Loving Your Trade: Talking with José Luis Otero
Growing up in California, Jose Otero’s young adult life was in the middle of the ‘.com’ era. Websites, once thought to be obsolete, were coming to life and thriving in this new wave of technology. After receiving his MBA, Otero worked in Silicon Valley, involved with financial analysis and investment portfolios. His love for economic growth, nonprofits, and self-branding would shape him to become the successful, driven entrepreneur that he is today.
After moving to Pennsylvania 14 years ago, Jose Otero put himself to work, getting involved with brand new companies and companies with new programs. GoodWill Industries, a well-established company, was given a grant to start a youth program for 16-24-year-olds who had either dropped out of high school or who had experienced incarceration at a young age. This program, named ‘Youth Build Johnstown,’ helped these young people integrate themselves back into society. Besides nonprofits, Otero was working with a member of Congress and was also working with both Startup Alleghenies and Ben Franklin Technology Partners. “I don’t think I’ve ever had to look for work. I was always called and asked, ‘Hey, we’d like you to be a part of this. Are you interested? And I’d say yes.”
When asked about the immediate difference in living in California to moving to Pennsylvania, Otero talks about culture. “It wasn’t just a culture shock; it was an economic shock—short antidote. I had lost my cell phone and found that I had left it in my car. When I had gone into my house, a $50 bill had fallen out of my pocket unnoticed. The next morning, it was still there in my driveway. Soaking wet from the rain, but it was still there. The cost of living here, compared to what it is out west, it’s totally different, and you don’t notice until you live in a more rural area like Johnstown.” But he sees nothing but potential for the Johnstown area and other counties in Central Pennsylvania. “I’m always asking myself the same question. ‘What can I do to have what is there, here.” To Otero, our area is a canvas waiting to be painted.
Having many job opportunities on both the West Coast and East Coast, Otero, while asked to reflect on his accomplishments, named three of the most important to him. “I value education as a whole. One of the things I’m proud of is the fact that I have an MBA and I’m using it every single day.” He goes on to elaborate more on his five years spent working with the Congress member. “I had a good pulse on what was going on in the area, and that’s what he needed,” Otero comments. “He depended on staff to inform him of the good stuff, bad stuff, and all of the in-between.” Besides being able to serve as a member of the federal government, Otero had a lot of experience in working in interests of his own, including taxes, economic development, and Veterans affairs. What was most fulfilling about this accomplishment was the idea that Otero got to help someone make a better decision when they voted.
Anyone in business understands that having a good brand means you have a good sense of how you want your customers to view you and the products you provide. But what about branding an individual? When working with the Congress member, Otero got to experience what it was like to brand a person for their campaign. “He was in the middle of a presidential campaign, the same one our current president was a part of. But what was nice about working for him was the fact that his morals and values that he spoke about matched the same ones he has. It was easy to brand him because he was honest to the public, whom he needed to get the votes.” He goes on to talk about the businesses and their branding. “Be honest in business. The best form of branding happens when companies remain who they are."
His last accomplishment that he spoke about was how, through all of his work, he found a balance in life. “I finally understood what it meant to put family first and then have my work surround it.” With this, many more roles had to be played by Otero. “I had to be a businessman, but a father, as well as a lunch lady, activities director, referee, etc.” It was when he found that, that his way of working changed in the best way. “With all of that, it was so much more fulfilling, the things I was doing.”
Influence and mentorship is a big part of how business leaders grow each day. One of the biggest influences for Otero was a teacher he had as a boy. “Mrs. Edrozo. She was my English as a Second Language teacher.” One of the most important things she taught him as a boy was not to be afraid of anything. “I felt very lost as a kid. Many adjustments were being made. Not only was I learning English, but I was getting used to the food and many other things. Everything to me was new, besides walking, of course.” He goes on saying, “She didn’t just teach me in school. She taught me that I shouldn’t fear what’s coming, that I shouldn’t be afraid of the future or change because it was always going to happen.” Otero also commented about how he remains in contact with Mrs. Edrozo. “I wonder if she knows how many lives she has touched.”
Another influence in his life, Otero mentions Bill Hall from Ben Franklin Technology Partners. “He reminds me of the type of person I would like to be one day.” Naming off qualities, Otero was able to conclude that he had many similar personality traits to Mrs. Edrozo. He sees Hall as a teacher as well. “Don’t get me wrong. He’s not afraid to correct me,” Otero says with a chuckle. “I’ve seen him do it with others. It’ll be my turn someday.”
Ten years into the future, Otero sees himself continuing to do the things he loves to do. “I will most definitely continue working on economic development. That’s my trade, it’s what I’m good at, and I love doing it.” For now, his home is in Pennsylvania, but he says he would love to see himself back in San Diego or Santa Cruz. Keeping busy is his favorite thing, so it was no surprise that Otero has been working on many new projects with app and web-based companies. To name a few, he’s worked with Dogginz, A WristoCat, Action Driven Education, and Eternal Remembrance.
To summarize Jose Otero, speaking with him was a refreshing look into the future of business. Many talk about passion and having it with them, but Otero lives and breathes for business and economic growth. His positive outlook on companies, ideas, and many other ways of working should be inspiring to those who are looking into getting into a similar trade. Make time for the things that are important for you and then work. Don’t make time for fear of the change that is inevitably to come.
Follow José Luis Otero on Facebook and on Instagram @otero814!