FULL TRANSCRIPT – Making Room for Herself at the Table with Lorena Camargo
Natasha Cary: Welcome to Over the Threshold Podcast, produced by Certification of Delivery Excellence, also known as CODE. I’m your host, Natasha Cary, owner and president of CODE, where we offer online education for last mile delivery personnel. To learn more about CODE certifications, visit our website: codetrained.com. The purpose of this podcast is to deliver the journey of individuals in the Final Mile/Last Mile white glove industry. As CODE is an educational company, we hope through these stories you can learn something new. Maybe we teach you something about an individual you know, or we introduce you to someone you’ve always wanted to learn more about. Above all, we hope we can leave you inspired. Let’s get started.
Natasha: I am so inspired by my guest today. She is breaking the glass ceiling as a Latin-American woman entrepreneur. Lorena Camargo founded Pearl Translogistics at 24 years old after working with Continental Messenger and Delivery for six years. She was pursuing a mechanical engineering degree when she started working part-time with Continental, and after getting a flavor for the industry, she shifted her major to business and decided to pursue the logistics industry. Lorena, welcome to the podcast.
Lorena Camargo: Thanks for having me. I’m excited to be here.
Natasha: I am so excited that you are here, and thank you for being here. I’m just so inspired by your story and what you’ve accomplished. Before we get into how you got here, tell us a little bit more about Pearl. Who do you serve, and what services do you offer your clients?
Lorena: Sure. We started Pearl in 2011, and our work was 100% courier on demand. Most of our clients were printing agencies, aircraft manufacturers, and medical labs. But as our customers have grown, so have their needs. We’ve expanded into next-flight-out, trucking, warehousing… whatever our customers need, that’s what we’ll do. That’s why we pride ourselves in saying,
“We are a full-service transportation company…
Natasha: That’s awesome.
Lorena: …You need to get something from point A to point B, one call does it all.”
Natasha: One-stop-shop, that’s amazing. Now you fell into this industry. You told me that you had a part-time job in college, and you fell in love with it. What about it appealed to you?
Lorena: I started right out of high school. As far as I knew, when I got hired, I was just going to answer phones, so I thought I was going to be a receptionist. I actually had no idea what a courier company was. I quickly learned, and I just fell in love with the customers that we served and the issues that we helped them solve. We have clients that are printing agencies, so they have drivers in and out of the studios many times during the day, and all of that was exciting for me, especially because I love going to the movies. It’s especially exciting recently with the superhero movies. Our customers are working on the standees that you’ll see at the movie theatres, the bus shelters, the posters…and I feel like in a way, our services get to be part of that. About a year or two ago, actually maybe before that, when Guardians of the Galaxy came out, they were working on the standees, and we actually got to see them cut out Gamora, just like it would fit into the standee. And for someone else, it’s not that big a deal, but for me, it’s like, ‘Oh my god!’
It’s just a whole other world. And with logistics, it’s like you get to be part of all those worlds. Printing, manufacturing, medical…you get to have a piece of that world. That’s why for me, logistics is so exciting.
Natasha: Right. It gives you that insider, behind-the-scenes look into how things are made and what happens and how you get from point A to point B, especially now in the world, everything is being delivered to your home or wherever you are. Whether it’s a business or residential, but nobody thinks about how that happens. And there are multiple layers, like you said. There’s warehousing and distribution, and by the time something gets somewhere, there are so many layers to it, and so many people have touched it to get from point A to point B. There’s multiple touchpoints before it gets there. So it’s exciting. Now when you started Pearl…I’m going to back up a minute. You were at Continental working there, you had been there for six years at this point. The owner was deciding to retire and offered you to take on his clients…and you were 24! How did you get to the point where you wanted to do that? I think it’s amazing that you decided to do that. Not a lot of 24 years olds after being in their job for six years may pursue that. So what appealed to you? Walk me through how you managed to do that.
