One-on-One

with Mario Bur­gos

Albuquerque Journal - - BUSINESS OUTLOOK - BY ELLEN MARKS AS­SIS­TANT BUSI­NESS ED­I­TOR

Here are a few as­pects of Mario Bur­gos’ self­de­scribed “bizarre life:” He was a pro­fes­sional coun­try-west­ern dancer even though he once hated coun­try mu­sic, he was part of an im­prov com­edy troupe that called it­self Mice and he had a small part as “Chef Ra­mon” in the B hor­ror film “Project Me­tal­beast.”

“It was about a were­wolf who has metal skin grafted to him as a sci­ence ex­per­i­ment,” Bur­gos says. “That was my big break.”

All that was a long time ago — “dur­ing my quar­ter-life cri­sis in my 20s,” he says.

Now, Bur­gos, who is on the brink of turn­ing 50, is known in New Mex­ico as a highly suc­cess­ful busi­ness­man who has turned a small mar­ket­ing and con­sult­ing firm into Bur­gos Group, an Al­bu­querque busi­ness worth more than $22 mil­lion that does govern­ment con­tract work.

Bur­gos, who says he al­ways tries to look for­ward, now has his sights set on Cuba as he seeks in­ter­na­tional busi­ness for the com­pany he owns with one of his two brothers. Bur­gos and brother David won a Small Busi­ness Per­son of the Year award from the U.S. Small Busi­ness Ad­min­is­tra­tion in 2017.

His ease with other cul­tures comes from trav­el­ing the world — he re­cently re­turned from a trip to Turkey — and his di­verse back­ground.

His father is from Ecuador, and his mother’s fam­ily is east Euro­pean.

“On the one hand, the fact that I had that dif­fer­ent mix in back­ground has meant it’s very easy for me to fit into lots of dif­fer­ent cul­tures,” Bur­gos says. “On the flip side, I don’t 100 per­cent fit in any of them. So some­one will de­cide I’m not Span­ish enough, or some­one will de­cide I’m not Jewish enough. I think it’s a huge ben­e­fit. Life re­quires you to be flex­i­ble.”

Bur­gos is a nat­u­ral in the busi­ness world be­cause it’s how he was raised. He helped his par­ents with their seafood busi­ness in Somerdale, N.J., when he wasn’t “out hus­tling” smaller jobs like mow­ing lawns and wash­ing cars.

His more lu­cra­tive ca­reer came at 13, when he landed a news­pa­per route and fi­na­gled his way to “cap­tain,” a su­per­vi­sory job usu­ally held by a par­ent. The young Bur­gos was then able to in­crease his take-home pay by “sub­con­tract­ing” routes to kids who couldn’t legally get their own be­cause they were too young.

It was a win-win. The younger kids got to make some money, while Bur­gos got a share of their rev­enues.

That same en­tre­pre­neur­ial spirit led Bur­gos to coun­try­west­ern danc­ing while he was liv­ing in Los An­ge­les at an ac­quain­tance’s rec­om­men­da­tion, even though he had never been a coun­try mu­sic fan. (“When I drove a car cross-coun­try,

from Ok­la­homa on, I was mis­er­able be­cause all that was on was coun­try mu­sic or church mu­sic, and I’m Jewish, so that didn’t work.”)

But he says he got hooked af­ter danc­ing at the now-closed Denim and Di­a­monds in L.A. at a time when “coun­try kind of first went main­stream.”

It was a right place, right time kind of thing. Chore­og­ra­phers were look­ing for dancers who could do the two-step on mu­sic videos, and they found Bur­gos. He says he ap­peared in Tim McGraw and Brooks and Dunn vi­does and landed a role danc­ing on “Bay­watch.”

“It was crazy,” he says.

How did you get to New Mex­ico?

