One entrepreneur’s journey of empowerment in Stanford program
When Linda Renteria was an engineer, she applied the principles of science and math to find solutions to technical problems. Now a small business owner, she recently attended the BNP Paribas Wealth Management Executive Program for Women Entrepreneurs at Stanford University.
There, she learned that there is both an intellectual and “nuts and bolts” aspect to entrepreneurship as well and that, much like engineering, successfully running a business requires applying both abstract knowledge and practical common sense.
When Linda’s husband, Robert Sanchez, decided to go back into his family’s business, Linda, too, decided to trade in her engineering tools for business tools to help continue Casa Sanchez Foods’ success. Robert’s grandparents, Roberto and Isabel Sanchez, started the Casa Sanchez brand as a San Francisco Mexicatessen in 1924. Then, their son Robert and his wife Martha (Linda’s father-in-law and mother-in-law) expanded the brand by mass-producing tortillas for the local restaurant industry. This then evolved into a fresh salsa and tortilla chip manufacturing and distribution company.
Today, Casa Sanchez products – including guacamole, tortilla chips, salsa, and tamales – have a strong following in Northern and Southern California and are shipped to large and small retailers in the West Coast. And now, with the recent expansion of the company’s production facility, Linda and Robert are looking to expand their geographic footprint. That’s where the BNP Paribas Women Entrepreneur Program came in.
Hearing ‘all the women’s voices’
When Linda was nominated for the program by her Bank of the West client relationship manager, Cesar Valenzuela, she was shocked and overjoyed. Attending the program, she found exactly what she was looking for. “I think I really appreciate a program like this one because we can hear all the women’s voices,” she recalls.
The close-knit nature of the event made it a safe space for the entrepreneurs to confide in each other. Linda herself felt insecure and uncomfortable about being categorized as an entrepreneur. Consequently, although she is outspoken and confident in other areas, she was at first reluctant to speak up about her business knowledge and being an entrepreneur. Noticing this, a BNP Paribas client relationship manager (CRM) took time to make Linda feel welcome and knowledgeable, telling her that she knows a lot more about running a business than she thinks she does. Linda also recalls meeting a female entrepreneur who laughs a lot and was worried that, due to her tendency to laugh, people don’t take her seriously.
Neither Linda nor the woman she met are alone in the worries they face as female business owners. As the Forbes article “4 Struggles Female Entrepreneurs Face — And How To Overcome Them” notes, women tend not to give themselves the credit they deserve. “[W]hen a woman communicates her accomplishments, it’s often seen as bragging, so often women express accomplishments as group achievements as opposed to individual successes, or downplay the accomplishment altogether,” the article explains. Meanwhile, number one on the list of struggles is exactly what the women Linda met fears – not being taken seriously.
Applying what she’s learned
Whether quiet or loquacious or everything in between, the Women Entrepreneur Program was a place for female entrepreneurs to just be themselves, network, and learn from each other and the presenters.
And learn they did. Some of the topics that Linda found most relevant to Casa Sanchez’ current needs was company scaling and how to think about growth. In particular, she was interested in how the sales team negotiates with the back office and management staff and vice versa. She also enjoyed listening to Deborah H. Gruenfeld, a Stanford professor of organizational behavior, who discussed how stereotypes influence perceptions in business. “As an owner, you need to talk with all employees and listen to all employees in the company,” Linda says.
Now that Linda is back home in Hayward, Calif., applying the skills and knowledge that she learned at the Women Entrepreneur Program to Casa Sanchez Foods, she has a few words of advice for the participants of next year’s program:
“Really go open-minded and open-scheduled,” she says. “You really are on for five full days: Go there to learn, network and meet new women.”