Carlos Guaman ’09 (accounting and finance) is the founder and CEO of El Triunfo Corporation, a Santa Ana-based accounting and insurance firm serving primarily the Orange County Hispanic community. He shares his personal story and talks about business opportunities in the Southern California Hispanic community.
For a decade, Carlos Guaman ’09 has run his company, El Triunfo, which provides accounting, payroll and other financial services to more than 2,000 individual and business clients. At 36, Guaman’s career in finance has already spanned more than 20 years.
A Business Career Gets an Early Start
Born in the coastal Ecuadorian city of 35,000 for which his company is named, Guaman’s career began early. At age 11, his mother helped him start his first business: a small banking enterprise, which was attractive to people in his city because the Ecuadorian financial system was unreliable at the time.
“People would rather that I hold their money than have the money in a bank,” he says. “I didn’t have any startup costs, and I earned $1,000 right away. Soon, I started lending money.” His second enterprise was renting Nintendo video games, which local residents could play at his home for a fee.
At the encouragement of his uncle Jorge, Guaman came to the U.S. in 1998, with the hopes of attaining a higher education. At age 16, he worked for his aunt, who lived in New York City.
“I didn’t speak English and didn’t know anything about the U.S. when I arrived,” he says. “After a few months, my uncle Roberto had a family reunion in California, which brought me out west for the first time. I loved California and have stayed here ever since.”
While working at his uncle Roberto’s business, RFG Financial Services, which provided accounting support to local Hispanic businesses, Guaman was faced with the cumbersome task of writing checks. He had a desire to make the process easier.
“Computers always fascinated me,” he says. “I started using an early version of Microsoft Windows when I was in Ecuador, and I loved how it made my documents and presentations look so much more professional.”
Guaman would lead the way in helping RFG adapt to the contemporary technological environment and expand its presence in Orange County. In 2000, he was named chief financial officer; though at the time, he had taken only a few accounting courses at Santa Ana College.
“I had to learn how to do accounting from my uncle’s CPA,” he says. “At the same time, I was studying accounting at college, which was hectic, because I would get out of work and head straight to my classes. But it worked out, because I discovered the secret that if you commit to something, you have to actually follow through. When everyone else was partying, I was applying myself, and, thank God, it actually worked!”
Growing as an Entrepreneur and Titan
In 2003, Guaman graduated with his associate degree from Santa Ana College. He began an undergraduate program at Mihaylo College in 2006, which he completed three years later.
“I was very inspired to finish my degree,” he says. “I was the first one in my family to go to college, and I was also a role model in my community.”
Mihaylo Accounting Professor Paul Foote was particularly impactful. “He was always straightforward,” recalls Guaman. “He would say, ‘accounting is not a spectator sport, you have to put some sweat into it if you want to be in business,’ and this truly resonated.”
Guaman continued to work with his uncle for 10 years, eventually becoming a business partner, before he decided to start his own operation, El Triunfo Corporation, which opened in August 2008.
“My first office was Starbucks, where I met people and worked from my laptop,” he says. “It was a tense time, because this was when the real estate market crashed.” But he saw a need for his services, particularly with Latino business owners, who often needed assistance in maintaining their finances, especially in the difficult economic environment.
He recalls one of his first clients, a business owner who had been charged more than $100,000 by state authorities for failing to pay sales taxes. With Guaman’s help, that client was able to restructure their debt and focus on building their business.
Finding a Niche in the Orange County Hispanic Market
“The Hispanic community opens a lot of new businesses, so there is always a need for someone to do the payroll, the books and the taxes, which is what I do,” he says. “I see El Triunfo eventually growing into a franchise, with locations serving Hispanics in other parts of the U.S., such as Texas and Miami. While the laws vary, the basics of accounting and insurance are the same nationwide.”
Guaman plans to return to Mihaylo College in fall 2018 to pursue an MBA degree. He encourages fellow working adults to continue their education to maximize their potential.
“A lot of people think going to school is complicated and expensive, but what does it cost not to go to school?” he asks. “With a good education, you can have a much better life.”
Guaman encourages students and alumni to consider creating businesses that focus on providing financial services to local Hispanics. “There is a market in the Latino community that is untapped,” he says. “We need more support, in both big firms and in local firms, which often more directly impact this community.”
As a Hispanic business leader, Guaman has been interviewed more than 100 times for local radio and television, including Univision. “I ask myself ‘how can I help more people through the knowledge and support that I have?’” he says. “I want others to know that if you do things right and work hard, this country will help you.”
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