Below is a Q&A with Vazquez about his leadership style and ultimately where MECO is headed.
Q: Please discuss your industry story.
I started off in this industry with a broom in my hand at 12 years old. I started working with my family on weekends and in the summer, and then I also worked as a mechanic’s apprentice at a very young age. It’s something that my family never really asked me to do, but I always wanted to do.
Q: When did you transition into a leadership role?
I really transitioned into a leadership role with my company about five years ago. That’s when my father told me he would be passing on the leadership torch. He said, “You’ll be running things from my office now, and I’m going to start taking it easy.” My title is vice president, but really I act as a general manager and run the daily operations here, and that started five years ago.
Q: Who would you consider a role model?
Both my parents. They’ve done an excellent job in the sense of molding us and other employees in the company, between the way they care for employees and the reputation that the company has. People in the industry admire us for being honest and decent. Our slogan is “Reputation is everything.” And we live by that. At the end of the day, people do business with decent, hardworking people.
In this business every piece of machinery costs a significant amount of money. We’re not selling low-end products; we’re selling products that are worth $300,000 to $400,000. When you wire money to someone for that amount, you want to be sure they will deliver the product that they promised, that it was in the condition that they said, that it has no liens or encumbrances, it’s not stolen, and a whole bunch of things that unfortunately other people in the industry have done over the years.
Q: What are the most important decisions you face daily as a leader?
The important decisions we make daily are analyzing long-term strategies. We are not interested in overnight fixes. For us, we’re thinking about two to five years down the road and what is going to work for us then. But the most important decision I make daily is dealing with very good professionals and hiring quality folks. I am constantly looking for people among the technician shortage in our industry. I am the one who picks the individuals who come into the company, although I always confer with my parents. Really, the key to any organization is the individuals involved with it, so I have a lot to do with that here at MECO.
Q: MECO Miami has a reputation for diversity; is that something you aim for, or is it a result of being in Miami?
Here in South Florida, 70% of people are Spanish speakers. Everyone in my office is bilingual; outside in the shop they’re mostly Spanish speakers. It’s not something that we aim for, but it’s very prevalent in Miami to find bilingual candidates. Here at MECO, we have people from Cuba, Honduras, Venezuela, Peru, Nicaragua, and Columbia (I hope I’m not forgetting a country). We have a very diverse group of people, simply because that’s who represents South Florida. We have very solid people working for us because we treat them well and they like the fact that the work environment here is excellent. Our employees are very happy here.
Q: What is the secret sauce to your leadership style?
The secret sauce is not that secret at all. I think the secret sauce is hard work, patience and leading by example. It reminds me of Einstein’s theory of success: 99 percent perspiration and one percent inspiration. If you want people to work hard, then you have to work hard, there’s no other way. You have to be the first one in and the last one out. Work holidays, work Saturdays, and people around you will see that, and see the effort.
Q: What is your greatest accomplishment?
My greatest accomplishment on the personal side is my family. My wife, Frederika, and kids, Esther and Michael. My greatest professional accomplishment is maintaining the values and the reputation of my family business. We want to maintain our high standing in the industry and to continue growing our business with our local contractors and all the people who have supported us for the last 50 years.
Family is everything to us. My brother, Gerardo, has gone on to pursue his career as an attorney and we could not be prouder of him. Plus, we get the benefit of his legal advice if anything arises with the dealership as he now serves as our General Counsel.
Q: What is your greatest failure?
I think a lot of dealerships are over-leveraged. When 2008 and 2009 came along, a lot of people got wiped out because they owed more than they had in the yard. Banks realigned here in South Florida; they realigned with the housing industry in South Florida, which was one of the biggest debacles around that time.The whole industry has changed from ownership to usership. Everybody wants to rent, or an option to rent, or an option to buy after the rent, but there are very few people coming in and saying, “I need five machines, how much is it, here’s a check.” That’s not the way it is now, it’s like, “Let me rent it, let me see what happens after I rent it for six months, I want to apply the rental to the purchase, and I want to warranty, and I want financing.” It can get convoluted, but at the end of the day the only way to get equipment now is by renting it. That’s the largest growth area in our industry, the rental business. “If you’re not renting, you’re dying,” is what they say now. It’s very hard to make a living just off of cash customers right off the yard. The car industry went through this many years ago, when the average car price got above $25,000. The car industry had to reinvent leases and all of these things, because people weren’t buying them.
Q: What do you think is causing that trend from ownership to usership?
Market insecurity. The whole consumer confidence index is a very big deal. I think that with elections coming up next year, and Florida being a red state, buyers are insecure. The political circumstances here in Florida are that people like President Trump, and they like Florida’s president of the Senate, Bill Galvano. Our Republican governor, Ron DeSantis, just passed through the Senate a $2 billion infrastructure package for roads being built here in Florida. Things are very positive, yet people are concerned that next year, if a Democrat gets elected, things are going to change.
