Leading the Family Business by Looking to the Future
Marcos Gutierrez ’18 applies lessons he learns in the MBA program directly to his growing tech business
At 6:00 a.m., Marcos Gutierrez wakes up in southwest Austin and begins his weekday. He rouses his three-year-old daughter from bed, makes her a bowl of cereal and sits down to eat breakfast. Marcos’ wife, Simran, takes care of their six-month-old baby while he walks the three-year-old to school. By 8:00 a.m., Marcos is at the office. As the CEO of QA Systems Incorporated, Marcos has a long day of project review, cost analysis and strategy development ahead of him.
By 6:30 p.m., Marcos is heading home. He drops the dog off at the house (the boxer accompanies him to work), greets his family and then heads out the door. He drives to Munday Library and works on school assignments until midnight. Balancing MBA coursework with his company and family life is not easy, but Marcos is used to long days and little sleep. He has been working at QA Systems, now an audiovisual integration company, since a young age.
Marcos’ father, Marcos Gutierrez Sr., started QA Systems in 1990 as an IT company, selling thousands of computers across the state, and at age 11, Marcos spent his summers working at the family business. He learned to build and repair computers and printers while other kids were visiting the city pool and playing games at summer camp. By the time Marcos enrolled at the University of Texas at Austin as a Spanish and French student, he was working as a repair technician for QA Systems part-time, traveling around the city and state for clients.
Upon graduation, Marcos dedicated himself to the family business full-time as a technician. When he transitioned to CEO, Marcos focused on high-end networking and company growth. Reeling from the dot-com bubble burst in 2000 and a staff reduction of 50 employees in 1999 to four employees in 2001, Marcos strategized how to shepherd the company into the future, with sustainable advancement. “I took over and started developing the services part of the company,” he said, “instead of just selling computers.”
This leap into providing a service, versus providing a product, allowed Marcos to respond quickly to customer needs. In 2007, his clients started requesting audiovisual design integration for conference rooms and boardrooms, and now, this is the focal point of his business. Although Marcos’ father has moved on to other entrepreneurial ventures, they still meet a few times a week to discuss major decisions. “He’s taught me everything I know about running the company – since I was a kid,” he said. “Luckily, the apple hasn’t fallen far from the tree.”
Now that Marcos is back in school pursuing his Master of Business Administration, he gains new perspectives in company culture, strategic vision and change management, and he continues the family tradition – his father also earned his MBA from St. Edward’s University in 1983. Marcos’ classes, particularly Business Negotiation with Professor Tony Alvarado and the Management courses with Dr. Mary Dunn, have taught him how to establish a vision for the organization, how to resolve difficult interpersonal conflicts and how to prepare employees for change – something he says is necessary for small businesses to stay relevant in the tech industry.
Since 2001, QA Systems has grown to 25 employees, and this growth is not by accident. Marcos understands that as he learns and grows in the MBA program, in courses ranging from Accounting for Managers to Marketing Management in a Digital Environment, so too must his employees grow. Following the dot-com bubble burst, Marcos focused on employee education and technical certification to give the company an edge against its competitors. “In one of our conference rooms, we have a wall, and it says, ‘Always learning’ on it,” he said. “I challenge all of my employees to get certified.” Now, frames of employee certifications fill the conference room wall.
“I told my professor – when people ask me why I’m in the MBA when I already have a business – I say, well, because of this Managing Dynamic Organizations class (taught by Dr. Mary Dunn). This class teaches me what I need to know to grow my business, have the right people in place and pursue the vision that I have for the company.”
Marcos says he benefits from MBA coursework on strategic growth and talent management, but he tries to apply each class to transforming his business. He also learns from his MBA peer group. From seasoned executives to young professionals, Marcos’ classmates bring different perspectives to the lectures, and this diversity helps him prepare for issues in the workplace. “It’s very important to learn to really adapt and speak to people with different personalities,” he said. “(In the program), you get to mix and intermingle with different people.”
He and his classmates hold each other accountable, even when personal life gets hectic, and although some of them are younger, with experiences markedly different from Marcos’, he recognizes what they bring to the classroom and what they can bring to the city of Austin. This convergence of experience helps him envision the future of QA Systems Incorporated and define the road ahead, but if there is one thing Marcos knows, it is that change is a constant in both business and technology.
Over the course of almost 30 years, QA Systems has transformed its business model three or four times to keep up with Austin’s ever-changing tech landscape, but being a local, family-run business has helped Marcos build relationships and serve the community and state in unique ways. The company has done business with the Austin Independent School District for 20 years and has even expanded its services to the Houston market.
With business booming and MBA courses filling in the schedule gaps, Marcos says his success is a group effort. “My wife is the one that’s really taken the brunt of the hit, and she works as well,” he said. “I couldn’t do it without her.” And although it pains him to spend five minutes at home between the office and library, Marcos says it’s for them – for his family and young children and for his growing business.