2001 Horatio Alger Award Winner
"You must first embrace your hopes and dreams and have a positive attitude about yourself before you can change the attitudes and behaviors of others."
Born in 1952 in New Mexico, Linda Alvarado, the only daughter in the Martinez family, was raised with five brothers by parents who had high expectations for all their offspring. Their first home was adobe, which did not have indoor plumbing for several years and was heated by wood stoves. Unfortunately, the house was in a flood plain and the family had to endure being flooded each summer. Eventually, they were able to move to higher ground after Alvarado's father got a government job.
Life for the Martinez family often focused on their church and community. They attended church each day and Alvarado and her brothers were active volunteers. Her parents also gave their children pride in their heritage. 'They reminded us of our rich history of Hispanic leadership in the early days of California and throughout the Southwest,' she says. 'They believed one day Hispanics would return to positions of leadership in business and government in America and they wanted us to be prepared for that. They helped us to understand that as Hispanics we would probably be faced with some form of bias in our lives, but that we should never use that as an excuse not to try.'
Alvarado thrived in the competitive environment her parents created. She joined her brothers as a leader in sports and was named Girl Athlete of the Year during her senior year. When she was young, Alvarado's mother told her that her gift to her daughter was giving her enough time to study rather than do housework. But in high school, all the children were expected to have jobs. Alvarado did her share of babysitting, and she and her younger brother had a lawn service business for a time. She also worked at a cooperative education laboratory, which provided educational support to rural areas. Alvarado worked in the lab's accounting office part time each day after school, and full time in summers.
Alvarado was always an excellent student. She was a member of her high school debate team, which won the state championship. She attended Pomona College in California on a full scholarship, but worked as a laborer for a landscaping company to pay her personal expenses. She graduated with a degree in economics and went to work for a development company in 1971. The developer specialized in large retail, commercial, and housing projects. Alvarado worked as a contract administrator, managing sub-contracts. Her position often put her on the construction site, and soon she discovered the satisfaction of seeing a building design on a blueprint become a structure. Wanting to be more directly involved in the creative process of building, Alvarado began taking classes in estimating, surveying, and computerized scheduling.
Eventually, Alvarado decided it was time to make her dream of starting her own construction company a reality. She quit her job and convinced a small group of people to join her. She began building bus shelters. She also took on the curb and gutter work that large construction companies didn't want. To grow and launch her company into bigger projects, however, she needed capital. Alvarado wrote a business plan and began meeting with leaders. Six banks rejected her request. Eventually, her parents mortgaged their house for $2,500 to give her a small start.
In the beginning, Alvarado signed her proposals 'L. Alvarado,' fearing that if she used 'Linda' she would lose the job simply because she was a woman. She remembers one meeting where she took a male estimator along on a project interview and the clients extended their hands to him, assuming that even though he was very young he was the president of the company. It took 10 years before people stopped asking her, 'Is this your father's company?' Alvarado learned to develop a sense of humor about the bias she faced, and she never let her perceived lack of credibility stop her. Instead, she became even more focused and determined to succeed in a highly male-dominated and competitive industry.
Today, Alvarado Construction has a national client base that includes Fortune 500 companies and specializes in commercial, industrial, telecommunications, and heavy engineering. Company projects include the Colorado Convention Center, the Denver Broncos stadium, an aquarium, and numerous municipal projects, offices, retail space, schools, and transportation facilities. In addition, Linda Alvarado made the history books as the first Hispanic owner of a major league baseball franchise by becoming a partner in the Colorado Rockies.
Alvarado is a fervent believer in encouraging young women to avoid putting limitations on themselves. She addresses many student groups and uses her own story to illustrate her points. 'I've been mistaken for a banker, a secretary, and even the office cleaning woman,' she tells her young audiences, 'but I've never had someone come up to me and tell me I look like a contractor. What is important is not how others see you, but how you see yourself.' Alvarado, who says she is honored to receive the Horatio Alger Award, is looking forward to focusing her attention on the students the Association seeks to assist. 'If I can make a small difference in terms of my story,' she says, 'that would be invaluable to me.'
When asked for her definition of the American Dream, Alvarado says, 'I believe the American Dream is one without gender or race. I still hope for and long for the day when people will be judged on their ability, rather than their background or their gender. We can't let go of that dream. America is a country of immigrants and our nation's success is built not on everybody being alike, but on our diversity.'