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Flight Path

Cooperation in the U.S. - Mexico Border Region feat. Daniel Gutierrez ’14

Owl Have You Know

Season 3, Episode 25

Daniel joins host Maya Pomroy ’22 in this episode to discuss growing up in Mexico in the 80s, how going to Rice Business’ Diversity Preview Weekend changed his life path, his current role at North American Development Bank and more.

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Episode Transcript

  • [00:00] Intro: Welcome to Owl Have You Know, a podcast from Rice Business. This episode is part of our Flight Path Series, where guests share their career journeys and stories of the Rice connections that got them where they are.

    [00:14] Maya: On today's episode of Owl Have You Know, we connect with Daniel Gutierrez, professional MBA of 2014. Born and raised in Mexico, the finance professional shares his flight path, and what brought him to the U.S., Rice University, and what landed him in his current role at North American Development Bank, a binational financial institutioAn established by the governments of the U.S. and Mexico. We discussed the opportunities and collaborative initiatives between the two countries. Daniel also shares how being an international student at Rice shaped him into the leader that he is today.

    Today on Owl Have You Know, our guest is Daniel Gutierrez, professional MBA from the class of 2014. Daniel, thanks for joining us.

    [01:01] Daniel: My pleasure, thank you for having me.

    [01:03] Maya: Absolutely. So, you were born and raised in Mexico and came to the United States in 2009 for a business opportunity and have decided to stay.

    [01:14] Daniel: 13 years and counting, almost.

    [01:16] Maya: So, tell me about your childhood and your upbringing in Mexico and what brought you here to the United States.

    [01:22] Daniel: Sure. Well, I'm a 1979 model in the, kind of, frontier of Generation X and Generation Y. And I, kind of, cannot identify with a particular generation. I think I have characteristics of both in terms of, like, personality. I grew up in the ‘80s. And during that time in Mexico, we’d learned that the Old Bonanza was over. We thought it was going to be lasting for a long, long time. And it turns out that it wasn't the case. It was a time of decentralization, deregulation, privatization, reforms, the idea of new federalism and the, kind of, glimpse of the country walking into what appeared to be a democracy or the first, kind of, glimpses of that.

    It was an interesting time, I think, I remember because we had high inflation, I remember, in 1982, ‘83, when I was like, I don't know, four or five years old. My mother would take me to the groceries and people were, like, relabeling cans of tuna, for instance. And like, I didn't know what was, what was going on. But, you know, it's this inflation, 100% inflation in ’82, I think, and so, on. We didn't have double-digit inflation until like a decade after, I guess.

    So, we grew up, in the ‘80s, this generation, especially in Mexico. Somehow, I think, valuing what we had, being content with what we had, it's interesting when I now see a Milky Way bar, for instance.

    [02:48] Maya: Yes.

    [02:48] Daniel: It was a precious item back then, because we didn't have anything like that when I was raised, right?

    So, Mexico entered into the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade. I think it was in ‘86. So, the economy opened, and then NAFTA after that. That was my childhood growing up in the ‘80s, experiencing huge technological change. If you now think… these new generations think, okay, technological change with, you know, what's happening out there with AI and stuff.

    We did live an incredible period of technological change back then. We didn't have internet. You know, you had to actually walk to the TV to change the channel, you know, things like that, that we, sort of, experienced when we were kids.

    You’re probably contemporaneous to me, I guess. So, you know what I'm talking about, going to the blockbuster, renting a video, waiting for the return.

    [03:36] Maya: Blockbuster, yes, those were the days, the good old days.

    [03:41] Daniel: Exactly. So, I'm a big fan of, you know, that type of culture, the pop culture, keep watching those movies over and over again. I cannot get tired. It reminds me of my childhood. And in the ‘90s, I think it was more like NAFTA, economic opening. And then, I decided, okay, I want to be an economist. It was early in my high school years when I decided I wanted to study economics. So, I applied to ITAM, which is a great school in Mexico. It took me a while to figure it out. Flunked calculus 1 three times, I guess.

