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My Journey to Fortune's Ten Most Powerful Women Entrepreneurs List

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When Fortune Magazine notified me that I was selected as one of the 2013 Ten Most Powerful Women Entrepreneurs in the United States, I froze. As I accepted with a grateful heart, my mind was racing when thinking about my journey, which began when I emigrated from El Salvador to the U.S. as a child with my parents to pursue a better life and an education. With this laser focus, I pursued my degree at the University of Houston. Ultimately, I received that precious BA from U of H. While attending college, I accepted an offer to work with a large company in the waste removal industry. As I clocked more hours with this company, I developed a passion for the company and the industry. I even coined a phrase, "When I see waste, I see opportunity!" Additionally, I envisioned myself as a business owner.

Upon graduation, that vision became a reality, as I founded Nation Waste, Inc. with the purchase of two waste removal trucks and with a mindset to provide an optimal-level of customer service. I had a unique opportunity to prove this mindset when Hurricanes Katrina and Ike hit the Houston area. I made a critical decision that solidified my reputation for providing superior customer service by sending trucks and employees to the most devastated areas to help those that needed it the most. Rather than focus on profit, I focused on the people and service delivery, as I reduced profits to break-even levels.

Today, built on superior customer service and a fearless determination, Nation Waste, Inc. has been in operation for 15 years and provides waste removal services for a 200-mile stretch surrounding the Houston area. Nation Waste Inc. (NWI) is a fully-certified waste solutions provider specializing in commercial and industrial solid waste removal and recycling services. We are one of the first female, Hispanic-owned waste removal companies in the United States in a predominantly male industry.

Instrumental in my success has been my faith, family, friends, and remarkable partners, such as the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses program. As one of the first companies accepted into the program in Houston, I was elated and intimidated at the same time. Then, that Maria Rios fearless determination kicked in! Unquestionably, I was surprised by the amount of practical knowledge that I gained in a relatively short period of time. I learned the importance of enhancing business models and making my business more sustainable. The bottom line is this program has provided a robust foundation for increasing my business capacity and growth.

During the 10KSB program, I applied my newly-polished skills to renegotiate and extend three large contracts. As a Goldman Sachs Scholar (graduate), I have expanded operations and diversified our product line, which has resulted in a multi-million dollar contract with the City of Houston. In the beginning, we had two trucks. Today, we continue to add to our fleet of over 20 trucks and over 300 varieties of portable sanitation facilities for our newly-formed portable sanitation department.

The Goldman Sachs program has also deepened my appreciation for our X-factor, our people. Our people are more dedicated, motivated, and energized than our competitors. I strongly believe that happy employees result in happy customers, and we have both. With all this personal and professional growth, we have expanded into new segments, and we have increased our capacity to satisfy new governmental and commercial customers.

As my business has grown exponentially, I realize that I have struck a healthy and productive balance between my career and family. This was another golden lesson provided by the 10KSB curriculum. I am blessed with a husband who supports me in all my projects and three wonderful children who appreciate our efforts.

With all my accolades, I have never forgotten my community. Goldman Sachs inspired all scholars to embark on civic leadership opportunities. For me, this has made all the difference. Today, I serve as an Executive Board Member for the Houston Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, the largest Hispanic Chamber in the United States. We have combined business strategy with opportunity by sponsoring research by students at the high school or collegiate level to explore environmental issues as well as alternate energy sources from landfills.

My vision for Nation Waste continues to grow as we plan to expand to other local, national and global markets. My philosophy is to "find a need and fill it." We know that waste will always be there and someone (us) needs to pick it up!

With all my successes, I have never forgotten the company's beginnings 15 years ago. Every day, when I see my fleet of trucks, I never forget about the first two and the dreams I set out to accomplish. Back then, I had glass ceilings that were miles up. Now, they are within reach, and I am thrilled that I shattered another one today.

This post is part of a series of posts by Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses graduates to recognize Hispanic Heritage Month. For more information on Hispanic Heritage Month click here. Goldman Sachs is a partner of the What Is Working: Small Businesses section.