It is at this time of year when we’re reminded of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol,” the tale of a narrow-minded businessman whose only concern in life was the unrelenting pursuit of profit. Ebeneezer Scrooge’s sense of family and community was nonexistent; any matter that did not impact the financial ledger was of no consequence to him.
Ol’ Scrooge would have done well to take a page from the book of Vince Puente, president of sales and marketing for Fort Worth, TX-based Southwest Office Systems (SOS). Puente and his brother, Buddy, have managed to chart double-digit organic growth the past few years without sacrificing cash reserves, and the company doesn’t have any operating or long-term debt. That would have brought a twinkle to Scrooge’s eyes.
Rather than counting money in a cold, dark room, Vince Puente uses his position with the company to bring value to the community through religious and political activities. Puente opens his home to host meetings and receptions for hundreds of people involved in political and Christian-based organizations in a quest to improve his corner of the world. These efforts alone qualify Puente as a 2017 ENX Magazine Difference Maker, but his ability to navigate the firm through drastic technology changes while creating an economically sustainable platform in the process only adds to his reputation as an executive of substance.
“Even after 40-some years in business and at the age of 63, I’m looking forward to the next day’s work and what we can do to improve ourselves and keep moving in the right direction,” he said. “We’re making an impact with the 50 families that work with us and making an impact on our 4,000 clients, because I know we’re bringing value to them.
“We’re also making an impact in the community. Buddy and I serve on seven or eight organization boards between us. I’m also very involved in the political community—local, state and national. It’s not just about me and the company, it’s about what we do in the community.”
Puente started working in the firm founded by his father, Victor Puentes Sr., almost on a full-time basis while a senior in high school (“I was an indentured slave for my dad”). Initially, he pursued architecture while in college, but realized he lacked the creative talent for the job. Puente tried his hand at selling system furniture, but soon settled in at SOS as a sales rep, and found he had a natural inclination for selling.
Puente is proud of the company’s ability to transform itself from a computer repair business while battling through a number of recessions through the years. In the process, SOS has fostered longstanding relationships with both employees and clients.
“Over half of our team has been here 10 years or longer. They’re not old codgers, they’re people who keep growing with us,” Puente said. “We’re a fine-tuned piece of equipment. We perform extremely well for our clients and they reward us with their business.”
Puente benefitted from the wisdom of his father, who instilled a tremendous work ethic and that sense of community. Unlike many business owners who often become workaholics and spend countless hours at the office, the elder Puente made plenty of time for his family and the community, teaching Vince the importance of balance in life.
One of the biggest turning points for SOS came at the suggestion of a banking executive. Back in the early 1990s, the dealer hit a growth wall of $6 million during what was a weak economy. The banker suggested making a concerted effort to eliminate debt, and SOS heeded the advice. Within a few years, SOS eliminated operating debt, and even after constructing a new $2 million facility in 1997, the Puentes freed themselves of the mortgage in five years. Since 2003, the dealer has not carried any debt.
Eliminating debt proved to be pivotal when SOS lost 25 percent of its revenue in a two-year period following the Great Recession of 2008. “You’re working from a position of strength instead of a position of fear,” Puente said of the debt-free operation. “I carried that into my personal life. It’s amazing the strength you get in making decisions, the flexibility. Last month, we made a million dollar buy of equipment to get a certain rebate, and that rebate’s greater than I can get on the million dollars sitting in the bank. We have strong cash reserves, zero debt and it’s a wonderful combo.”
SOS has reaped a number of awards from chambers of commerce in the Fort Worth and Dallas areas, which Puente feels reinforces the firm’s performance. Puente’s hope is to continue the company’s double-digit growth performance in 2018 while maintaining the high profits. His goal is to see SOS improve its sales force recruitment and build on its core of quality reps.
Puente and his wife, Mona, have been married 43 years and have two children, Vince Jr. and Lindsay. Mona is a line dance instructor for a group (including her husband) that performs in public. The Puentes built a custom home to accommodate the more than 900 people who visit them annually for church and political events.
“Most people downsize when their kids grow up. We did just the opposite,” Puente said.