    [04:14] Maya: But you didn't give up.

    [04:16] Daniel: No, exactly. And that's so true. And that's part of the story, right? Because I think that the message that I'm trying to bring is, why you want to, you know, pursue an MBA? Or, why you, why me? What is… what makes me special? I think just keep on going, keep trying, keep staying at that effort, right? So, that's what I did in my college years — kept trying. That's one of my big motives that took me through college, that sense of, “I want to do this.” And then, after that, I graduated, I think it was in 2004.

    [04:49] Maya: So, let's back up a little bit, the financial crisis, because we remember what the implications of that here in the United States. Can you tell me a little bit about what it was like in Mexico during that time?

    [05:01] Daniel: Well, it was experienced in the financial sector, mostly, in the beginning, lack of fundings. When I was working in the municipal and state sector, I think the funding dried out completely. So, many states and municipalities were struggling to fund their current expenditures to be able to afford the maintenance for the infrastructure.

    So, it was a challenging time for many states and municipalities in Mexico, and businesses alike. I think many businesses became, you know, bankrupt with lack of funding. Mostly, credit crunch all over the place. And at the time, I think that market certificate insurances were styled for a long time. So, even the ability to fund the long-term, it was completely canceled out.

    I remember when I came to the U.S., you could see it everywhere, even worse than in Mexico, I think. The mortgage industry was completely destabilized. But surprisingly, in Texas, you didn't have much of an effect, although there was. But I think the oil, the shale oil boom during that time, sort of, helped cushion the effect a little while. And especially, I think in the city of San Antonio, there was a lot of empty, you know, warehouses, houses that were abandoned, people asking for, you know, help outside of their parking lots. It was, kind of, a shocking experience to me, just recently being, just recently arriving to the U.S.

    [06:30] Maya: Wasn't what you expected?

    [06:31] Daniel: Yeah. I mean, it was, it was, yeah, definitely surprising, shocking, you know. I got married in 2010, during that transition. So, I came here with my wife and to the state just after a year of being married.

    [06:44] Maya: Newlyweds, that must've been fun. Newlyweds in a new, in a new country.

    [06:49] Daniel: Being just her and myself living, it was, kind of, a big reset. We didn't bring much of our belongings. We sold everything and just started from scratch after a year of being married. She definitely has been my supporter, you know, starting from scratch. Recent newlyweds, you know, it was a reset for us, with great prospects. We wanted to start our family here and stay for as long as possible in Texas. We really like Texas. It's been our 13th year, I think, this 2023. And we look forward to just keep doing what we do.

    Now, we have two kids, a six-year-old girl and a four-year-old boy. They were born here in Texas. So, we now have a family of four and plus our dog that we brought from Mexico. She's an English bulldog. She's 14 years old, and she's still around. She looks like she's half her age.

    [07:46] Maya: So, you're in the United States with your dog, your two beautiful children and your wife.

    [07:51] Daniel: Yes.

    [07:52] Maya: What made you decide to go to business school? So, what was the reason, the catalyst, of why you decided to go to business school? Was it the financial market crisis that you had just watched where you realized that you needed to make a change in your career? Or, what really was the point when you decided, “You know what, I'm going to apply to business school?”

    [08:11] Daniel: I think it is that, yeah, I thought some of my colleagues had experienced the MBA before. And I looked up to them, like, as professionals that are, kind of, more rounded, more assembled. Definitely, you could tell that the MBA provided a boost in their career in terms of, not only technical knowledge, but also leadership abilities. I think that was something that called my attention ever since I met people that have done the MBA studies. So, definitely, career advancement, improved business knowledge, global exposure. Not necessarily the one that's probably in Mexico, but definitely, I was looking for another option that provided me with that global exposure, with more diverse cohort, and personal growth in terms of, okay, how can I develop leadership skills that will take me a bit far from where I was?

    After that, we decided to come to the States. And the process, sort of, stalled. I began looking for business schools at the time. I think it was 2011, 2012. I did my research for my options that were available to me as a part-time program.