Lorena: Well, it certainly took a lot back and forth between Barry and me. Barry Greer was the owner of Continental. Because I was 24, I never imagined owning my own business. I didn’t know I could do it. I had no idea. I had a lot of responsibilities at Continental, I was the VP of Operations, but even so, I was working for someone else. So in a way, there was that support. But then I’d be venturing off on my own; it was a little scary. So it took a lot of back and forth between Barry and me for a few months. He already knew he was having a lot of health issues, so he knew he had to be done with the business. He was like, ‘You could do this’ I was like, ‘No, I can’t,’ ‘You could do this,’ ‘No, I can’t’…
And he’s just like, ‘You can do this! It’s up to you. When I close shop, what are you going to do?’
I had no idea. This has been my world; I can’t even imagine going out and doing something else. And I had really great relationships with all our clients. I loved my job, and I wanted to keep doing this. So eventually, he sent out a notice that he was closing shop. He didn’t make anyone use my service. On the note it said, ‘We’re closing down; you have a choice wherever you want to go. But just so you know, Lorena happens to be starting her own company. She’ll probably be contacting you directly.’ He did that also because in business in general, sometimes there’s some backstabbing…
Lorena: …so he wanted to make sure that the customers knew that I wasn’t doing that and it wouldn’t damage my relationship with the clients…
Lorena: …he just wanted to make sure that they knew that this was happening. I was able to meet with the clients. I picked the top 10 accounts because, well, that’s a whole other story. Let me finish this one. [laughter] But I focused. I knew that this was new, this was starting, this would be my client base. Obviously, I would grow it from that, but I wanted to make sure that the top 10 accounts stayed with me – about 80% of the business. And the reason for that was because as I was filing the paperwork to become a corporation, filed for my tax ID, one of the things I did was I prepared my business budget, cash flow statement based on the numbers that I knew, their sales revenue, and how fast they were going to pay me. I prepared that, and I showed up to the bank, and I was like,
‘Hey, I’m starting this business. Here’s a list of the clients that are committing to me, here’s a budget, personal cash statement…I’d really like your help. The business loan, I won’t need it. I don’t need a large amount, but I have some beginning operating expenses.’
Lorena: I’m pretty sure the loan officer laughed in his head. [laughter] But the answer was no. You don’t have a lot of experience, no we can’t do this. Come back when you reach your first $1 million in sales. And I was like, ‘Ok. But how am I supposed to do that without your help?’
Lorena: But I was like, ‘Ok. Let me find another way.’ In my life, I’ve just been told no so many times. I’ve just learned to figure out a way around this. So I was fortunate enough to get a friend of a friend, convinced them to lend me $25,000 starting capital. The agreement was that I’d pay them back in 3 years. I already knew that my business was going to be a success. I was setting myself up to have a successful business. I didn’t want this to be like, ‘Cool, let’s do this!’ and then a year later, I’m out of business…
Lorena: So, yeah. We made an agreement I was going to pay him back in 3 years. I was able to pay him back in 9 months.
Lorena: And here we are! But if I hadn’t been given that small opportunity also, I wouldn’t…actually, you know what? I would’ve found another way because…
Natasha: That’s what you do.
Lorena: …that’s just my life now.
Natasha: So you never thought of yourself as an entrepreneur, but clearly you have the entrepreneur mindset, which is what got you here. So that’s interesting. With regards to reaching out to the bank, asking for help, you have a point there. How are you supposed to reach that $1 million in sales in order for them to help you rather than investing in you? And you were so fortunate to have had a friend of a friend be able to help you. We’ve talked about the challenges of being young, a woman, Latina.
I‘m sure those things played into it, and I know that you have strong feelings about that, and you’ve had challenges with it. Talk to me about that. How has business been for you from that angle?
Lorena: Well, I mean, I started in this business very young, so no matter what room I would be in or what association I was a part of, I was always different. I was either always the only woman, the only Latina, and most of the time, if not all, I was always the youngest. I was always very self-conscious about that. ‘Oh my god, I’m so different. They’re going to think I don’t belong. They’re going to think I’m not smart’. But what I found out along the years is really, you decide where you belong. Again, no matter what group I’m a part of, I’m always different. I mean, I served a term on the board of directors for the National Association of Women Business Owners, the LA chapter. For most of my term, I was the only Latina, and of course I was the youngest. I changed the way I think. I’ve reframed my thoughts. Yes, I’m different, but there’s a reason why I’m different. I feel like I’m doing things that other people aren’t. I have to. During all these events and still, my palms are sweaty. I feel so nervous, but you have to show up. What am I going to do? Stay at home? Being around these people, I’ve learned so much. Yes, it was difficult for me at the beginning, but I’ve really found that it’s all in my mind. I’ve met so many great people. Especially at the CLDA, Customised Logistics and Delivery Association. It is a reflection of the industry; the membership is about…I don’t know the exact figures, but I would say at least 90% male.