I met my first wife in Cal­i­for­nia. She’s a ninth­gen­er­a­tion New Mex­i­can, and ap­par­ently I missed the fine print that said if you mar­ried a ninth­gen­er­a­tion New Mex­i­can, you’re go­ing to raise a 10th-gen­er­a­tion New Mex­i­can.

Do you have any men­tors?

I’ve ac­tu­ally been for­tu­nate to have lots of men­tors in my life. One ex­am­ple would be my father. He lost his busi­ness right about the time I was go­ing to col­lege. I asked my dad, “What are you go­ing to do now? You’re a smart guy, but you don’t have a col­lege de­gree. You have a Span­ish ac­cent, the only thing you’ve ever done is run your own com­pany, so you don’t re­ally have a ré­sumé. His re­sponse was, ‘Well, I’m go­ing to do what­ever I need to do. … If I have to get two jobs, I’ll get two jobs. If I have to get three jobs, I’ll get three jobs.’”

I’ve had plenty of ups and downs as I’ve built these dif­fer­ent com­pa­nies, and the idea that hey, you’re go­ing to do what­ever you have to do when some­thing fails, be­cause they do fail — so he was a role model in that way.

You’re work­ing to find busi­ness op­por­tu­ni­ties in Cuba. Are there sim­i­lar­i­ties to the way busi­ness is done in New Mex­ico?

To me, there’s a lot of sim­i­lar­i­ties. In New Mex­ico, we’re one de­gree of sep­a­ra­tion from any­body you want to talk to. Peo­ple lament that this is a hard place to do busi­ness. I couldn’t dis­agree with them more. It’s very sim­i­lar to Cuba, and it ties in to both sides of my fam­ily. The way you do busi­ness in Latin Amer­ica, in gen­eral, is that it’s not send­ing a text, send­ing an email, video­con­fer­enc­ing. Peo­ple want to talk to you for a cou­ple of hours be­fore you even talk about busi­ness, and same on the east­ern Euro­pean side. No­body wants to do busi­ness with some­body they don’t know. So I grew up like that.

What are your fa­vorite places?

I fall in love with places re­ally, re­ally quickly. Ev­ery place is very unique to me, but I just came back from Turkey in June and spent 12 days do­ing an ad­ven­ture travel trip. It’s an amaz­ing coun­try. I like Barcelona, just the vibe of the city. It’s one of my fa­vorite cities in the world.

What do you do in your free time?

I have two dogs (and) spend time with them. A lot of times, my week is so full, so on the week­ends all I want to do is chill. I live in the moun­tains, so chill can be hik­ing. Chill can be go­ing out for a bike ride. I’m fa­nat­i­cal about go­ing to the gym.

What’s the best com­pli­ment you’ve ever re­ceived?

My sis­ter-in-law had said to my first wife at some point, “Wow, he ac­tu­ally re­ally knows a lot.” I know a lot about a lot of dif­fer­ent things.

What are your pet peeves?

Ac­tu­ally, a lot of my peeves have to do with air­ports. I don’t know why they have car­pet on the floors in the air­port when ev­ery­body has wheeled suit­cases. It just drives me nuts.

Any re­grets?

No. Ev­ery part of my life and all these dif­fer­ent things I’ve ever done, when you look back­wards, I could never do what I’m do­ing with­out hav­ing done all that — whether they failed or were hugely suc­cess­ful.

Do you have any ad­vice for the next gen­er­a­tion?

I got ex­po­sure to run­ning a busi­ness, but I also learned that when you get en­gaged, you get in­volved and you roll up your sleeves and you show up, things hap­pen. I don’t think we teach kids that enough. Ev­ery board I’ve ever sat on, pro­fes­sional, char­i­ta­ble or other­wise, is (try­ing to fig­ure out), how do we en­gage young peo­ple? No mat­ter where you’re com­ing from, all you have to do is show up at these things — clean — and smile and say, “Hi.”

ADOLPHE PIERRE-LOUIS/JOUR­NAL

ADOLPHE PIERRE-LOUIS/JOUR­NAL

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