    So, I was invited to the Diversity Preview Weekend for Rice the same year. And it, sort of, blew my mind. Even just discussing or meeting the prospective students, you could tell that there were, like, high-caliber students already, or people with, whatever, you know, success-driven, you know, business-oriented.

    And we had this small class. I think it was Prashant Kale, the teacher that did the classroom experience to us. And it blew my mind. Prashant was one of my favorite teachers, not to single out anyone, but Prashant is amazing. And then, that made me decide for Rice. Yes, it was further. And I'll tell you how we did it, my wife and myself, it was three-hours-and-a-half drive from San Antonio.

    So, I was accepted. I went through the program. I did the GMAT twice because I didn't get the score I needed to, kind of, consider myself with good chances of being accepted. So, I retook it. I got the score I needed. It was a great feeling when I received the letter of acceptance, of course, and then figuring how to finance it, because one thing was, you know, okay, you received a lot of acceptance and then how you finance. We had some savings already built in. And it was, kind of, probably enough to pay a couple of semesters. And my wife, I remember she told me, “You know, we'll figure this out. Don't worry. Let's do this.” That's how the adventure started.

    So, she picked me up every Friday. I did the professionals program that happens on Friday and Saturday. I know now they have a hybrid and they have the online program, but I did the professionals program. My cohort had the average of eight years of experience, more or less. It was highly intellectually stimulating to me.

    So, she’d pick me up, with our dog, at my office, and we did the driving for three hours and a half, dropped me at school, took our dog to the pet's place, where we left her. And then, we basically booked a hotel for that night and Saturday night.

    Now, we did it for two years. I think one thing that kept us going is this Dale Carnegie idea of living in day-tight compartments. In this case, it was living in, couple of weeks, tight compartments, maybe just going to school, focusing more than just what was in front of me, and then going to the classroom, doing the homework, doing whatever was needed. And then, you know, marking one week at a time.

    [11:45] Maya: So, that's quite a commitment that you gave to the school, driving back and forth every other weekend with your wife, and really funding this education that has been integral to what you do today. I mean, you know, I think that, if you're talking to other potential candidates who are thinking about Rice, especially from Mexico, what advice, other than just focus on getting in, because obviously that's important, what sort of advice could you give them, the people that are in your shoes, you know, back in 2010?

    [12:22] Daniel: Let me go back to talk about what's happening in the Mexico-U.S. border region. The bilateral commerce has gone from $173 billion in ‘94 to $667 billion in 2021. That is a fourfold figure. Reshoring is happening. Nearshoring is happening. Nearsourcing is happening. It's just a matter of time before… or it's already, you know, the real estate prices in the border are already going up by 50%. And there's a scarcity of talent. Who is going to take the lead of those businesses that establish their offices, headquarters, manufacturing facilities on the border?

    Nearshoring can go as far as possible without the needed talent, without reliable, efficient, and cheap electricity. So, I think, to build the next generation of leaders in Mexico, I think they really have to think where they want to develop their MBA studies or their studies of where they can learn leadership, all their skills that the MBA program grants, critical thinking abilities, all those skills, that will be needed in the, in the next years, in the next 20, 30 years.

    The border region between Mexico and the U.S. is going to become very dynamic. It's probably going to be one of the greatest times to be involved in an MBA program and to use those knowledge to make great things happen in Mexican businesses. With the foreign investments that are coming, think about how the MBA is ranking right now. I was just looking at the Princeton Review recently released rankings. Rice is number one entrepreneurship for the fourth year in a row, number four for the best online program, number five for the best MBA for consulting.

    Some of my classmates are fantastic consultants, I believe, because of what we did during our, you know, experience. We were helping an ovarian cancer organization. We ended up winning the Owl Award due to my classmates’ efforts, as well.

    [14:22] Maya: It was called Ovarcome.

    [14:23] Daniel: Ovarcome, exactly.

    [14:24] Maya: So, can you tell me a bit about Ovarcome and what you did during your time at Rice? It was a different classmate that started that organization, correct?

