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The expansive career of Esperanza “Hope” Andrade – a trailblazing entrepreneur and community leader in San Antonio – is proof that with the right attitude, work ethic, and resilience, you can achieve your wildest dreams. From her corporate tenure at IBM, to the launch of her first business in her 20s, to her co-founding of GO RIO San Antonio River Cruises, she’s come a long way from being a first grader unable to speak any English. In May 2017, the City of San Antonio awarded Andrade and the group she co-founded alongside fellow entrepreneur Lisa Wong, GO RIO San Antonio River Cruises, the 10 year, $100 million contract to operate our city’s fleet of electric river barges.
Andrade said all of her growth became possible because early on she set her mind to becoming who she is now, wanting success so she could provide more for her family. Catalyzed by that desire, she heeded her mother’s signature piece of advice: “Don’t say it if you’re not going to do it.” Her story started there, and where it led her on her entrepreneurial journey is truly remarkable.
With caring for her family at the core of her motivation for success, it’s no surprise that customer service has been the foundation of Andrade’s businesses over the years.
“My businesses have been built on customer service and making sure that your employees understand that importance,” she said.
In every professional endeavor, she has looked to hire like-minded employees who share a similar philosophy and vision for unparalleled customer service: “Even today … I watch [my managers] handle a situation that could arise into a problem, and I watch how they take care of that customer. Afterwards, I will tell them, ‘You took care of her exactly the way I would.’ And that is listening, acknowledging, and trying to find a way to correct it.”
Finding the right people to hire has been instrumental in Andrade’s entrepreneurial endeavors, and she acknowledges their immense role in her prosperity. “I always attribute my success to the great people I have surrounded myself with – it’s my employees,” she said. Success comes from building a meaningful relationship with those you work with. As a leader, she believes her job is to nurture their growth and make sure they feel their talent is valued and respected. To Andrade, “the greatest compliment that an employer can receive is when someone remembers them after they’re long gone. Or when someone says, ‘I learned so much from you.’” Andrade knows running a successful business is not all about money, it’s about creating something of value to share with your employees and community.
Along the way, one of the hardest lessons Andrade learned in her career was how to let go. When you start a business, it’s difficult to hand over responsibility. You have foresight for where the business is headed, so it’s natural to think you can do many aspects of your business better than someone else. Through trial and error of starting different companies, she came to understand that the only way a business can truly grow is by letting go as a leader, entrusting your employees to take care of work you think you could handle.
“When you’re a small business owner, it’s hard to let go because you think that no one can do it better than you … but you can’t grow until you let go,” Andrade explained. “I learned once that sometimes small businesses don’t grow past the three to five employees. It’s because we have a very hard time letting go. The minute that I let go is when I grew.”
The foundation for this type of growth is built by having a deep understanding of your business vision and knowing how to articulate it. This is especially true when you’re looking to partner with a local bank for a loan.
“You need to make sure that you understand the position that you’re in. You have to have a plan,” Andrade said. “Someone’s lending you money, so they expect you to know how you’re going to spend it, how you’re going to pay it back.”
It’s not enough to have a rough outline for an idea, you need to have done the research to be able to explain everything: your product, your demand, manufacturing costs, payroll, rent, fixed costs, etc. You have to be able to answer any question thrown at you. After all, it’s your business. Her advice: “Make sure that the first time you walk in, you wow them. Because you’ve got a business plan, you’ve got a vision, and you understand exactly what you’re getting yourself into.”
The thread that ties together the various aspects of Andrade’s business journey is people, the community. Her growth has been driven from day one by a selfless want to provide for her family, and her success has come from her capacity to connect with, nurture, trust, and learn from those she works with. Everything she has given to achieve her dreams has been done so that she can give back to those around her tenfold. It’s people like Andrade that show what potential lies in San Antonio, and her story is a testament that a community-focused business model is the kind that truly flourishes, the kind we need more of.
Listen to Andrade’s full story on The San Antonio Business Heroes podcast, a collection of advice from local entrepreneurs to help listeners discover how to build and grow their idea or business.
In this podcast, Andrade shares these questions for entrepreneurs to think about:
- What are your wildest dreams? Do you believe in yourself?
- How do you turn an idea into a profitable business?
- How can you grow your business by learning to let go? (or how can you learn to let go to grow your business?)
- How do you champion customer service for your business?
Founded by local business and community leaders, The Bank of San Antonio opened in 2007. Quickly building momentum, the bank has five branch locations. The bank has non-bank subsidiaries, The Bank of San Antonio Insurance Group and The Bank of San Antonio Wealth Advisors, further enhancing services for locally owned businesses.