Three of UIW’s own are among San Antonio Business Journal’s list of up-and-coming professionals

By Rudy Arispe ’98 BA

Robert Olivares

As Robert Olivares ’11 Ph.D. sits behind his desk in his spacious office of Republic National Distributing Co. (RNDC), the picture of a senior exec in his starched shirt and tie, his baritone voice, articulate speech and easy air of confidence draw your attention.

It’s hard to picture the 6-foot-2 Olivares sporting a brown, furry Teddy Graham costume for Nabisco during his first job after graduating from the University of Texas at Austin in 1997 with a degree in marketing.

“I almost passed out on the Fourth of July weekend,” Olivares recalls, laughing. “It was so hot. They dragged me into the milk cooler. I even wore an Oreo costume with white tights. I’m standing there thinking, ‘I went to school for this.’

“Then I went to stocking shelves. I was a cookie-cracker stacker. I wore a sleeveless shirt with a tie, and my friends would say, ‘I thought you went to UT.’ That was a little bit of swallowing my pride.”

In retrospect, Olivares was paying his dues as most business-bound, college grads do after entering the workforce and beginning their gradual ascent up the corporate ladder. So he takes it with a grain of salt, knowing that those humbling experiences are part of the plan to get from point A to point B, which is where he finds himself today – and with a Ph.D. from UIW to boot.

In December 2010, the 37-year-old corporate vice president of multicultural marketing for RNDC was named to the San Antonio Business Journal’s listing of the 40 Under 40 Rising Stars, which recognizes the best and brightest of the city’s young professionals.

“Not only have I chaired Robert’s dissertation, I’ve also worked with him to establish a nonprofit organization to help Latino boys maintain interest in pursuing an undergraduate degree,” says Dr. David Campos, associate professor in the Dreeben School of Education and also UIW’s 2010-11 Moody professor. “I have found that Robert is a visionary who leads with passion. More importantly, he doesn’t forget his roots and seeks ways to give back to the San Antonio community.”

The San Antonio native joined RNDC, the second largest distributor of wine and spirits in the United States, in 2001 as a market development manager. From there, Olivares worked his way up to director of Hispanic marketing and then to vice president of Hispanic marketing before being promoted in 2007 to his current position.

“Multicultural marketing is a buzz word,” Olivares explains. “It’s going out and doing target marketing and creating specific programs to better penetrate Hispanic, black and Asian markets. We’ve really been able to increase our customer base.”

His passion for increasing opportunities for higher education, as well as the mentoring he received from Campos, led him to co-found the Texas Latino Education Advancement Pipeline (TXLEAP) that works with seventh and eighth grade boys at risk of dropping out of school.

“We want to expose them to successful professionals to inspire them to start thinking about college and educate their parents about options of going to college through scholarships, grants and loans,” he says.

In addition to his job with RNDC, Olivares teaches a marketing management course at UIW, and now his students and peers address him as “Dr.” In January, he defended his dissertation, “Exploring Variables Predictive of Bachelor Degree Completion Among Hispanics: A Focus on Persistence, Perseverance and Prosperity,” which explores the cultural paradigm of Hispanics and why they often don’t graduate from college.

A highlight was having his parents, Macario and Fidelia, attend his dissertation defense. Natives of Coahuila, Mexico, they came to San Antonio in the late ’60s with $10 in their pocket in search of a better life. His dad found work in construction; his mom was employed at a tortilla factory.

“I never knew we were poor until I saw my friends, who were worse off than I was. It wasn’t until I went to college that I had my own room – and with central air. I thought that was pretty cool,” he says with a laugh.

Olivares is also involved with the Hispanic Marketing Institute at UIW, one of the first in the nation devoted to educating students in this field, according to institute director Dr. Albert Rubio. Republic National Distributing Co. donated $500,000 to support the program.

“I drove the campaign to secure these funds,” Olivares says, adding that he serves on the advisory board. “I was involved in the development of the curriculum of the program, and I plan to teach in the program in the near future.”

The institute will provide education for students interested in entering the Hispanic marketing industry, train professionals who serve U.S. Hispanics, and conduct research to advance the understanding of the Hispanic market.

In 2009, Olivares was plucked from among a pool of hundreds of applicants to participate in Leadership San Antonio (LSA), a joint program of the Greater San Antonio Chamber of Commerce and the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce to provide learning opportunities to better understand the demography and challenges of the community.

“I’ve been able to increase my network, and I’ve made some great friendships with so many professional people,” he says.

As Olivares’ star continues to rise along the path of success, he prefers not to focus too much on what the future might have in store, but he does share this: “Part of the fun is not knowing where you’re going to end up. I want to continue growing, learning and giving back.”

Olivares graduated in 1992 from Burbank High School in the top 10 percent of his class. He earned his MBA in business management from St. Edward’s University in Austin in 2000.

Read Arla J. Johnson’s story on page 2