    [14:31] Daniel: Yes. Runsi, I think that's her name. We chose Ovarcome because the mother of one of my teammates had passed away recently due to ovarian cancer. So, that was a cause that we really cared about. And then, we really needed to figure out a way for Ovarcome to launch and achieve additional funding, increase the share of mind among donors. And then, we basically build a business plan for Ovarcome at that time. I think that element that we had in the Ovarcome, the skin in the game, we were highly invested, due to the fact that one of us was, had the ovarian cancer, very close in their families.

    So, I think that, sort of, helped us push more and offer our all into the consulting process for Ovarcome. And I think the end product was great. We ended up winning the Rice award, the Owl Award, because it was, kind of, an outstanding effort.

    I think that one thing that that process taught me is how teamwork can make a difference. So, the importance of teamwork, definitely, was something that I recognize from what was taught to me at Rice. And I still consider teamwork as one of my important elements in my daily working life. The classroom experience that Rice provided me, I remember it was Vikas Mittal that was saying, “Hey, guys, focus on the slope, not the intercept. Don't worry about achieving the highest paying job. Look for an opportunity that offers you the big slope in terms of growth, in terms of opportunities.”

    And that has been, I think, in my case, at least, how I have grown professionally — by focusing more on an opportunity that allows me to do something that maybe nobody wants to do, the nitty-gritty stuff, the ‘unknowns’ aspect of the business, and such as the asset management aspect of the business. I took over the asset management department when there was a very little activity. We were basically concentrated in public loans, but then renewable energy projects came into the pipeline.

    And then figuring out how to, how to work that asset management side of the business was a fantastic opportunity for me. So, we developed the asset management department at NADBank. I had the opportunity to lead the team, as an interning director for a little while. And now, I'm conducting other efforts as an admin agent and other tasks that are related to asset management as well.

    But I think the idea of understanding that there are opportunities when you learn how to look, where to look, that's something that I learned from Rice, you know. Focus on what's important. One of Mittal’s teachings was, constantly, you know, focus on what's important, what the customer cares. And I think that's another important lesson for me during my MBA years.

    There was another lesson important from… I think he was Clayton Christensen, a book on how will you measure your life, the idea of being aware of the slippery slopes and how can a slippery slope take you through an outcome that you may not want. So, be careful about those slippery slopes. Ethics matter. So, always be mindful of the slippery slopes.

    [17:41] Maya: Well, those are, those are wonderful lessons. And one of the things that I did want to discuss with you is your role as the associate director of asset management for North American Development Bank, which was a cooperation between the United States and Mexico. And you talked about teamwork, right? And about, you know, they say teamwork makes the dream work, right? That little cheesy line. But, you know, it's challenging right now on the border between the United States and Mexico. And what do you think are the biggest misunderstandings in the region? What do you wish that people knew more about?

    [18:16] Daniel: First of all, I think that binational coordination works, regardless of what you hear in the news. And NADBank is a testament for that. I think NADBank has shown that two countries can cooperate with the complexities that are between, you know: water, rights, water shared rights, immigration agenda. There's a bunch of other things that are not necessarily related to the funding of environmental projects.

    But the environmental impact and taking care of the environment is something that NADBank is doing, as we speak, understanding how the new challenges ahead with the nearshoring, reshoring will bring the environment along the U.S.-Mexico border in terms of water usage, in terms of pollution that is coming from the drainage in cities, such as, you know, Tijuana, the security issues along the border as well.

    And there are so many different topics that are out there. But I've come to understand that the binational corporation does exist. And maybe it’s not there in the news for many reasons, but somehow it, sort of, works.

    And then, as an, as an example, we just had a meeting with the three presidents of, you know, U.S., Canada, and Mexico a few weeks ago in Mexico City. And they were discussing what to do with this, you know, huge appetite for investments in the border region and in other parts of the country. You can see housing market for foreign citizens taking off in many areas of the country. So, people are definitely considering Mexico as a retirement. And you think about all those baby boomers that are starting to, you know, think about retiring, and then the new other generations that will retire in the next, you know, 20, 30 years.

