How This Immigrant Entrepreneur Is Helping Others Achieve the American Dream
Mercedes Concepcion-Gray started working at age 15, and she’s never stopped. Growing up in the Dominican Republic, she made her own money by teaching other kids English and tutoring them in math. At 21, with two suitcases, $200 in her pocket, an engineering degree and relatives willing to house her, she moved to the United States and entered the corporate arena -- rising the ranks in tech, while building new teams and business units, and helping expand in Latin American markets. But her real ambition was to own a business, and after two decades of corporate life, she decided to finally venture out as a franchisee of Patrice & Associates, a recruiting search firm for the hospitality industry with 140 offices across the country. Today, she runs her Atlanta location while doing even more to help her fellow franchisees.
You’re a franchisee, running your own office out of Atlanta. But you’re also Patrice & Associates’ regional developer, working with franchisees in your area. What have both roles taught you?
The regional developer part of my job is all about helping franchisees succeed. Every business owner is different, and every business owner has different goals. It’s important to understand, from the beginning, what success looks like to them -- because I can’t coach everybody the same way. As for being a franchisee myself, I came in with a large scope of experience and very quickly realized that I had to start sweeping the floors all over again. Business ownership is humbling.
What’s the key to franchisee success in this industry?
Sometimes people think that buying a franchise means they’re going to be immediately successful. It gives you a framework of infrastructure so you don’t start from zero, but for the industry we’re in, the most important part of the business is hiring the right people. Our whole job is hiring and recruiting for other businesses, but we also hire people to work for us -- and we have to apply those same standards to ourselves times a thousand.
Empowering Hispanic women is a priority for you. What steps do you take to do that?
When I was first considering starting my own business, I attended an event by the Latin America Association for empowering Latina women. They do a lot of work helping women launch businesses, and a lot of them are grassroots businesses by first-generation immigrants -- sometimes in the food industry, like making tamales. Now I’m engaging with the organization as a speaker, participating in their events and workshops that help the Latina community. I look for opportunities wherever I can to share my experience, help write résumés, or think through a business plan. It’s the whole idea that there’s nothing you can’t conquer if you really want it.
What’s your number one piece of advice for women who are just starting their careers or thinking of launching a business?
Figure out what drives you and where your passion is. About 20 years ago, when I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do, someone gave me a trick. Create two columns on a piece of paper, and for seven days, anytime you’re doing something and you feel joy, write it down in one column. Anytime you’re doing something and you feel down, write it in the other. At the end of the week, go back and see what emerges. When you’re coming from a place of passion, you’re going to shine.