Lorena: But despite that, me coming in so different, I feel like I’m a double minority or sometimes even triple, I’m a millennial Latina woman… [laughter]
Natasha: Watch out, world. Here she comes!
Lorena: I know! I should reframe my thinking now that I’m saying that; it’s like a J-Lo triple threat!
Natasha: That’s right.
Lorena: But even so, the fact that I’m different, that really hasn’t stopped anyone from just introducing themselves to me and saying, ‘Hey, if you need anything, here’s my card.’ And I’ve had great conversations over the years. Even as I’m growing my business. For example, with warehousing, it was through the contacts I met at the CLDA. I would just bombard Steve Howard, Jason Burns, and Kelly Picard with calls. When I did next-flight-out work for BART Solano, all these people…yes, I am different, but they’re willing to help out. As long as you’re there, you show up. If I hadn’t gone to any of these events and sucked up my self-consciousness, I wouldn’t have these great relationships, and I don’t know where my business would be. In business, relationships are so important. Not just with your clients but with the people you surround yourself with. That’s especially important for me because I’m young. I’d like to say I’ve been doing this my entire adult life, which is true, because I started when I was 17…and while I’ve been doing this my entire adult life, I don’t know everything, and I don’t have to. All I have to do is surround myself with the people that do, and that’s how I’ve grown personally, and that’s how my business has grown through these relationships.
Natasha: Right. Well as a high-achiever, I think we do that to ourselves sometimes. Where we think we’re supposed to have all the answers. It’s hard for us to make mistakes, but that’s how we learn, that’s how we grow. Finding your tribe, right? And like you said, knowing that you deserve a seat at the table…It’s having that mindset, that you deserve a seat at the table, and you make room for yourself. By making room for yourself, other people will make room for you because you carry yourself that way. You’re such an inspiration because you’re paving the road for other Latinas or other people who feel different or feel like they don’t belong. If you think you belong, then you belong. And if you don’t in that scenario, then maybe that’s not where you need to be, and you belong somewhere else, but you’ll never know if you don’t open the road for yourself. In order for people to make room for you, you have to make room for yourself.
Lorena: Yeah, absolutely. I feel like it’s been a lot of personal growth, just for me, to get comfortable with the uncomfortable. I mean, I feel like that’s a little played out, but again, you decide where you belong. Especially when you don’t fit anywhere, you kind of fit everywhere. Just because it’s up to you to decide. I felt like last year I had a personal breakthrough moment because again, I like being behind the scenes, I don’t like being the centre of attention. But I got an email from Linda Bishop, she’s with the National Association of Women Business Owners. They were going to have a panel at a leadership academy they were hosting titled ‘Journey to Success’, just to share your stories. So I got the email saying, ‘Hey, we want you to be on this panel.’ And at that moment, I feel like there were so many mixed emotions because it’s something that I would naturally just avoid. [laughter] Let me just pretend I didn’t get this email! But I’m obviously qualified. They wouldn’t be asking me if I wasn’t qualified to do this. Let me just say yes. I have no idea what I’m going to say, how I’m going to get over all those nerves speaking in front of people but let me just say yes. I have to say yes. So it was a personal breakthrough for me. This was, by the way, my first panel ever. I’d never been a panelist before; this was my first experience. I was so excited, it was in Albuquerque, New Mexico. I’ve never been there before so it…
Natasha: A lot of firsts.
Lorena: …a lot of new things, a lot of firsts. As I’m walking to the stage, they have the screen with our headshots, and I was paired up…it was a panel of one moderator and three panelists. They are phenomenal women. However, as I’m approaching the stage, I see our headshots, and it’s like, blonde woman, blonde woman, blonde woman, and then there’s me.
