Seize an Opportunity
When the tech industry tanked and her company "was almost down to a liquidation plan," Nina Vaca bought out her partner and reinvigorated the business by changing its focus.
When Nina Vaca came to Los Angeles from Quito, Ecuador, at the age of 2, her parents' goal was to build a family business that all of their children could be involved in. "My father believed that the key to the American dream was through entrepreneurship," says Vaca. But never in his wildest dreams did Hernan Alfredo Vaca think that at the age of 34 his daughter would be the sole owner of Pinnacle Technical Resources, an IT business projected to generate $60 million in revenues in 2006.
Hernan had a much more modest goal: He opened a travel agency, expanded to a chain of three and hoped eventually to have five agencies, one for Nina and each of her four brothers and sisters. When they were kids, the siblings took the bus downtown after school to work in the family business. But shortly after Nina graduated from high school, her father was killed during a robbery at his travel agency. Devastated, Nina and her older sister, Jessica, ran the business for a year and prepared it for sale.
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Nina majored in business at Texas State University, graduated in three and a half years and headed for New York City to work for a technology company. She returned to Texas to head up its Dallas office. But when the charismatic Vaca discovered she "had a talent for attracting clients," she jumped into business herself. In 1996, at the age of 25, she and a partner started Pinnacle to recruit IT talent for companies that needed technical personnel to administer their computer systems. "Because of my upbringing, I always took matters into my own hands," says Vaca. "In my gut, I knew I could do this."
When the tech industry tanked in 2001, her company "was almost down to a liquidation plan." Her partner offered to sell, and "I scratched up as much money as I could to buy the business, paying him a little more than the book value of his share." She changed Pinnacle's focus to provide IT consultants to businesses that had been laying off their tech staffs, charging a fixed price per project rather than an hourly fee. She landed as clients PepsiCo and Verizon, among others. Revenues soared to $10 million in 2003 and are predicted to reach as high as $60 million this year.
Vaca reinvests most of her money in the business, which she hopes to build into a family legacy, as her father would have wished. Pinnacle employs more than 600 people in 23 cities -- including three of her siblings and her husband, Jim Humrichouse, who left his job as a management consultant to join the company four years ago. Even her three children -- now ages 6, 4 and 1 -- came to work with her for the first few months of their lives. "That's something you can do when you're the boss," says Vaca, who is expecting her fourth child in May.
Besides focusing on family and business, Vaca led a college scholarship fund-raising drive for the Greater Dallas Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. She speaks frequently to college students about entrepreneurship and twice was named National Hispanic Businesswoman of the Year. To juggle all those balls, she logs on to her wireless network from bed at 11:30 p.m., she says, and "I do without lots of things most people take for granted," such as eating breakfast, getting eight hours of sleep or reading a book. Says Vaca, "I get fueled by inspiring other people."
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