Nina Vaca, CEO of Pinnacle Technical Resources, Champions Entrepreneurship Worldwide
"When you are a good person to your core, then you can have it all," says Nina Vaca, CEO and founder of Pinnacle Technical Resources and Chair of the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce Foundation.
Named one of the 101 Most Influential Latinos in America by Latino Leaders Magazine for the past three years, the Ecuadorian-American entrepreneurial trailblazer (who immigrated to Los Angeles from Quito, Ecuador) is living proof that having it all is possible. In addition to her impressive resume, Vaca is the mother of four children, an entrepreneur who came from humble beginnings, a tri-athlete and a small business advocate who helps represent more than 3.1 million Hispanic businesses in the country through the USHCC. She casts a wide net on a global scale.
"Having it all" is different for everyone, but the common denominator is the same, she says: it takes hard work, dedication and the "ganas" (desire) to make it all happen.
The third of five chidren, Vaca was born to Ecuadorian parents — entreprenuers themselves in the travel and retail industries — who sought the American dream. "We were in a manual family business — the travel business," she said. "I was always brought up with a front row seat to entrepreneurship, and more importantly, civic leadership."
Since then, the travel and transportation industry has changed dramatically, from Uber to airline, vacation and travel websites like Kayak, Expedia and Travelocity that allow customers to be their own travel agents and land the best deal at the same time.
"I literally witnessed the transformation of an industry, and we continue to see the continuation of this transformation," Vaca said.
In 1996, Vaca founded Pinnacle as an information technology services provider to the Fortune 500. "Under Vaca's leadership, Pinnacle has become one of the fastest growing firms in a $100+ billion dollar industry, with revenues approaching $600 million and over 4,000 personnel working throughout the U.S. and Canada," according to the Pinnacle website.
And much like her the changes in the travel industry her parents experienced, the technology industry has changed, too. "Technology has changed industries in the last 17 years. I actually had that happen before my very own eyes," Vaca said.
Vaca attributes her interest in civic leadership to her mother, who encouraged her to get involved in the Greater Dallas Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, where she raised hundreds of thousands of dollars in a scholarship drive benefitting Latinos who want to attend college. "That is where I caught the bug to be a leader in the community," she said. The initiative was especially important for Vaca, who said her college education had a monumental impact on her success in business.
"Entrepreneurship has grown tremendously" for Latinos, Vaca said. "I would love to see Hispanics rise to the occasion to become CEOs of major Fortune 500 companies.
Vaca also points out the influence that Latinos have on technology industries: "85 percent of Hispanics above 18 years old are online," she said. "They are the leaders in the group of consumption for minorities."
While race wasn't a big issue for her when it came to starting her own business — "I didn't realize that I was a Hispanic business owner, I just saw myself as a business owner," she said — she realized she was in a position to help others like her.
In April 2014, Vaca was appointed by President Obama as an inaugural member of the Presidential Ambassadors of Global Entrepreneurship (PAGE) initiative, where she has worked to increase entrepreneurship around the world alongside other entrepreneurial pioneers, including American fashion designer Tory Burch, former chief executive officer and chairman of AOL Steve Case, former Microsoft executive and founder of Expedia, Zillow and Glassdoor Rich Barton, and music producer Quincy Jones.
On a recent trip to Ghana with the program, she spoke to local entrepreneurs as part of a business delegation with Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker. "Wow, that was an experience of a lifetime," Vaca said.
While visiting the embassy in Ghana, Vaca advised other female entrepreneurs in technology, retail, manufacturing, and shipping to "change the trajectory of themselves," and in turn possibly "change the trajectory of their country."
"Our main vision is to inspire entrepreneurs all over the world," she added.
The "three pillars of the program include access to capital, access to opportunity and hope and access to talent and education," which affects the entire global economy. "The universal magnet that holds us all together is hope. The hope that it can be done and the fact that role models matter."
So far, Vaca has shared her entrepreneurial mission in Copenhagen, Brussels, Prague and Mexico City. In the near future, she hopes to visit her native Ecuador, as well as other Latin American countries.
Despite her numerous appointments and accolades, Vaca brings it back full-circle to her strong faith.
"The truth of the matter is that my story is like that of other Hispanics. I am just lucky that the Lord has blessed me with enough success that I actually get to talk about it," she said.
Vaca values her role as mother of four to the highest degree, though she admits her schedule and traveling the globe to help fellow entrepreneurs can be tough at times. "Family is a priority in our household. [Having outdoor family cook-outs is] a beautiful tradition that goes beyond the food ... it's a beautiful thing to share unconditional love with a variety of people who want to see you succeed," she said.
Maintaining pursuits outside of work is key for Vaca. "My biggest advice is don't beat yourself up, someone will gladly do that for you," she said. "Managing a good work-life balance takes discipline, and what works for one woman may not work for another. There is no secret sauce, it's what you can live with."
Participating in triathlons is also a great challenge for Vaca and a way for her to clear her mind. "The serenity of the water allows me to think," she said. It's also the only place where she is truly out of contact with the world.
"I love the open swim portion because it takes a lot of courage and bravery to swim in open water ... For me, to do a triathlon is analogous to life, you just have to keep on moving," she said. Like her earliest entrepreneurial years, she adds, "Just put your head down and focus."