Natasha: Right. [laughter]
Lorena: You know? Like a little splash of color. Again, its nothing against them, they’re phenomenal women, but I couldn’t help but notice that, and at that moment, I was like, ‘Oh my god, not only is this personal breakthrough for me, I can’t believe I’m doing this, I’m so glad I said yes.’
Lorena: Because sometimes, especially as Latinas, we’re not very well represented. Not just because we haven’t been invited or have that opportunity, it’s just that sometimes we shy away from those opportunities. I’m so glad I said yes because hopefully them seeing me up there…there’s room for us here. People want to hear what we have to say. It’s just up to us to say yes to those opportunities. Just with that alone, getting over all those nerves and everything, I felt like it was just a personal breakthrough for me because then I was able to moderate my own panel at the Final Mile Forum in Miami recently; first time moderating. I just keep saying yes to these opportunities. Then I was on another panel, how COVID affects our operations. And again, I was the only woman, but that’s ok. I’m getting to the point where it’s ok because hopefully someone sees it. Because if I can do it, anyone can do it. So hopefully they think, ‘I could totally be up there’. [laughter] I mean, I hope I inspire someone…
Natasha: Absolutely, and I think if you’re always training your eye to see it one way, then you believe that’s the only way. And if you start seeing it in a different way, then you’re showing other people, ‘Look at the possibility. Not only am I a woman, but I’m Latina, and you can be up here, too’.
Lorena: Yes, absolutely. One of my good friends, Ron Libman, U.S. Messenger in Chicago, he got me into this author Malcolm Gladwell, and I’m hooked on his books now. I started with Outliers, Talking to Strangers, and now I’m reading David and Goliath. I love his books and how detailed they are. He lists so many examples…what David and Goliath focuses on is that it pays off to be the underdog. Sometimes you should see the underdog in all these situations because it forces you to have a different mindset. You have to literally think outside the box in all these situations, especially in logistics. It’s so important. Everything’s just changing so much. You can’t keep doing things the same way because technology keeps advancing, your customer needs are different every day as they’re growing, so you have to think differently. Facing all these personal challenges has helped me also apply them to my business.
Natasha: Well that leads me to my next question, which is, what is next for Pearl? You touched on technology. Things are changing, your business needs to change. Well, you need to adapt with the times. So what do you see on the horizon for Pearl? Where do you see yourself changing or pivoting or offering? What do you think is on the horizon for you?
Lorena: One of the things that we’re doing is we’re creating a separate division to handle our medical work. The medical labs that we service have fallen within the IVF sector. We actually service one of the largest cryobanks in California, and they have our drivers in and out of their fertility clinics all day. So I’d like to say we’ve kind of made a name for ourselves that even without marketing this service yet, we have individual patients calling us because they’ve seen our drivers deliver their specimen tanks and then they want to use us for another transfer they have to take care of. So what we’re doing is creating a separate division with dedicated staff and dedicated drivers for this type of work because we recognize that for the patients that we’re working with, this is a very physical experience. And at the same time, it’s a very emotional experience. This is how they start their journey to parenthood, and we get to be part of that journey. What we’re doing with this separate division is just making sure that they have dedicated staff that also know the medical terminology that we’ll be dealing with in these day-to-day issues. One of the things that we started doing is we’re also working with other labs across the country, shipping medical specimens within the IVF sector. We’ve been in several cities in New York, Colorado, Utah, so we’re also getting that experience, and again it goes back to our mission statement. That we provide for our clients, full-service transportation solutions. So even with these medical labs, it’s not just here in southern California. We can also provide those services if they need other clinics across the US; we can service those labs as well.
Natasha: That’s exciting. Wow! That’s such a great need that you realized, and I would imagine having the same drivers taking care of that, especially for the patient. It is such a personal experience, what they’re going through, and I like how you phrased that. That you’re kind of part of that journey into parenthood, that’s so innovative to think like that, by having the same staff, they would be trained and get the lingo and create that sense of awareness of how important this is. You’re not just delivering a package, which is also important, but this is a life. A potential life. Now you are very driven and very ambitious, clearly. You have broken barriers, and you continue to do that. Who would you say is your mentor? It could be multiple people, but who stands out for you that has really helped you pave the way for yourself?
