Not afraid to take a risk: Neyra Acevedo
Business owner Neyra Acevedo never planned to be an entrepreneur.
She graduated from UT Arlington with a B.B.A. in marketing in 1986, but she really wanted to study science. Her favorite professor was Ulrich Herrmann, who taught astronomy. She dropped out of college and worked several years at the Dallas Apparel Mart for a well-known women’s clothing line. She also taught ballet.
Not exactly the background you’d associate with the owner of a successful building maintenance company, but Acevedo has deep roots in Al Mar Maintenance Group. As a teen, she worked weekends and summers in the business, which her parents started in the 1970s.
"Friday was the big night; there were always lots of buildings to clean," she said. "There were no football games, no social life. But it really didn’t matter, because I was a bookworm."
Sitting in her Arlington office, Acevedo recalled the events that led her to take over the company. The office is decorated with old Rita Hayworth movie posters. Acevedo bought the lithographs on the trips that she and her mother, Rhody, took to Las Vegas in the final years they shared. She also relates to Hayworth, she says, because "there was a lot of adversity in her life, and she was a strong woman."
Hard work was always a given in the Acevedo family. Adversity came later, created in part by the dynamics unique to family businesses, exacerbated by divorce, illness and death.
By 1996, Al Mar had become a medium-sized business, which Acevedo defines as reaching $5 million in annual revenues. The milestone was reached with lots of 20-hour days, with her father managing the business and her mother handling finances.
Also in 1996, her parents divorced. Her father got the operations west of Texas and her mother kept the original business, which by now had high overhead, as well as some debt. Acevedo, who is strong in operation and management skills, re-entered the business and led the fight to keep the doors open.
Perhaps she had no choice. The business was her mother’s only source of income, plus she felt a sense of duty to the employees who depended on the company for a paycheck.
While her UT Arlington business courses proved invaluable, Acevedo also found help in an unlikely place: one of her chief competitors. She had become friends with Danette Heeth at conferences over the years, so she asked her business rival for help.
"She showed an unheard of, extraordinary generosity and actually taught me how to bid," Acevedo said.
Heeth, a student in the UT Arlington College of Business Administration from 1981-83, knew the Acevedos as hard-working and honest, with an excellent reputation in the business community. And they created jobs for people who might otherwise not find work.
"You know your good competitors, and you know your bad competitors," Heeth said.
The company was worth saving, so Heeth created a spreadsheet to calculate how much to charge. She even wrote Al Mar’s safety, sales and blood-borne pathogens manuals. Shortly afterward, Acevedo won the Small Business Administration Section 8-A classification federal contract, which marked the turning point in the company’s struggles.
Things were looking rosy when Rhody Acevedo was diagnosed with breast cancer. Along with the responsibilities of running the company, Neyra became her mother’s caregiver, working long hours but savoring the good times. When her mother went through a period of remission, they made a calculated decision to work less and enjoy life.
But in August 2000, Rhody died, just before she was named the Arlington Hispanic Chamber of Commerce’s first Entrepreneur of the Year. Neyra has now made a choice to seek balance in her life, not to allow the business to grow so large it consumes her.
"There is no guarantee that we will be here 80 or 90 years. Or even tomorrow," she said.
Acevedo has another reason to balance the demands of business and personal life. Actually, two reasons. In January she and her husband, Greg Appel, traveled to Russia to bring home adopted daughters Ekaterina, 8, and Irina, 3. While Ekaterina is in school, Irina is frequently in the office with her mother, creating art, covering herself with tiny green seals and generally capturing the hearts of anyone who happens in.
The children had no problems adjusting to their new way of life.
"Ekaterina," her mother said, "took to capitalism real well."
— Sue Stevens