Lorenzo Gomez is the ultimate success story. From working in the stock room of a grocery store and somehow able to parlay relationships and hard work into becoming an executive at multiple companies. We sat down and chatted with Lorenzo about book publishing, cilantro and inspiration.
You published a book called The Cilantro Diaries: Business Lessons From The Most Unlikely Places. Tell us about the unusual title?
The title comes from a story of when I worked in the produce department of a grocery store. One day, my mother came home from shopping at my store. She was very excited to tell me that she had seen my picture above the cilantro and that she was so proud of me. I was very embarrassed and realized that I wanted to do something worthy of having my picture above the cilantro, not just because I worked there.
I tried very hard to find a relatable story for every business principle in the book, so the reader could see how they can apply those principles in their lives. It’s one thing to read about the concept of Six Sigma; it’s quite another to read about it through the lens of bagging groceries. This is what I tried to do in the book.
You went from the stockroom of a grocery store to an executive at multiple companies. What is the secret?
I think it’s the discovery that having a successful career is a team sport. This realization led to one of the biggest principals in the book: Everyone needs a personal board of directors, the idea that if you don’t have a Jedi council, even just one person you can trust, you are going to fail. One wise counselor is worth more than having ten PhDs in your corner. I think we are conditioned to believe that all the great business people did it by themselves, which is categorically false. If you push back the curtain of their lives, you will find they all had a personal board, even if it was just one person.
What is the biggest lesson you took away from your childhood?
Who your friends are matters. The people you hang out with will influence you, regardless if you want them to or not. Your parents will not always be there to control who brings ideas into your life. The number one group that will have that effect is your friends, so you need to pick wisely. Picking the right friends can mean the difference between getting a good job or going to jail. I was very fortunate, as a child, to avoid some bad influences and pick good friends that ended up carrying me into the technology world.
What is your mission is life?
I have two missions in life. One is very personal and one is very macro. My personal mission is to give hope to people from a similar background as mine. I grew up in a rough neighborhood and don’t have a college degree. I want to inspire people from my background and from my neighborhood to think they can do it, too. I think it’s the essence of the American dream, that you can be dealt a bad hand and still make the most of it to do great things.
My second mission is San Antonio. Right now, San Antonio is undergoing a renaissance and I am so inspired by it. I think very few people get to participate in changing a city in their lifetime and that is exactly what I am a part of right now, with the work I do. Both of the companies I work for and The Cilantro Diaries are my way to give back to the city that gave so much to me. I think my story and the story of San Antonio are both stories of the underdog. And anyone who feels like an underdog, or grew up in an underdog city, will hopefully be inspired by the work. It is my great hope that they will go on to do bigger and better things that I have.
What does a day in the life look like for you?
Every morning I get up, have my coffee and do my quiet time. This normally consists of reading my Bible and praying. People are often surprised by my religious background but it’s an undeniable part of my story. I always tell people that I need the love of God the way a dying man needs the hospital.
The rest of my day is the classic 80/20 rule, which is a battle for me. On a good day, I will spend my time on the 20% that makes a difference and truly inspires me, things like writing, solving complex issues, and nurturing the relationships that matter in my life and work.
On bad days, the 80% wins. This is the 80% of activities that do not have as big an impact but still need to be done, things like emails and attending meetings that destroy your soul because they don’t matter to the mission.
What is the inspiration behind your work?
I have two inspirations. The first is that I have several nephews and nieces and I wanted to write something that I could pass on to them that would help and inspire them. If I could go back in time and give this book to myself at age 18, I would and add this note, “Let me save you some pain.”
The second inspiration is Geekdom, the coworking space where I work. I never really thought of myself as an artist until I met a building full of entrepreneurs. Here are all these people walking around, chasing their dreams and saying things like, “Why do we have to do it that way? Let’s change it.” I have come to believe that all entrepreneurs are artists because they seek to create something that is missing from the world. Working at Geekdom for 4 years has given me the courage to set out on the journey to finish my book. It was the first time I truly believed it was possible for me.
When things get rough, how do you focus and stay centered?
When the world gets rough in my personal life, I run to my faith. It is the strong tower that keeps me safe and sane. I think Victor Frankl writes well about spirituality in his famous book, Man’s Search for Meaning. I also lean heavily on my personal board of directors during the tough seasons of life. I am comfortable these days picking up the phone and asking a board member for help. I have literally called board members and asked, “Am I self-deceived in this situation?” or “Will you please let me vent so I don’t do something stupid that I am going to regret?”
I also think that everyone needs to figure out how they best recharge. For me, I have come to realize that I recharge when I am by myself. So, for me, having regular periods of uninterrupted solitude is essential for my emotional health.
What’s your life motto?
“If in doubt, there is no doubt.” This is a principle in the book that came from my father. The reason that it’s my motto is that I have a tendency to overthink everything and doubt myself. At its base level, it means “trust your gut.”
What inspires you?
The power of storytelling. When I see a story told well, it gives me chills. It can be as simple as a well-written song, a TED talk, or a documentary. I grew up in a family of storytellers, but I had no idea how powerful a tool it could be until I became an executive. I remember a mentor of mine telling me, “No one remembers data. You can show a slide with data and people will forget it as soon as they leave the room. But tell a man a story and he will come back 30 years later and repeat it, word for word.” To me, storytelling is the greatest way to sell an idea and ideas are what change the world.
What is the best advice you have ever been given?
The best advice ever given to me was by my boss and mentor, Graham Weston. It’s the notion that, in work, we all want the same thing. To quote Graham, “We all want to be valued members of a winning team on an inspiring mission.” When you look at Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, you will see that self-actualization is on the very top. I believe that Graham’s philosophy is the greatest articulation of self-actualization. When people are unhappy with their work or leave their job, I believe it is because one or more of the three parts has broken down. This advice has forever changed how I view work.