2014 Hispanic Vetrepreneur of the Year
Success in life wasn’t a given for Rogelio “Roger” Reyes. He didn’t grow up in a life that necessarily breeds success, but that didn’t stop him. His journey from the inner city of Miami to the U.S. Marines Corps to business owner has been a long and sometime arduous road. But these days, he has his own business, SDV Recon, a government and corporate contractor that specializes in supplying and moving aerospace parts around the world, thriving and poised for extensive growth. He has built his business from scratch to revenues of more than $27 million in only six years.
Reyes, and his business partner Dan Cain, have their eyes set on even larger growth in the coming years. In the meantime, Reyes has garnered another honor. He is NaVOBA’s first Hispanic Vetrepreneur of the Year. The honor, presented in conjunction with Hilton Worldwide, is bestowed on a Hispanic-American veteran who demonstrates the finest attribute crucial in leading a flourishing business; sustained business growth and success; and extensive aspirations to cultivate veteran entrepreneurship.
IN THE BEGINNING
As a 10-year-old boy, Reyes moved with his family from Puerto Rico to Miami. While he didn’t have a troubled youth himself, he grew up in an environment surrounded by influences that could have taken his life in a much different direction. But as he tells it, he was stronger than that, and he knew it, even at an early age.
“You would see all of the ups and downs. You’d see the people who did have success and you would see the people who had been through struggles,” he remembers. “I knew that my ambition was what was going to take me somewhere where I could say, ‘Look, Mom. Look where we’re at.’”
His ambition kept him focused on his future and away from the other elements around him. “To stay away from trouble, I went to school,” he says. “I went to school in the daytime, even, summer school. Before I knew it, I graduated high school at 16 years old.”
Armed with an early diploma, he was a still a kid not knowing what to do with his life until his mother and grandmother convinced him to go to junior college. “I asked, ‘What’s that?,’” He eventually found out and went to Miami-Dade Junior College for one year. But he still wanted more out of life.
THE MARINES CHALLENGE
He started noticing many of his relatives beginning to join different branches of the military. “At a family gathering one day I asked them why they were all joining all of the forces except the Marines,” he recalls. “They all said, ‘No, no, no one’s going to join that.’ So I said, ‘Well, if you guys won’t I guess I’ll be the only one.’”
He took on the challenge at 17 years old. In February 1981 he found himself in enlisted boot camp. That was the start of a 26-year, four-month career in the Corps. “I was always looking to excel. While in the Marines I saw some officers who inspired me, and wanted to become an officer and make my mother proud and to give those around me something positive to follow,” he says.
Reyes credits his time in the Corps for a great deal of his success. He entered with only one year of junior college under his belt, but he learned so much more during his service. “I got my education through the Marine Corps,” he points out.
“I had reached gunnery sergeant when I saw a window of opportunity open up in the meritorious commission program and applied,” he says. “I got selected and eventually became lieutenant in 1997. Ten years later I was a captain, woke up one day and decided I’m done. My body pretty much told me it was over.”
In between, of course, Reyes had an eventful career in the Corps. He is a service-disabled veteran, the result of an injury during Operation Desert Storm. He did three tours in Iraq during his career. He also served in Okinawa, Hawaii, and finished at Central Command in Tampa. “That was pretty much my twilight tour,” he says.
During his transition from military to civilian life, Reyes figured he’d give the world of contracting a try. “I took off my uniform and went right in and started working with Northrop Grumman, right there at Central Command doing info management,” he says. He spent approximately one year with the company.
But his ambition reared its head again in a big way. “A friend of mine asked me why I didn’t go into business for myself,” he recalls. “He pointed out that I was a service-disabled veteran and put the seed in my head.”
He started researching his financing options as a service-disabled veteran. “I always wanted to be in business, but with my background it wasn’t like I had tons of money in the bank,” he says. He found that his status afforded him the opportunity to get financing and he actively began to pursue his own business model.
THE ‘AHA’ MOMENT
In the Marines, Reyes’ original MOS was as a tactical air controller. As an officer, he was in aviation intelligence. “Most of my life has been tactical aviation,” he says. “I learned a lot about it.”
He figured aviation would be the way to go when starting his own business. But, in what capacity? “I had another friend who suggested I start a small company supplying aviation parts.” He agreed, and in late 2007 he began Reyes Aviation. “I started that company, and in 2008 I met my current partner, Dan Cain,” he explains. “We thought he had the experience, I had the background. He does the sales and I do the operations. We combined forces and created SDV Recon in December of 2008.”
SDV Recon, based in Pompano Beach, Fla., handles distribution of airplane and helicopter spare parts. “What we do is sourcing and print-to-build items,” Reyes explains. “Seventy-eight percent is with the Defense Logistics Agency. The parts that we can’t find through the many resources we have around the world are actually manufactured from a drawing. That’s the print-to-build part.
“We do have commercial clients, even though they are government contractors, such as Lockheed Martin and Jacobs Technology,” he continues. “We are also increasing our presence internationally. We have customers in Australia, Columbia and Indonesia.”
MILITARY EXPERIENCE PAYS OFF
Reyes started his first business by himself. “My wife would help with the books when she came home from work,” he says. “I did sourcing, getting on the phone, emailing, looking for solicitations. Once I had all of my information on the system, I actually had a few contractors reach out to me.”
He began as a Tier II subcontractor. “They’d reach out to me as a service-disabled veteran-owned business to fulfill their requirements,” he admits. “But they also needed someone who could actually do the work.”
He ended up a Tier II contractor to companies like Lockheed Martin. That got him noticed. “Everything in this industry is traceability and accountability,” Reyes says. “That’s pretty much in the realm of what I do with my military background. You have to inspect what you expect, right?”
Officially the president of SDV Recon, Reyes says his Marine experience has led him to be able to grow his team and his business. “The bottom line is you have to build your team. You have to know your staff and their capabilities. In the Marines, as an officer, you have to know your Marines,” he says. “In the Corps we say, ‘You have to take care of your troops.’ Guess what? Here you have to take care of your employees. If you do that it will ultimately be a better business.”
His plan is working so far. His employee numbers are growing and the company recently moved from Sunrise, Fla., to Pompano Beach to a bigger office. “In five years, I’ve moved from a 720-square-foot little office to a 5,200-square-foot facility in a HUBZone. We’re making room for more growth.”
He expects a 20 to 25 percent growth as a result of the move to the HUBZone.
He also says that success is not all about set-asides for SDVOBs. “Set-asides are to make you competitive, but it comes down to performance,” he says. “You still have to be able to outperform the competition to succeed.”
While success was once in doubt for Reyes in his youth, today it seems inevitable.