By Jonathan Turner, email@example.com
MOLINE — Though Bob Ontiveros is 75 and spends half the year in Longboat Key, Fla., he works most every day, primarily as the driving force behind the Greater Quad Cities Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, which he founded in 2008 and now serves as chairman .
“I should be slowing down, but I can’t,” the Moline native and chairman of Milan-based Group O, said. “I’ve been doing this all my life. I just can’t stop because I love connecting people.
“I’m daily on email. In the morning, I’ve got 125 emails to get through every day in Florida,” Mr. Ontiveros said. “There’s got to be a driver, any time there’s a successful organization, there’s got to be someone leading and driving it.”
He founded Group O (then Bi-State Packaging) in 1974 and has led the company to its position as Illinois’ largest Hispanic-owned business and the 14th biggest such business in the nation, with annual revenues of more than $500 million and a workforce of more than 1,500.
Group O — with offices nationwide — specializes in marketing services, business intelligence, supply chain operations and strategic packaging solutions. A Corporate Plus member of the National Minority Supplier Development Council, Group O is an NMSDC National Minority Supplier of the Year honoree and is recognized as a Top 5 Latino-owned business by the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.
Long active in the national Hispanic chamber, Mr. Ontiveros saw there were more than 200 Hispanic business networks in the U.S. but none between Chicago and Omaha until he launched the Q-C Hispanic chamber, for which he works hard to recruit new members.
“The benefits to businesses include exposure, networking,” Mr. Ontiveros said. “I connect people with opportunities for their business to grow, see how they can grow, and I inspire them. We have tons of role models, speakers who come in. We bring in nationally known speakers all the time.”
At the chamber’s January annual gala, the keynote speaker was the CEO of AT&T Mobility.
In addition to social networking events, the Hispanic chamber (which includes members as far away as Iowa City) offers training with Black Hawk and Scott Community colleges.
The group merges Mr. Ontiveros’ twin passions of community service and promoting diversity.
“We like to be involved in the community. We found it to be very beneficial for our employees,” he said of Group O, noting that he started volunteering 30 years ago on the Junior Achievement board.
“They feel good being in the community, volunteering at Junior Achievement, teaching at Boys & Girls Clubs. We’ve got quite a few others we represent.”
“We like to be involved in our community because it gives us the image of giving back, but more than that, employees really love doing it,” Mr. Ontiveros said. “In many cases, we’ve had people come to us and apply for work. They say ‘we really want to work for a company that’s involved in the community.’
“That helps us attract employees. That’s been a real benefit for us,” he said. “That’s a win for everybody.”
Growing up in Moline’s Floreciente neighborhood in a family of 10 kids, Mr. Ontiveros has helped to steadily increase the diversity of Group O’s workforce, which is now made up of more than 35 percent minorities.
Former GQCHCC head Alfred Ramirez was hired by Group O in 2011 for the new position of vice president for government relations and diversity, to build on that commitment.
Mr. Ontiveros said his clients — including Kraft Foods, Pepsi, MillerCoors and AT&T — all have people in that position and Group O “needed to keep that going.”
The Hispanic chamber also reflects explosive growth of the Latino population in the region and nationwide, Mr. Ontiveros said.
“We started from scratch, and now we’re recognized as the small chamber of the year by national (Hispanic Chamber),” he said, noting that his son Gregg (CEO of Group O since 2010) was named Hispanic businessman of the year by the U.S. Hispanic chamber.
Bob Ontiveros is on the board of the 3-year-old quarterly magazine Racing Toward Diversity and was featured on the Fall 2013 cover. “Group O is recognized as the gold standard among minority companies. That makes me feel good, that we’ve done it right,” he said.
Mr. Ontiveros was instrumental in founding the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Mississippi Valley, continues to serve on its board and has worked to launch a new credit union to open this spring in the group’s teen center at 1122 5th Ave., Moline.
That’s close to the Community Health Care clinic he helped build at 1106 4th Ave. He and his wife, Blenda, bought the property and funded the clinic’s construction (for about $3 million) and CHC leases it from them. It not only provided critically important low-cost care for many people without a primary doctor, but removed an eyesore from the area, Mr. Ontiveros said.
A similar revitalization happened earlier in the 1990s with development of the iWireless Center and John Deere Commons downtown. Mr. Ontiveros was a 12-year member of the arena’s governing board, including five as its chairman.
“It’s well worth it. It cleaned up an old industrial area of Moline,” he said. “We still have a long way to go. It’s a slow process.”
The grandfather of six (his other son, Chris, is a Group O stockholder and general manager of Moline’s Ray’z Barber Shop and Styling College), Mr. Ontiveros is much honored for his work.
He’s received a Legacy Award from the U.S. Department of Commerce; Lifetime Achievement Awards from the National Minority Supplier Development Council and the Chicago Minority Business Development Council; has Illinois’ highest honor, the 2013 Order of Lincoln Award; is a member of JA’s Quad Cities Area Business Hall of Fame and the Jeremiah Milbank Society, a national society that honors individuals who give $10,000 or more to the Boys and Girls Clubs.
What Mr. Ontiveros said he’s enjoyed most is “to build a company this large and have my son take over and build it even bigger.”