From September 15 to October 15, we celebrate people and traditions of Hispanic Heritage – those who have come before us, and the leaders of tomorrow. We recognize their achievement, honor their cultures, and commemorate the heritage and history of Hispanic Americans who have helped shape the face of America. Mays Business school recognizes the remarkable contributions of its Hispanic American students, faculty, staff, and former students who continue to advance the world’s prosperity.
Steve Arizpe ’79, President and COO of premier professional employer organization (PEO), Insperity, credits much of the work ethic and relationship savvy that have shaped his success to his Hispanic heritage. Arizpe connects with Mays about Hispanic Heritage Month, coming of age in San Antonio, Texas, and what it takes to translate “good bull” into good business.
Steve Arizpe was born the third of five kids to parents of Hispanic descent in San Antonio, Texas. His father’s ancestors came from Spain and his mother’s from Mexico, but both grew up working alongside their siblings on family farms just outside of San Antonio. “My mom was one of 10 and my dad was one of 12; in that era as my great-grandparents built a family, they were really growing a workforce.” To this day he marvels that his parents paid for all five of him and his siblings to attend college, and at his father’s astuteness to invest in a home in Bryan as his oldest brother set off for Texas A&M.
Arizpe’s father worked full time for the US Department of Defense by day, and moonlighted as an entrepreneur, steadily building a technology repair business. His mother was a self-taught math whiz with a fourth grade education, who worked to ensure the fledgling business was on budget and account balanced. Arizpe spent summers apprenticing in the family business and saw firsthand the hard work and dedication required to provide more for a family than preceding generations could offer. His dad helped him carry forward a tireless, generational work ethic and prudent financial management skills, while his mother cultivated a penchant for relationship and engaging others. This combination served Arizpe well as he embarked on his time in business school at Texas A&M – and, of course, beyond – as he began to shape his career.
Striving for more
Growing up in schools in the Alamo Heights area of San Antonio, Arizpe never felt deprived but was acutely aware of his distinct upbringing compared to peers. “We always had plenty to eat and plenty to do,” but he was exposed to another world that opened his eyes to new possibilities. Unsurprisingly, he never saw lack of privilege as a deterrent, but a motivator. He felt proud of where he came from, blessed by family and provision but still eager for more – saw the lifestyle of peers and instead of feeling more was unattainable, was struck with an immovable sense of self determination. He looked at the world around him and – with remarkable self-assuredness for a teenager – thought, “I can take one of two divergent paths here, either ‘that will never be me’ or ‘why can’t that be me?’ And I chose the latter.”
He never felt like a racial minority, but as a socioeconomic minority in his district, he also never felt like an outsider. He observed, and subsequently emulated, the idea that we treat all people with respect and dignity, socially and professionally. “Whether you are interacting with the CEO or the lowest level employee.” He understood that success isn’t yielded without sacrifices and set out ready to do the work that would be required to achieve big things.
Relationships and cultural influence
Coming from a generation where assimilation was paramount, parents didn’t pass the Spanish language onto their children. Despite growing up in San Antonio with a roughly 70% Hispanic population, the goal of most Hispanic families was still absolute acculturation into established U.S. cultural norms. “We didn’t grow up speaking Spanish at home, but with 60-80 aunts, uncles and cousins attending your average Sunday back-yard BBQ, we absorbed a lot – not just the language but core tenants of the Hispanic culture.” Among those are an instinct to prioritize family, and a natural inclusivity in the definition of who ‘family’ covers. “For us family first looks like, when someone is in need, we’re all in need,” notes Arizpe. “You step up to fill the gap.”
His family first, and inclusive outlook translates into the way he runs his business. Insperity is a missionally minded company, always grounded in their rallying cry of “helping businesses succeed so communities can prosper.” During the economic downturn of 2008, Arizpe and his colleagues saw the significant impacts of layoffs on a city and community, “that’s why we need businesses to succeed, because the economic and cultural impact on the community is tangible.” He and the 4,000 Insperity employees set about creating opportunities for that success. That community-centric perspective comes naturally to Arizpe in one of many ways he reflects his Hispanic heritage in everything he does.
Breaking down barriers
“The Hispanic culture is embracing, in both the broadest figurative sense – and, of course – literally.” The emphasis on community, hospitality and common ground Arizpe credits to his Hispanic culture, are mirrored in the culture of Texas A&M and find a natural commonality in Arizpe as he brings these values to bear in the workplace. As a Latino and an Aggie, Arizpe is heavy on the importance of culture in forging teams, breaking down barriers and bridging gaps.
“The ability to interact with others in a productive and healthy way is something we can’t take for granted,” shares Arizpe, who is known for bridge-building between areas of an organization with competing interests. “We all have differences and they are real, but communicating comfortably with common respect and a goal of mutual understanding breaks down barriers.”
One place he’s applied these skills at Insperity is in navigating the tensions between divisions of Sales and Operations. When Arizpe moved from Vice President of Sales to Executive Vice President of Client Services (or Operations) at Insperity he insightfully notes, “I went from making the promises to the customer in sales, to having to fulfill those promises in operations.” With his sales background, Arizpe had unique insights (for an operations lead) into the organically occurring frictions that often arise between Sales and Ops. He leveraged these insights to build more collaborative teams and relationships, requiring that operations personnel spent some time in the shoes of the sales team, and vice versa. To this day these teams boast an uncommon mutual respect and appreciation, linking these areas of the company in a unique and unprecedented way.
Know your audience – don’t settle
Insperity is a premier PEO that provides premium services to premium clients. For the company, the ‘premier’ label is more than a branding tactic. It’s a concept they take seriously from the quality of services they provide to the prerequisite expectations for potential and active clients. “We take pride in working with business owners who have a ‘getting better agenda.’” Arizpe expands, “the psychographic profile of our ideal client is specific; we work with folks who want to pay people more and provide the best benefits, not those looking to do the bare minimum in compensating their employees.”
Practically speaking, Arizpe and the team at Insperity help empower these like-minded organizations to achieve an employee-centric outlook. Working with business from 5-5,000 employees, they provide administrative relief and comprehensive HR Resources. And by pooling the 300,000 employees represented under their umbrella, Insperity can pursue better benefits and reduced operational costs they pass on to their clients. The results are significant, “by working as a part of our network, a 30-person company is empowered to compete with big businesses for talent; and companies are encouraged to offer better benefit and compensation packages to their teams.” With 90 offices across the country, Arizpe’s shared excitement with his employees is still so high – “there is still tremendous opportunity for growth, to better the companies and communities we serve.”
Arizpe was a Mays Business School student before Mays was Mays, but got to see the tradition carried forward in his own family as his daughter went on to be a Mays student. His ability to cultivate meaningful relationships and prioritize family are evidenced in his 40+ year marriage; closeness with his four children (three of whom work at Insperity); and the joy he takes in his nine grandchildren.
Asked about retirement he was quick to note he doesn’t have a set date, and that steady work ethic holds strong. While he knows the moment will come to step aside to give others the opportunity to lead, he’s not rushing it. “I’ll retire when it’s not fun anymore,” he pauses. “As long as it’s fun and I still feel like I’m making a difference, I want to be here.”