Here’s a peek into the life of Haas alumnus Jaime Raul Zepeda, EWMBA 2019, who views the State Senate as a platform for reaching and serving more community members through civic leadership. Check the full episode of the podcast to learn more about his passion for entrepreneurship and his mission to help fresh graduates get better job opportunities. Here is a summary of the episode’s highlights.
Learning Business and Leadership at an Early Age
Moving to the United States at 17, Jaime learned how to fight for his goals through grit and hard work. He was born and raised 15 miles South of the US border in Mexico. His father put up a small business together with his first business partner and employee— Jaime’s mother. Jaime was shaped by the entrepreneurial spirit in their family combined with the American-Mexican culture in their hometown. His mother’s share in values that guided his journey is the strong sense of volunteerism in the community. Jaime watched his mother teach adults to read, package lunches for people in jail, and give homeless people free haircuts when he was young.
“I was in a working-class family. We had enough to get by. We weren’t rich and thankfully weren’t poor, but I was raised there until I was 17. And you know, like my parents, I love them very much. They’re still with me, and they just set this fantastic example. My dad set this example for me to just always dream, always chase what you want. Hustle for what you’re looking for, like work hard.”
Making Uncomfortable but Necessary Decisions
He took the entrepreneurship mindset of his father to heart and eventually decided that this was the direction he wanted to pursue. However, Jaime realized that their family resources weren’t enough for him to get the education to bring him closer to his goal. He had to make difficult but necessary decisions, including moving to a country with no financial support. As a lone wolf, Jaime had to figure out and do everything by himself. While Jaime was still in school, he took any job to give him enough money to live on. He mopped floors, worked in a fast-food joint, and assisted customers in a call center.
“I looked back on that time, and I remember as like, I was scraping by, I didn’t have much furniture in my apartment. I had a chair that is now looking back at it, thinking it’s a pretty sad setting. It’s like I had a chair, like one of those kinds of Wicker chairs. I had a TV, I had a table, and I used the chair. I had to move the chair around when I watched TV or what I had to sit down and eat. And then I had my bed, and then I had the microwave and a fridge. But that was it. That was my furniture. Because I couldn’t afford anything else. As I looked back and like, I remember that I got pretty deep in debt because I had to use credit cards for everything else that I couldn’t afford.
And I looked it up, and I found that for the wage that I had at that time, I was technically below the poverty line where I was like right there, the poverty line. And even in the Midwest, that was pretty low. But then I just, you know, I remember what my parents taught me was like, your education is your inheritance. We can’t help you get to college, but we really hope that you do.”
It Takes a Community to Raise a Man
Jaime’s full-time work and studies left him feeling utterly exhausted on days he had to juggle both. Without the kindness of those who supported him, he wouldn’t be able to graduate from school. A vivid memory remains of his teachers, who showed him leniency because of his unique circumstances.
“I was going to high school during the day because I was on my own. I had to change clothes and go to work. I had a full-time job after that. I had a very different experience. But teachers at high school knew about that eventually. They knew that I was my own guardian, and there were just some teachers that I still remember to this day, like Mr. Bird, Mr. Allen, who knew that, and they would just come in and say, ‘Do you need some help, Jaime? I know that you got a lot. You can do that homework tomorrow.’
Or they would just see me coming in, exhausted for having worked the day before. And they could tell I was just dozing off in the back, and they would just swing by every now and then be like, ‘Are you okay, are you alright?’ And it was just awesome because it was like those little moments that taught me to appreciate the community that I had around me at all times. And I still bring that to this day.”
Meeting Like-Minded People at Haas
Jaime graduated from college and works with a non-profit organization, facilitating fundraising drives for education. He also worked at Great Place to Work, a mission-driven organization that helps companies create great workplaces for their employees. The ability he acquired to build relationships with clients made him an ideal candidate for the leadership of the customer success team. Jaime sought to develop himself more in the business field and decided to take an MBA at Haas, where he met like-minded people, including Tess Peppers, the first person he met at Haas. Their work would later continue together when Tess helped him to become the Vice President of Customer Success at Hive Diversity, a platform for helping recent graduates get internships and full-time jobs.
“The thing that makes us different is as these candidates come into what we call like the Hive and they sign up to be part of our candidate community is they have to do a couple of things that at least that I’m aware of, nobody else does right now, which is they have to go through a sort of education training process that teaches them why DEI is important. And so by them having to go through this before they can even apply to anything, they’re more uniquely qualified. They’ve shown their commitment to these ideas so that anybody like American Express or Disney knows if we get a candidate from Hive, we know that they already know why these sort of things matter, and they’re uniquely qualified.”
A Mission to Serve the Community that Helped Him Survive Hard Times
Jaime’s success reflects his extraordinary effort and the many people who never hesitated to help him out. In return, he is compelled to help others get the opportunity they need to launch their careers. He isn’t a stranger to struggle and scarcity, and so, he declared his candidacy to the State Senate in the hopes that he could help more people through this government leadership role. He believes that politics if done right, can empower people.
“I think you just need people who just say, I’m just going to try, regardless, I don’t know how to do it, and you don’t have to do something like I did, but you could just start small, and just vote. To be honest, a lot of people don’t vote in local elections. And so then these things around, okay, what gets taught at schools? What kind of taxes get levied? How are renters treated differently than homeowners? All of these things are local issues, and they get decided by the people who have the time, the privilege, the money, to make those decisions.”
In recognition of the fact that fund allocation and other big decisions are made by a few wealthy people who hold the power in government positions, Jaime is raising awareness so the community can play a more active role in local politics. Jaime has made a resolution not to accept any corporate money which unfortunately funds most political campaigns even as he needs funds to realize his vision.
His goal is to make sure that the welfare and interest of immigrants and people of color in the community who aren’t usually heard or seen are represented in the State Senate.
Listen to the full episode at Jaime Raul Zepeda EWMBA 19 – Serving the Community Through Civic Leadership, or check out other alumni stories at OneHaas Alumni Podcast.