Lorena: Well that’s an easy answer. Phyllis Applebaum. She was the owner of Arrow Messenger in Chicago. She’s done it all. That’s why she’s such a great inspiration, not just to me but to so many people in this industry. She’s actually mentored a couple of the past presidents of the CLDA. She’s actually the only woman so far to be president. That kind of shows you how tough she is. She’s my mentor because I mean, she’s big on tough love. But she has a lot of insights on the industry, and she just happens to also be a woman. So I feel like we also connect at a different level. That’s why I feel so fortunate that even though she’s not part of the industry anymore, she still takes time to pick up my phone calls. She lives in Wisconsin, but she spends her winters out here in Palm Springs in California, so I also get to connect with her. She gives me business advice and feedback on the goals that I’ve set myself and for the business for the year…
Natasha: That’s amazing.
Lorena: …I’m just really grateful that she takes the time to do that for me.
Natasha: You kind of said that earlier, surrounding yourself with people that are supportive of you. It’s really nice that you have somebody who’s been in the industry and can continue providing that mentorship. You’ve now been in the industry for about 15 years, so how have you seen the industry change and what do you think as a whole, from your perspective, where do you see the industry going?
Lorena: Technology keeps advancing every single day. I wasn’t in the industry 20 years ago, but still, even 15 years ago, we were faxing PODs, and then that just evolved into emailing PODs. But now, what customers are doing is they’re integrating our dispatching software to their operating system. Pretty much because technology keeps advancing, we just have to learn to adapt and make sure we’re offering the technology what our client needs…
Natasha: Right, right. So technology is an important part of it but adapting it to what the customer solutions really need to be.
Lorena: Yeah, absolutely.
Natasha: Now, you are the first Latina to be elected on the board of CLDA. Tell me a little bit about what role you’re serving on the board currently and what inspired you to take a role on the board.
Lorena: Yeah, so at the moment, I’m kind of drifting between committees, marketing the Final Mile Forum, advocacy, and shipper committee. There’s just so much exciting stuff going on at the CLDA. You want to be part of everything. But at the same time, I find myself drifting between committees just to see where I could offer the most value. And among the many exciting projects within the marketing committee is that our website is being redesigned in the next couple of months and also, the magazine is going digital.
Natasha: So that’s exciting. I’m looking forward to reading the next edition. Now I wanted to wrap it up with my last question, which is, what keeps you motivated? You are a pioneer. You are, day to day, running a business on your own, and you have a great team around you. What motivates you to keep going? As an entrepreneur, you are responsible for keeping the business going so that you can keep everybody employed. Beyond that, you’re innovating, you’re serving your clients. So what keeps you motivated? What keeps you going?
Lorena: I actually don’t know how to answer that question because I really can’t imagine doing anything else. I say that in a good way because we have so many great clients. So many of them we’ve been working with since starting Pearl and many of them before that. It’s just so great seeing their businesses grow and our services being a small part of that is exciting. So I also get to work with my sister [laughter] not a lot of people get to say that. So that definitely…
Natasha: That’s what sisters are good for!
Lorena: …she keeps me on check. She’s actually a year younger than me, but sometimes I feel like she’s the older sister. She keeps…
Natasha: That’s awesome.
Lorena: …me accountable for any goal that I set for myself. And as far as motivation, I’m in a fortunate position. I feel really blessed that I have so many people that I feel are rooting for me. So many great women and men who have succeeded in this industry that are just so generous with their time and advice. That definitely keeps me motivated because they want to see me succeed. [laughter]
Natasha: Well that’s exciting. It sounds like you are set up for success. You’ve definitely surrounded yourself with the right people and the right influence, and I have really enjoyed having you as a guest today, and I cannot wait to see you again at the Final Form in February in Vegas.
Lorena: Yeah, I’m looking forward to seeing you soon, too.
Natasha: Yeah, for sure.
Lorena: Thanks for having me and letting me share my story. Thank you so much.
Natasha: Thank you so much for listening to the Over the Threshold Podcast. If you liked what you heard on this episode, I’d love it if you’d subscribe, leave a review or share with a friend you know who would like to hear it, too. To learn more about CODE certifications, visit our website codetrained.com