Luis Gomez admits he didn't know much about his new home when he signed on last year as CEO of The WellMark Co., an Oklahoma-based manufacturer for the petroleum and petrochemical industries, but he has embraced the opportunity.
Gomez came to WellMark late last year after deciding to move his family back to the United States to get away from safety concerns encountered during a five-year stint in Argentina.
Gomez recently shared details of his globe-trotting career with The Oklahoman. This is an edited transcript:
Q: As I recall, you've worked in three different countries over the years. How has that worked out for you?
A: It's certainly been a working experience. Actually, I've worked in four different countries: the U.S., Puerto Rico, Argentina and Mexico. While I was in Argentina, and in Puerto Rico, and in Mexico, I actually covered all of Latin America for some of that time. Truly it opens up your mind, in terms of different culture, because at the end of the day even the fact that it's Latin America, all the countries are different. It's been a learning experience in terms of learning different cultures, different ways that people do business in those countries. I always say that, for example, doing business today in Argentina is so difficult that when I came here it seems like I was on a break, because I didn't have to deal with huge currency fluctuations. I didn't have to deal with import restrictions. I didn't have to deal with export restrictions. I didn't have to deal with incredibly difficult union issues. Working in different countries just gives you a better appreciation of doing business in the U.S. and how truly free we are in terms of doing business here.
Q: Did you set out to have an international career?
A: No. I studied engineering. I worked as an intern for GE in Schenectady (N.Y.) the summer between my junior and senior year. There was a seminar on sales. I just went in to get a free lunch, really. The guy who presented the program was so good that he ended up being my boss after I graduated. Being the only Spanish speaker in the program that year, they had a need in Puerto Rico for a sales person. I was sent to Puerto Rico. ... I spent a year there, then the need arose of having some sales people in Central America. At the time they were going through a deregulation, a privatization of state-owned utilities, so they needed a lot of help. They sent me down to Argentina for four months. I actually ended up staying there for four and a half years. It just happened. It's just one of those things. That kind of gave me international experience.
After I got out of (graduate) school, I did international business development for Home Depot. Then I went to Schneider National. I ran their operation in Mexico for about two years and then Tyco Flow Control hired me to go back to Argentina. I went back on my second tour of Argentina and I ran their business in the Southern Cone, including a manufacturing operation just like this one, but it was probably, in terms of revenue, twice as big or larger. I did that for about five years. We decided that we wanted to come back to the U.S., mainly because of security issues in Argentina. We ended up coming back to Colorado, spending a few months there and then this opportunity arose.
Q: What brought you to Colorado first?
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