Independent Alumni Association (TIAA), Mr. Martinez also serves on the Board of Coparmex, ESBAC (ITESM), as VP of Prospecta, and at the Footwear Chamber of Mexico.

He resides in Leon, Mexico, with his wife, April, his daughter, and two sons.

If you are a T-Bird alum (or know of one) with some words of wisdom to share with current students, please contact the editors at

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