Eduardo Gonzalez, the founder and CEO of a successful steel company, says he learned a lot watching his parents flee Cuba in the early 1960s. His parents, who’d been attorneys, arrived in America and had to start from scratch, ultimately finding new careers as Spanish literature professors. “Seeing your parents cope with unimaginable hardships,” Gonzalez says, “you gain real strength from that.” And that strength helped him achieve rapid success. Gonzalez studied economics at University of Michigan, and he began working in the steel industry in his mid 20s. By age 28, he had used $35,000 he’d saved up—as well as loans from family and friends—to buy a bankrupt steel toll processor, a firm that converts raw steel into usable parts. “I’d always wanted to be an entrepreneur,” Gonzalez explains, “and after watching the owner of the steel company I worked for, I felt like I could do things better.”
And do things better he did. Gonzalez says when he first began his Cleveland-based business, Farragon Corporation, he only had five employees—and enough cash on hand to last just three months. He says he never gave up the dream though, and he took advantage of government loans, as well as pleas by his loyal customers to build steel processing operations closer to their manufacturing plants. Today, Gonzalez runs five interrelated companies he founded, all within the steel toll processing industry. His businesses—based in Kentucky, Mississippi, Cleveland, and Detroit—employ 300 people and generate $50 million in revenue each year. And many of the jobs he’s created have gone to workers born in America: Gonzalez estimates 70 to 80 percent of his workforce is US-born.
But that isn’t the only way Gonzalez is putting his unique immigrant stamp on the American business world. Gonzalez’s companies, which mold steel into everything from car frames to sections of oil drilling platforms, have worked on a variety of American-made products. Among the things he’s most proud of: creating the thin metal door panels for the Ford F150 pickup truck and commercial vans. Gonzalez says that because dents are so easy to spot on such surfaces, “it’s harder to do that job right than it is to make a Cadillac.” But he doesn’t take the work for granted. “I feel lucky ever day to be in the steel industry,” Gonzalez says, citing his firm’s ability to survive the financial crisis as one of his biggest accomplishments. Today he says the company is stronger than ever. “I’ll be proud of what we’ve built,” Gonzalez says, “for the rest of my life.”