Ten years after starting his business, C.R. Dynamics and Associates, Charles Ramos began to wonder if it was ever going to work.
He was confident in his business plan and strategy, but it was taking a lot longer than he hoped to get his marketing and sales-support business off the ground.
"I didn't think it would be as difficult as it was the first 10 years," said Ramos, a Columbia resident.
"We were most tested in the fourth and fifth years," he said. "I didn't think I could do this any more — and then things happened. Persistence is the key. Persistence is everything."
That's the message Ramos said he hopes to convey to those who attend the Maryland Hispanic Business Conference on Tuesday. Ramos — who is of Puerto Rican descent — was recently named winner of the conference's American Dream Award, which recognizes an entrepreneur who has achieved business success while overcoming obstacles. Howard County Executive Ken Ulman will be the featured speaker at the conference gathering at the Bethesda North Marriott & Hotel Conference Center.
"Charles Ramos represents what the Hispanic entrepreneurial spirit is all about — hard work, integrity and a love for community," said conference founder Bill Villanueva in a statement.
Born in the Bronx, N.Y., Ramos moved to Massachusetts after his father was accepted into Harvard graduate school. He started working for Digital Equipment Corp. in 1983 and moved to Maryland in 1993, when he joined Frederick Engineering as regional sales manager. In 1994, he was laid off and decided it was time to start his own business.
"I was walking around with all of this newfound knowledge and this strong desire to start my own company," said Ramos. He and his wife, Patty, started the marketing and sales-support business as a home-based endeavor, financing it with their credit cards.
Today, the company has a multimillion-dollar annual revenue and a clientele that has included AT&T, Frito-Lay, American Express, GE Information Services and the Social Security Administration. Recently, the firm was awarded a five-year call center contract from the state of Maryland.
The firm has a core of seven people and about 15 to 20 other employees, and occupies some 7,600 square feet in a call center in Baltimore's Inner Harbor area.
While it seems an appropriate honor, Ramos said he was surprised by the American Dream Award.
"It came out of left field," he said. "A lot of people work very hard serving their community, helping lots of people, and never get any credit. To receive this kind of honor is very humbling."
He appreciates that it honors him for overcoming obstacles, but Ramos said success is about more than his personal story.
"Most people who look like me have heard all of that stuff before and probably experienced similar situations, so why hash through all of that?" he said. "I'd rather talk about the importance of perseverance, believing in yourself and not listening to negative garbage — don't listen to it. And always remember that it takes time. Just keep moving forward."
For anyone dreaming of starting a business, Ramos recommends it be done for the right reasons.
"Do it because you love it. Do it because you enjoy it," Ramos said. "Don't do it for the money. There will never be enough money."
He said when he first moved to Maryland 23 years ago, he thought he would stay only five years. Now he plans to remain in the area and watch his company grow — though he may cut himself some slack now that he's 50 and the company is a success.
"I've learned to let loose a little bit now, not be so controlling," Ramos said.
"It's been my baby," he said of C.R. Dynamics. "I'm willing to open it up now and let more folks in now. We're always looking at other areas. Looking how to see opportunities and how to help."