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Oxnard Man Realizes a Dream

Fernando Perez is named by a magazine as one of the nation's top Latino entrepreneurs. Laid off in 1993, he began his own company. This year firm's projected revenue is $1.2 million.

April 22, 2001|FRED ALVAREZ | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Shortly after losing his job in 1993 because of downsizing in the aerospace industry, Oxnard entrepreneur Fernando Perez woke up one night and decided to chase a dream.

The Mexican-born father of three wanted to tap the family's savings to launch his own company, drawing on nearly three decades of defense industry experience to open a lab that calibrates instruments for the medical and aerospace fields.

To his wife, it sounded like it could be a risky nightmare.

But the gamble paid off. Perez was named this month one of the top Latino entrepreneurs in the nation by Florida-based Hispanic Magazine based on the company's skyrocketing revenue, projected to reach $1.2 million this year.

"If I knew then what I know now, I probably would have been too scared to start up," said Perez, 57, who started Quality Surveillance Inc. after being laid off when Abex Aerospace closed its Oxnard plant.

"It was more or less a survival-type thing," he said of his decision. "When it finally sinks in that they are talking about us being one the fastest-growing Hispanic businesses in the nation, it sometimes leaves me speechless."

As flourishing businesses go, Perez's is not alone.

There has been a 40% increase, to more than 7,000, in the number of Latino-owned companies in Ventura County since 1992, according to a recent count by the U.S. Census Bureau. Together, they generate $821 million in sales--the 10th-largest amount in the state.

Those companies represent a cross-section of the local business community, offering everything from advertising and public relations services to computer software production.

"What impresses me is that we're now seeing Latinos involved in financial services, communication services--all those things that were mostly the domain of the non-Hispanic population 10 years ago," said Andres Herrera, president of the Ventura County Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and a friend of Perez's since childhood.

"He's a very ingenious, hard-working guy who's got a lot on his mind and a lot of talent," Herrera said. "It's amazing how in this country, if you've got the opportunity and you've got the will, you can accomplish a lot of things. He's a fine example of that."

The oldest of five children, Perez came to this country with his parents when he was 10 years old. His father worked the fields, moving the family first to Saticoy then Oxnard's La Colonia barrio.

He attended Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic School and Santa Clara High School, before earning an associate degree from Ventura College. Although he went on to take extension courses in mechanical engineering from the University of LaVerne, he had by then landed a job at Abex, a defense contractor that manufactured hydraulic pumps and valves.

It was there he learned everything he would need to know to launch his own company, starting as a machinist and working his way up to supervisor of the company's calibration lab.

When Abex shut its doors in 1993, Perez had offers to work elsewhere. But then came the dream, the lure of running his own operation and providing financial stability for his family.

"Ever since I've been in it, I never thought about failing," he said. "But that doesn't mean it was easy."

Banks refused to lend him start-up money. And because the company did not have an established track record, it was tough to win contracts. When the work did come, he, a partner and one employee put in up to 16 hours a day.

The company was never in the red. But first-year revenue was only $42,000, just enough to keep the business afloat.

Things changed in 1994, when a Glendale-based manufacturer of airplane steering modules gave Perez his first $100,000 contract. Revenue climbed to $291,550 in 1995 and $800,000 three years later.

He cracked the million-dollar mark last year, bolstered by contracts with such heavyweights as Los Angeles-based defense contractor Northrop Grumman Corp. and Oxnard-based Haas Automation, the nation's largest domestic machine tool builder.

The company now has 16 employees, including Perez's 34-year-old son, Steve.

And Perez recently moved the business from a leased warehouse in Ventura to its own 12,500-square-foot building in a south Oxnard industrial park.

"I don't think he ever envisioned when he started out moving into a new facility and taking the company as far as he has," said Steve Perez, who is in charge of quality control. "He's done pretty well for himself, and the company has done well as a result."

That doesn't mean he is done worrying. If anything, with the business booming and so many people dependent on him for their paychecks, there are even more concerns than when he started.

But he wouldn't have it any other way.

"Basically what you are doing is building a business for a family, for the next generations," he said. "In that way, I'm sure I'm like a lot of Hispanics who are out there but who aren't getting their stories told."

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