Agueda “Agatha” Esparza’s work ethic and attention to detail has always been noticed. Starting as a teenager when she was hired to bus tables at a restaurant but soon promoted to waitress, Texas Certified Development Company’s packaging manager regularly has been recognized by her employers for her willingness to go the extra mile. That perseverance, attention to detail and friendliness has not only helped her achieve personal milestones, but makes her the perfect person to assist small business owners who are looking to grow their business through an SBA 504 loan.
“Customer focus is what I think of when I think of Agueda,” said TxCDC President Suzanna Caballero. “She always considers our customers, which we consider our borrowers and bankers, when she takes action, works with our team and performs her duties. It’s natural for Agueda. What a joy it is to have her work ethic and customer focus on our team!”
Always Striving to Improve
Born in Mexico, Esparza is the youngest of eight children. When she was 11, her family moved to Natchitoches, Louisiana. Because she didn’t speak a word of English, Esparza was assigned to an English-as-a-Second-Language class where her teacher took her under her wing. She quickly learned English and graduated from high school in 1989, becoming the first person in her family to finish high school.
With her teacher’s help, Esparza headed to Austin, TX where she received a full scholarship to attend St. Edward’s University through a program for students who were raised by migrant workers. She started college with the intent of studying international business because of the North American Free Trade Agreement, but ended up changing her major to liberal arts with a minor in Spanish. She achieved another first in her family – a college diploma — and reached another milestone in 1994 when she earned her U.S. citizenship.
Knowing That Relationships Matter
During her last year in college, Esparza took a job as a waitress in an Austin restaurant. One of her regular customers, TxCDC Chairman Paul Tovar, admired her work ethic and helpful demeanor and invited her to join his business, Austin Occupational Clinic. In late 1995, she moved to TxCDC, becoming the company’s second employee.
Esparza was hired to support TxCDC President Ernest Perales. “He has been the greatest mentor that I have had. I learned a lot from him,” she said. “He was always very calm, very professional. He would always tell me his main concern was to serve our clients the best that we could. Customers would call us with a request on their loan and we would always respond to them that day or the day after. I thought that was really a good way to do business because we always kept our clients happy.”
At that time, TxCDC’s consultants worked in assigned areas covering 97 of the state’s 254 counties and would submit applications directly to the SBA. Once the loan was approved, TxCDC would be responsible for servicing the loan. In her role, Esparza assisted in facilitating the customer’s completion of all SBA requirements during the loan period. She also worked with Perales to help customers get deferments if they could not make a payment.
Her favorite part of the job at that time was joining Perales on field visits. “We would go and meet with the client and see the property. It was neat to see an actual building was created because of a loan that we had worked on,” Esparza said. “And meeting the client – that was the most important thing we did. We met the client face-to-face so the next time they called, they could put a face with a voice.”
An Expanded Role
As the SBA rules changed to encourage more competition among certified development companies and TxCDC grew, Esparza’s role began to change. Her responsibilities expanded and ranged from ensuring that all of TxCDC’s files were in order for SBA audits to creating the organization’s marketing materials. She also mentored new staff members on operations as well as TxCDC‘s focus on customer service. When the actual loan application process became centralized at TxCDC, Esparza started servicing files and facilitating the application process through working with clients, bankers, the consultants and the SBA.
She now works closely with TxCDC Chief Credit Officer Oscar Martinez to review documentation, prepare forms, and submit the final loan applications. Because of her long tenure at TxCDC, Esparza serves as a key quality-control monitor to ensure that all elements of the application process are done correctly so the loan can be approved quickly.
Esparza appreciates being part of a TxCDC team that is dedicated to helping their clients. “For almost 20 years, I have seen TxCDC grow from a really small company with only a few loans to its current portfolio of several hundred loans,” she said. “TxCDC’s success comes from the dedicated staff members and consultants who, combined, have spent more than 150 years serving this organization and its customers.”
Despite the addition of many new job responsibilities, Esparza still finds one of her favorite parts of her job is watching a project move from the conceptual phase to completion. “I’m like ‘Wow, this is somebody’s dream on a piece of paper and now it’s a reality,” she said. “It’s incredible to see the joy on the owner’s face and know that I helped make their dreams possible.”
By Dorian Martin