My personal opinion is that no instability would result from a shift in power from one party to the next. As you know, there have been some very good years under Democrats and excellent years with Republicans, and there are lots of factors to that, but people hold back in their way and they analyze, and they won’t pull the trigger on purchases because they’re concerned that something might change. Like taxes might be increased or something else could change. That’s one of the reasons why people like to rent. They say, “I’m just going to rent to do the project and give it back.”
Another reason why people don’t buy as much anymore (and this is where AED gets involved) is the technician shortage. Let me explain. Thirty years ago, you could fix your own car – now you have to take it to the dealer. I don’t care if it’s a Hyundai or a Mercedes. There’s no way you can fix it on your own now. You have to take it in to a technician to plug in a solution. And that’s the problem. If you buy a piece of machinery, you are dependent on the dealership for support. So people say, “I will just lease them long-term, or rent something for the project, and if I have a problem, I will just send it back. I can’t have my technicians work on it because it is too sophisticated for them.” So not having the technicians is a huge problem in the industry. As a matter of fact, next week I am having Congresswoman Donna Shalala from South Florida come to my office to speak with some of the contractors I work with about workforce development and infrastructure. These things are very important. In Dade County, we have no public schools for heavy equipment technician mechanics. There might be some on the private side, but more educational opportunities are needed.
People go where the money is. I know many mechanics that are making $100,000 a year. That’s a lot of money. With that kind of money, people are going to get involved, especially as a welder or a heavy-duty mechanic. And they do very well, making $35-$45 an hour sometimes. That’s when it’s really going to grow, when we start putting more money into it. And I always say it’s like soccer in America: America is going to be a great soccer team once they start paying LeBron prices. When the kids realize that you can make $35 million a year playing soccer, then America’s going to be the best soccer country. Until the professional opportunities of our profession are made thoroughly known, we will continue to feel the effects of the shortage.
Q: What are the keys to developing the next generation of technicians?
We have to get our local, state and federal government involved in education. I think that’s the most important – there have to be shop and other vocational classes in high school. Thirty years ago, there was always a shop, and people learning how to be carpenters or plumbers, and other relevant things. Back then, not everybody went to college. And sure, not everybody wants to drive a truck either, but there are plenty of great professions in between these opposites.
We have to get the local, state and federal governments to sponsor and train young adults, both females and males, to be technicians. It’s that simple. The only people who are really doing it right now are the large companies like Caterpillar, who have their own schools for people to learn their equipment. But we have to make an effort on the public side, not the private side.
Q: How do you deepen your relationships with your customers and staff?
I like to call people. I am on the phone every day, from when I get in the car in the morning at 7 a.m. to when I get home at 6 p.m. I am always on the phone. I like to call my customers at least once a week. I just got those little iPods, and I ran the battery down the first day I had them.
What I teach my people here is, don’t call a customer up and ask him or her what they are going to buy from you today. Instead, call and see how their kids are. See how their wife is. See how the divorce is going. Talk about the Dolphins, or anything besides business. Establishing a rapport ensures that when the client is close to a deal, they will want to keep talking to you. Don’t talk about work and don’t talk about invoices, talk about things that are important to them, so when they need something, you’ll be their first call. Not that you can source everything for them every time, but you will be at the top of the list. And that’s a big secret to MECO’s success, is the relationships with our customers. When a client calls you, you answer the phone. It can get annoying at times on nights and weekends. And I get plenty of calls before 6 a.m. in the morning. But you have to answer the phone, and you have to call people. I’m not big into texting. Selling our services indirectly is a big key to our success every year. We are very fortunate. Here in Miami we compete against the largest manufacturers, the Cats, the Komatsus, and the John Deeres. And we work with the largest construction contractors of South Florida. We have very good relationships with the largest companies in Miami, we’ve done business with all of them.
Q: Looking back, what’s one piece of advice you would give yourself?
My initial response to this question was to recommend learning more about technical information in reference to the different machines. But I don’t like that answer. What I really should’ve done is gotten involved with AED a long time ago. AED gives us the tools to learn about the industry. Let me explain. I graduated from college, I have an MBA, I can tell you about finances, I can tell you about statistics. But when I graduated, I could not tell you about the industry and how it has changed over the years. Or how every day my guys are texting more about contracts, for example. Everything now is done with a phone. It is amazing how technology is constantly changing our industry. Now, in all fairness, I am AED’s vice president of membership and am on the organization’s board. I speak to my friends, especially on the smaller side, and say, “If you don’t join AED, it is a mistake, because you’re not going to learn about the industry.”
The applied benefits of AED are no joke. We recently found a new CPA through AED. The leadership classes, the small dealership conferences, the conclaves and AED’s Summit are all invaluable to heavy equipment dealerships. If you engage in this association, the benefits are endless.