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Recipe for Growth: the Right People Persistence

Pinnacle's Nina Vaca says that 'being surrounded by the right people' is the No. 1 factor in her company's success.


Name of company: Pinnacle Technical Resources
Name of woman leader: Nina Vaca
Based in: ,
Description: IT staffing, consulting and vendor management firm for Fortune 500 companies.
Launched: 1996
2003 sales: $9 million
2007 sales: $141 million

What was the inspiration for your business?
"It was the right time in the industry and it was the right time for me personally," says Vaca, who established her company in 1996. She'd been working for a New York tech firm that provided talent to Fortune 500 companies. When she moved to Texas to be near her family, Vaca--a third-generation entrepreneur--decided to start her own firm. "The industry was absolutely booming. Technology was at a point where the need for technical talent was just incredible," she says. "There was an incredible demand, and I happened to be in the industry; I saw the opportunity and capitalized on it."

How much did it cost to start the business?
"We're a service organization, so I started from my living room floor in my one-bedroom apartment. It cost me giving up a salary and giving up a fixed income. I opened my first checking account with $300."

How did you grow your business so rapidly?
"Foremost is being surrounded by the right people. One of the biggest jobs a CEO has is to make sure that you have the right people on the bus." Vaca says she's always had an eye for talent. Anyplace--from airplanes to Rotary functions--is a venue for a potential hire. The second criterion is persistence. "I'm just the kind of person that never takes no for an answer. I know that if the front door's locked, I should try the back door, and if the back door's locked, I can try a window or the garage."

How and why did you reinvent your business after 9/11?
"In 2001 we were a victim of the industry and the economic times. People weren't using staff augmentation anymore. They were laying off," Vaca recalls. Preferring to view the glass as half full, Vaca saw an opportunity in the many industry layoffs. "There were so many people being laid off. (I) leveraged, looked and sought out some of the best people I could find and convinced them that we could change the business direction, change the model and come out kicking. And that's what we did. We diversified into a consulting firm as opposed to a staffing firm. We picked a niche--it was data warehousing--and we came out of 2001 and 2002 doubling and tripling revenue."

You developed your own software--was that a turning point for the business?
"It was an incredible turning point for the company. About six years ago we started developing our own proprietary solution--really, initially, to absorb our internal growth. I think we grew one year from 50 to 500 people. We have leveraged this proprietary software now in our MSP programs, our vendor management programs. That's the software that we use to manage other suppliers."

How do you balance your family and business responsibilities?
"In order to balance the family and the business, you have to be willing to give up a lot of your own time," Vaca says. She wakes at the crack of dawn to get a workout in, and typically gets most of her work done after her four children are asleep. In between, she makes sure the family eats breakfast and dinner together.

Vaca travels frequently, but a vast majority are turnaround trips. "I can go to New York and back in one day," she says.

Vaca's extended family also helps out. "My brother lives a mile away; my other brother lives a mile and a half away. My mother uses an airplane like a car, and my husband is an angel. We manage; it takes the entire family. I think my children are very adaptable, and we don't miss a beat."

"I do try to be both, in terms of a business executive and a good mother." Sometimes, she says, that means waking up at 5 a.m. to bake cupcakes for the bake sale. "There are mornings when I have an 8 a.m. meeting downtown and then I'll have a 10 a.m. teacher's conference and then I'll go back and have a business lunch. I do whatever it takes. You have to be willing to make it happen."

Do you have a funny story about juggling kids and work?
For a speaking engagement at the women's museum in Dallas, she took her daughters--ages 7 and 8--with her. "I came home early, and we got all dolled up together. We put our gloss on and did our hair and we had a new little purse to take. They were so cute that night that the museum asked me for permission to use them in marketing materials," Vaca says.

After a speaking engagement at SMU, she says, "both of my daughters ran up to the podium. The eldest put her hands on the podium--"much like I always do," Vaca says--and introduced herself and her sister, who then took her own turn at the podium. "Ninety percent of people are afraid to speak in public. ... There's nothing more powerful than that silent example," Vaca says.

What's on your iPod?
Hanna Montana and High School Musical

What books are you reading?
The Age of Turbulence, by Alan Greenspan

What's your advice to aspiring entrepreneurs who want to grow their business?
Vaca says the best thing she did to grow her business was join a variety of organizations. "You'll know which one speaks to you," she says. "I find that the chambers and the women's business councils can serve as a very good venue for networking to find like-minded people who just naturally want to see you succeed."

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