Gettin' Jiggly With It

Entering a market dominated by a certain hyphenated superbrand and Bill Cosby's mug is no picnic.

Bring up the subject of Mexican immigrants living in poverty, and Maria de Lourdes Sobrino will step onto her soap box and give you a thoughtful lecture. Understand, this relentless woman doesn't believe in being a victim and never has. And in her 47 years, Sobrino has gone from making her family proud to making their jaws drop in disbelief.

You'd think it was a Lifetime drama series, but these are merely snapshots of Sobrino's rise to president and CEO of LuLu's Dessert Factory in Huntington Beach, California. Unlike the ready-to-eat snacks that Sobrino produces, her success didn't come perfectly packaged. But it did come from scratch.

"My family in Mexico calls me the adventurer," says Sobrino, a woman whose smile doesn't reflect the hurt she felt when relatives scoffed at some of the choices she made. Not only did Sobrino stay in the United States after she opened a Los Angeles branch of her Mexico City-based travel and convention management company in 1981, but she also chose to start a gelatin company when the travel business went the way of the peso in 1982. "`Gelatina?' they'd say," recalls Sobrino. "It was like my family was a bit ashamed of me after being a business administrator and in the tourism business."

But don't be fooled. The eldest of five children strayed from the pack long before she built a $9.2 million business based on the gigantic, wiggly ringmolds her mother had made for social gatherings in Mexico. Although the culture in Mexico dictated that children follow their parents' career paths, writing depositions and researching case studies didn't appeal to Sobrino, daughter of an attorney and relative to many more. Instead, amidst earning degrees in accounting and business administration, she opened a flower shop in a nearby hotel, and then another after marrying at 21.

But peddling flora wasn't getting Sobrino any closer to her true goal. "My dream since I was very young was to live in the United States," she says. Leaving floristry behind to start a travel and convention firm handling corporate accounts in San Francisco, Miami and Las Vegas seemed just the ticket.

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This article was originally published in the January 2000 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Gettin' Jiggly With It.

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