    I think Mexico is becoming an interesting place to invest in terms of, like, housing. There are beautiful places to consider as a second home, as a, you know, retirement home. And that is taking off in many areas. You can see the Mayan Riviera, Yucatan Peninsula, Baja California, areas that you, 10 years ago, you would never thought about, like, people from the States establishing their homestead there.

    Well, now, it's happening. And yes, there are news about, you know, insecurity or, you know, drug activity, but those are very focalized. And when you hear about that in the news, it seems like it's all over the place. Well, there are very focalized areas where that is happening. And I think, yes, there are challenges, and in the next decade there will be more, but the international cooperation between U.S. and Mexico will, you know, is going to continue. That is my expectation.

    [20:54] Maya: And so, what are some of your goals for the future in the next five to 10 years? What do you, what are you working on next that you're excited about that you want to share with us?

    [21:01] Daniel: I'm really excited about the applications for artificial intelligence. I've been playing with ChatGPT in the past few weeks, and I'm, you know, ecstatic of what you can do with that thing. Applications, you know, AI applications of all sorts, and how that is going to integrate in our, in our lives, professionally and personally.

    Many people are questioning, hey, you know, when is this going to happen? And, you know, technological change has been there, you know, forever. This is, probably, a new curve that we're going to live. I'm excited about all that, kind of, wave of artificial intelligence that's coming up and reading every debate, copyright issues, schools that are worried that students will use that technology to present their essay, stuff like that. But the real discussion is, how are we going to train the next generation to use or to leverage this technology for the betterment of human being, for the betterment of humanity?

    It's… it is a double-edged sword, perhaps, as maybe Elon Musk has alerted. But I think that singularity, when they talk about AI, sort of, becomes more cautious. It's just, maybe, going to happen eventually. And what are we going to do about it? All those discussions, I'm following them. And the marvel of the capacity in this very early stage of artificial intelligence.

    I'm also interested in expanding more globally in terms of what's out there in, you know, Asia, what's out there in Europe, in Africa. If you look at the population pyramids, the most promising ones are in Africa. In China, not as much, but I think Africa, countries that are actually shaped as a pyramid, they're now less and less. And Africa offers a very promising place for foreign direct investments, for, you know, partnerships, investments like human capital investments, the evolution of solar, the evolution of wind energy, renewable, taking care of the environment, that's just here to stay. I think it's just a matter of time where we continue to see more investments in renewable energy in many areas. There's resource, of course, but now maybe coupled with the energy storage. So, you're going to see a lot of solar-plus-storage happening, perhaps, more in California, perhaps, in Texas, due to the need to get a more reliable network.

    And I think I'm very bullish in terms of the prospects for storage in the next five to 10 years, maybe not only in the U.S. but also in other countries. I think Mexico is also recognizing the importance of renewable energy. Despite the setbacks that we had in the past few years, I'm also very positive that, in the next two to five years, we're going to see more projects becoming, at least starting… you see developers starting to look at the sector for the next two to five years. So, I think we should also keep looking at the sector, regardless of the public policy situation right now in Mexico.

    [24:08] Maya: So, lots of, lots of exciting things ahead.

    [24:10] Daniel: Hopefully, yes.

    [24:12] Maya: Lots of things to look forward to. Well, Daniel, thank you. Thank you so much for your time today. It was, it was a pleasure talking with you.

    [24:18] Daniel: Likewise.

    [24:19] Maya: And we'd love to stay in touch, you know, next couple of years. We'll see where your path takes you.

    [24:24] Daniel: Thank you, Maya. Thank you for your time today. It was a pleasure.

    [24:29] Maya: Thanks for listening. This has been Owl Have You Know, a production of Rice Business. You can find more information about our guests, hosts, and announcements on our website, business.rice.edu. Please subscribe and leave a rating, wherever you find your podcasts. We’d love to hear what you think. The hosts of Owl Have You Know are myself, Maya Pomroy, and Scott Gale.

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