By Jay Gonzales –
Passionate Visionary Entrepreneur
As a newcomer in a foreign land, Cecilia Mata didn’t have much to work with other than the support of her family, her desire to succeed, and her belief that she could become a successful businesswoman.
The native of Panama moved to Sierra Vista as a military spouse whose husband was stationed at Fort Huachuca. She found herself in unfamiliar territory both geographically and culturally. She had left behind a corporate career in Panama and now was a foreigner in the United States without a job.
What to do?
“I came with the vision to start a business − but I didn’t know what it would be,” Mata said of her relocation to the U.S. in 2000. “I had to learn the culture, practice humility, listen wisely, and learn and absorb everything I could from American business practices to human behavior.”
If that’s the formula for business success, Mata would do well to bottle it and sell it as she has founded two companies and purchased another. The two she started are in the highly competitive, male-dominated defense industry and security services sector, and she purchased an engineering and manufacturing design company specializing in unmanned aerial systems. Now, rather than market her expertise, she has chosen to share it by mentoring aspiring businesses in Tucson and Southern Arizona.
“She is a symbol of hard work and motivation,” said Lea Marquez Peterson, president and CEO of the Tucson Hispanic Chamber of Commerce where Mata currently serves as board chair. “She is constantly striving to help fellow business owners while expanding her own business. She’s is remarkable.”
The road was difficult but amazingly short for someone with little to no background in the businesses she started and purchased and no contacts in this country other than her family. Born and educated in Panama – she holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in business administration − her first job in the U.S. was as a program coordinator at UA South, the University of Arizona’s branch campus in Sierra Vista. From there she took a job at Cochise County Workforce Development.
“Those experiences prepared the path that I followed to open my first business in the United States,” Mata said. “When I looked around, I thought, ‘Who is the major employer here?’ Of course, it was Fort Huachuca and the large, established defense corporations Raytheon, Northrop Grumman, General Dynamics, Lockheed Martin and others.
“I did my homework and I found my niche as a small, minority and woman-owned business. It was not long after that I resigned from my job and started my own business from scratch.”
It was in 2005 that Mata formed her first company − AllSource Global Management − entering the realm of government contracts in the emerging industry to fight the global war on terrorism.
“I knew I had to have a business plan and I had to know where the money was going to come from,” Mata said. “I opened my doors without having any contracts and with no income stream. I implemented a 401(k) plan, a healthcare plan, set up payroll, and developed an employee handbook. When the first employee came through the door, I wanted him or her to feel he or she was joining a company that had all the benefits.”
AGM started with two employees and has averaged about 300 employees over the last five years, with past and current operations in Arizona, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Nebraska and Texas.
Mata went on to establish a joint venture in 2010 − Global Eagle Security − which provides security personnel and systems for government and private industry. This year, Mata purchased BrockTek, which designs and manufactures aerial and ground vehicles for military and defense applications.
When she formed AGM, Mata said she was well aware that she was entering a male-dominated industry with little background, and that getting government contracts was highly competitive and full of nooks and crannies in the rules and regulations that can make it tough to land contracts. Yet she said the environment in Sierra Vista was conducive to small business at the time − which gave her confidence she was headed in the right direction with her business plan.
“I believed in what I was doing,” she said. “I wanted to be successful and was willing to work hard to make it happen. In the beginning, I was unknown and lacked credibility within the defense industry. Over time, I established myself within the community, built up my professional credibility by providing excellent services, and began to grow my business in line with my vision.”
In addition to being the visionary and overseer of three companies, Mata also takes the time to pass on her experience, wisdom and vision to up-and-coming businesses through the Tucson Hispanic Chamber of Commerce by developing and managing a series of seminars for small businesses and individuals on how to procure government contracts.
She was named the 2013 Hispanic Chamber Business Woman of the Year, the 2016 Minority-Owned Small Business Champion of the Year by the Arizona Small Business Association, and this summer, an outstanding Latina entrepreneur by Cox Communications.
“Our board identified Cecilia as someone with great leadership skills that we wanted to engage within our chamber,” Peterson said. “She relayed to our staff her passion around procurement and helping other women-owned and minority-owned businesses tackle the complex process of government contracts. We designed a series of procurement workshops for our members facilitated by Cecilia right away.”
With all of that going on, Mata, now a single mom, also managed to raise a daughter who may well be following in her footsteps. Her daughter will graduate from the University of Arizona Eller College of Management as an accounting major with a minor in global entrepreneurship.
“I told my daughter to do what she’s inspired to do. Follow your intuition,” Mata said. “She said to me, ‘I want to see the world and gain experience in international business.’ My daughter is bright, articulate and knows what she wants to do. I have taught her a great deal about business and provided her with the tools she needs to develop and fulfill her dreams. She now knows how to fish. I can’t wait to see what she catches.”