CEO Chat is a podcast powered by Blue 16 Media. Each episode features an entrepreneur or business owner speaking on their remarkable journey as well as advice for anyone heading down the entrepreneurial path.
This episode features Michel Zajour, founder and CEO of the Virginia Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. Check out the episode above to listen to the full story and read below for highlights from our talk with Michel Zajour.
Each step in life leads down another path. The choices we make along the way eventually lead us to our destination – a place we wanted to be or somewhere we never thought we’d end up. Choices in early life led Michel down a completely different road. “I’m originally from Mexico. I came here to the United States at a very young age. I grew up in Virginia when there were very few Spanish-speaking families here. My parents settled in Richmond. I always felt that I had to explain myself about why my family spoke Spanish at home. I attended college at VCU and was involved in my family’s restaurant. I convinced my parents to turn it into a Mexican restaurant because that’s what we ate at home. It became a very popular eatery in Richmond and it became a community hub. Over the years as the Hispanic community grew and more Hispanics moved in, this was a place they would come to asking for assistance and needed help with some language barriers and so forth. Over the years, not really realizing it, we’re sort of an informal spot where people from the Hispanic community would meet. I knew there needed to be some kind of resource to help others assimilate into the community and have opportunities of achieving the American dream.”
As a centralized location for the community, Zajour’s chamber strives to help business owners actively take control of where they want to go. “The Hispanic Chamber of Commerce protects the interests and promotes businesses from the Hispanic community and people who want to do business with the Hispanic community. It’s a bridge which connects and brings people together. We work with businesses to help them with education, to help them move up the ladder, and we have strong relationships with community leaders.”
Running a business is about forging relationships of mutual trust. Zajour explains just how important this is to becoming a successful entrepreneur. “I tell businesses a lot of times who are reaching out towards trying to market their product and community outreach of trying to hire Latinos that it’s not a quick deal. It’s about consistent relationship building. The Hispanic community is very loyal but it takes time to build trust. It’s about being familia. They stay with you. The chamber really helps to do that with businesses and companies be part of the community and build up relationships.”
Having moved to the area as a child Zajour understands how amazing the DMV is for entrepreneurs and businesses to grow in. “The greater Washington area is one of the most diverse markets in the US. The Hispanic community in the greater Washington area is one of most affluent communities in the world. The US government is one of the largest spenders in the world and it brings a lot of different opportunities. We have a very business-friendly environment. All around it’s just a good place to do business.”