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AN OPPORTUNITY MAKER: Gary Trujillo, SEO Career Alumnus

In my new book, The Opportunity Makers, I chronicle not just the history of Sponsors for Educational Opportunity (SEO) but the stories of many young people who, with the help of SEO, have not only achieved success in college and their careers but have helped to create opportunities for others.

Gary Trujillo grew up in Roosevelt, a barrio in south Phoenix, Arizona, a neighborhood where very few people completed high school, much less even dreamed of going to college. Owing to his determination the influence of a few key mentors and SEO Career, he did more than dream. During his senior year at Arizona State University, he came to the attention of the dean of the university’s Business School, L. William Seidman, the former head of the national accounting firm of BDO Seidman and an economic advisor to presidents Ford and Reagan. After being offer jobs each of the Big Four accounting firms, Gary asked Seidman for advice about which he should chose. He was shocked when Seidman told him he shouldn’t accept any of them, but go to Wall Street instead. Sliding an SEO Career brochure across his desk, he provided Gary with an idea of how he could get there. That summer, Gary found himself with an internship on the sales and trading desk at Salomon Brothers.

Gary distinguished himself during his internship at Salomon and later went on to Harvard Business School. While at Harvard, he also served as Bill Seidman’s deputy when his mentor, who had left Arizona State to chair the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation and work on solutions to the savings and loan crisis. That experience helped Gary get a job at the Resolution Trust Corporation, which later provided him with the knowledge and experience to create the Southwest Harvard Group, a real estate finance firm based in his hometown of Phoenix.

As Gary was developing his business in the early 1990s, it began increasingly clear to him that the neighborhood that he had grown up in was on the wrong side of the digital divide. Few households had computers and children were growing up completely disconnected from the new world of technology. Gary led a campaign to raise more than $1 million to transform a dilapidated but historic community center to the state of the art Roosevelt Community Technology Center that is now used by more than 45,000 people annually. This effort just whetted the appetite of Gary and his wife Melissa to do more. They started to provide scholarships to enable neighborhood kids to go to college.

In 2002, Gary and Melissa formalized their efforts and created the Be a Leader Foundation (BALF). During its first year, BALF provided 32 students with scholarships. Over the next decade, BALF created an array of programs that put middle school, high school and college students throughout the Phoenix metro area on the road to college and career success. The pipeline begins in middle school with workshops, conferences and club activities that are aimed at getting seventh and eighth graders to not just think about but plan for college. Now BALF programs serve more than 2.200 middle school and high school and 1,100 college students a year. Several BALF students have also gone on to participate in SEO Career.

All proceeds from the sale of The Opportunity Makers go to support SEO Scholars

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