Maria de Lourdes Sobrino is CEO of Lulu’s Dessert and a Hall of Fame Award honoree. She served as a keynote panelist at this year’s National Association of Women Business Owners’ Women’s Business Conference. Sobrino founded Lulu’s in 1982 based on her mother’s recipe. It was the first company to bring ready-to-eat gelatin to the U.S. marketplace, and it was named one of the top 500 Hispanic Businesses in the U.S. In her book, “Thriving Latina Entrepreneurs in America,” Sobrino writes about her strategy and the business success stories of seven other Latina entrepreneurs. I talked to her about her views on leadership and the importance of community to a successful business.
What is your leadership philosophy?
I stay focused in the direction I want to take my company. One way of leadership is setting an example to your own staff and staying always in communication with them. I also try to attend seminars and be involved with other business owners so I can learn from them and bring new ideas to my business.
What inspired you to write your book, “Thriving Latina Entrepreneurs in America?”
When I first contemplated the idea of writing a book, I was in Washington D.C. One of my mentors, Dr. Sharon Freeman, suggested that I should share my story for my Hispanic community, and also I had requests from many conferences and speaking engagements I have been part of. Many people asked me for advice about starting their businesses, and I realized that my story was inspirational and that I could make it instructional.
It took me three years to put together the book, and it was a great satisfaction for me to learn the process and the research. I have met a lot of people around the country. The book has opened many doors, and I feel blessed to help others with my advice. I am also thinking now that my second book will be in Spanish.
What are the challenges of being a Latina entrepreneur or business owner in the United States?
I am in an industry controlled by men, but that does not intimidate me. Yes, I have had many challenges specifically because people might think that as a woman you are weaker or more sensitive when you make decisions. I have learned through the years how to handle obstacles, and I do not let them bother me anymore. I was the founder of this category — ready-to eat-desserts — and I feel that I am a contributor to the food industry. You need to always think and use as an advantage that you are a woman and a Latina in business
In your book, you write that women do not need to come to the U.S. to start a business, and encourage them to start a business in their home countries. What are your reasons for encouraging women to begin their ventures at home?
To have financial freedom and feel that they are contributors to their families and the economy. I want to see women making progress, and one way to do it is having their own business.
What advice would you give to a woman planning to start her own business?
There are many resources these days to find information — from the Internet, organizations like NAWBO (National Association of Women Business Owners), taking seminars and networking at business events. Do your homework first and decide your niche. It is very important to feel satisfied in the area you will spend many years of your life.
Your ready-to-eat gelatin products are based on your mother’s recipe. How does family and community play a part in your business strategy?
For me it is very important. I decided to become an entrepreneur because of the example I received from my grandparents and my parents. I received their support in the beginning and still today. I get involved with the community for many reasons: First, they are my customers, and second, I want to share my experience with others so they can improve faster in their businesses.