First-generation college student Luis Flores laments that his grandparents died prematurely. Both of his grandparents suffered from chronic diseases driven by an unhealthy lifestyle. “I think poor nutrition played a significant role” in their passing, says Flores, a former finance manager for PepsiCo who expects to pursue a career as a consumer investor.
“I wanted to come to the GSB to pivot into a career where I can discover and support disruptive food, wellness, and lifestyle brands. If I can play a role in funding brands challenging the status quo, that can enable people to live happier, healthier, and more fulfilling lives.”
He began pursuing that goal while working at the investment firm Verlinvest in New York, where he focused on identifying brands that are defining forces within their respective categories. He also was a member of the Stanford GSB Impact Fund, where he was part of the Food and Agriculture Team.
What did you learn about working for a global brand during your years as a finance manager for PepsiCo?
It’s an incredible organization. They have 23 billion-dollar brands, which is hard to fathom.
Observing the transformation of thousands of pounds of potatoes into approximately 500,000 pounds of snacks daily, I gained insights into the discipline and expertise required to run a world-class business. On the branding side, I learned how brands play a significant role in people’s behavior. Product design, packaging, advertising, and promotion come together to create a brand image and reputation that can influence people to choose certain products over others, time and time again, despite having alternatives.
Any other lessons?
The most effective leaders are flexible, intellectually curious, and optimistic. In today’s world, where consumers continually seek novelty, businesses must be agile to stay relevant. Therefore, it’s important to possess the ability to adapt and remain up to date with the latest trends and technologies. Additionally, optimism can be a powerful tool, particularly during times of crisis.
At Verlinvest, you focused on food tech and the pet industry. How can investments made in those areas impact change?
Investing in food tech can create a paradigm shift in consumer behavior. By allocating capital to the right companies, better-for-you brands end up on store shelves, enabling healthier choices that can lower healthcare costs, increase productivity, and lead to a higher standard of living. And it’s not just humans who care about their health these days — pets are part of the family too!
Are there challenges and opportunities specific to Latino professionals in the investment world?
Representation at the top is low: Latino CEOs lead only 20 Fortune 500 companies and hold just 4% of board seats. This significantly affects how individuals like me feel in the workplace. It’s challenging when you don’t see people who look like you in positions of power, which can be discouraging and contribute to imposter syndrome. But on the other hand, when you see someone like you leading the charge, it can be a huge motivator to go after what you want and take some risks.
Who was a mentor that helped you on your journey?
The most influential was Wendy Wilson, one my professors at SMU. Despite not being Hispanic, she went above and beyond to introduce me to professionals, executives, and recruiters, helping me to join KPMG’s Future Diversity Leader Program. This opportunity catalyzed my professional career, leading to multiple internships and a full-time offer. But above all, she provided the encouragement I needed to succeed.
Is that experience part of the reason you founded the nonprofit Latinxedu, to help mentor underserved high school students?
Yes, a lack of mentorship wasn’t isolated to my experience; it’s a widespread issue that first-generation Latinos face across my community. Without mentorship, adolescents are left to navigate their educational and professional careers to no avail. So, I made it a point to pay it forward and start Latinxedu. Since March 2019, I’ve focused on empowering underserved youth in the Dallas area so they can make the most informed decisions about their education. Unfortunately, most of our students come from underfunded public schools. Counselors don’t have enough resources or dedicated time for each student, and students don’t get the attention they deserve. So, we raise money, provide scholarships, and mentor these students individually.
Is there a Latinxedu success story you can cite that underscores the critical role mentorship can play?
I mentored a girl named Nicole, who was pursuing a career in nursing. The road to becoming a nurse was overwhelming and daunting to her. Since I worked in finance, I ensured she connected with a medical professional and got the right advice and guidance. Following their interaction, when I met Nicole next, she was brimming with energy. Again, it goes back to the idea that exposure matters, just being able to talk to people who have done incredible things that look like you. Over time that makes a huge difference.
In what ways has the GSB community supported you and other students with similar backgrounds?
The GSB is truly a magical place where anything seems possible. Out of all the programs I was accepted to, it was only at the GSB that I felt an invigorating sense of empowerment. One of the biggest reasons for this is my incredible classmates. They’ve played a huge role in my success thus far. I’ve learned so much from them, and they’ve helped me build a strong network that I know will serve me well in the future. In fact, one of my classmates even made an introduction that led to an internship. It’s amazing how much we can achieve when we work together and support each other. Even when I start to doubt myself, my classmates are always there to lift me up and remind me to dream big.
You’ve said it’s important for GSB students to accept and embrace their entire selves. What did you mean by that?
Sometimes it’s easy to conform to the group and not bring your whole self to work or school. That’s not only a disservice to yourself but also the community. When you think about the building blocks of a person, it’s their cultural upbringing, their life experiences, their values and beliefs. Being able to share unique perspectives can empower others. It fosters a culture of innovation, improves engagement, and can lead to a happier life. When one is not required to conceal their true identity, they are liberated to perform at their best.
As an investor for Verlinvest, you screened a large number of startups. Unfortunately, most don’t get funding. What do those numbers tell start-up founders looking for investors?
Entrepreneurship can be pretty tough. Getting funding is a struggle in and of itself, and even if you do, the journey ahead can be grueling. We often focus on success stories, but the reality is, about 90% of startups fail. Investment firms have to sift through thousands of companies just to find one that has 10-, 20-, or 30X potential. So, how do you get noticed? You need to really understand the venture fund you’re pitching and build a story that’s captivating. Show them that your product solves a real need and that you have a clear path to profitability. If you can do all that, you’ll have a great shot at convincing investors that your company could be a real game-changer.
Why did you get involved as a managing partner in The 23 Fund?
Stanford is an incredible place with a long history of prominent startups that started here. But when you think about the beneficiaries of their success, it’s usually the venture firms on Sand Hill Road. But the questions become: Why does that need to be true? Why can’t your classmates support you and also benefit? The 23 Fund serves as a platform to democratize access to early-stage investing. We raised $3.5 million from our limited partners, our classmates. For many, this is the first time they’ve gained access and actively participated in the venture ecosystem. It’s fun and exciting to invest directly in our classmates, and we’ve been able to do so alongside some of the best venture capital firms in Silicon Valley.
You’re a soccer player. What position do you play and what should that tell future employers and partners about your professional mindset?
These days I don’t get to lace up regularly. However, I learned so many lessons on the pitch. I played midfield, which involved assisting on the attack and helping on defense. When you’re attacking and trying to score, you often miss. That may be disheartening for many. But, with time, you learn to shut out the noise and reset after every attempt. You realize it’s not about the 20 missed shots but rather the one shot that went in. Athletes can compartmentalize that and always attack. That’s a great trait I can apply in the business world.
Have any particular books, classes, experiences or professors at GSB had an outsized impact on you?
I’m taking Conversations in Management, taught by Jim Ellis and Kevin Taweel. In preparation for each class, we are assigned to read a case study that presents a protagonist’s management challenges, ranging from handling difficult employees to managing a board of directors. These cases include several vignettes that always leave the reader hanging, prompting readers to think critically about how to respond to the situation. During class, students are randomly selected to participate in role-playing exercises. While daunting, these exercises provide an excellent opportunity to practice and receive feedback from successful guest speakers. Overall, this course has taught me helpful frameworks for effective management.
The most valuable lesson you’ve learned from that class?
That being vulnerable can be powerful. It enables others to see you for who you are and allows for a level of connection that would otherwise be absent. As a leader, vulnerability can enable you to build trust and deepen relationships.
Photos by Chloe Jackman Studios