MILAN, IL — While some approach middle age with apprehension, Illinois-based Group O is embracing its 40th birthday this month – and is looking forward to many years to come.
One of the country’s largest and most diverse Hispanic-owned businesses, Group O has more than $600 million in annual sales and 1,500 employees. The company specializes in business process outsourcing solutions in the areas of marketing, supply chain, packaging and business analytics. Its clients range from high-tech and telecom leaders such as AT&T, Samsung and Microsoft to packaged goods providers PepsiCo and MillerCoors to manufacturing giants like Caterpillar and John Deere.
As with many start-ups, Group O began with humble origins. The company was founded as Bi-State Packaging on October 1, 1974, when Bob Ontiveros quit his job to start his own business selling packaging supplies out of his family station wagon. As one of 10 children born to second-generation Mexican immigrants in the working-class Floreciente neighborhood of Moline, Illinois, Ontiveros knew that he wanted something more – and that he could create his own opportunities.
Ontiveros started by knocking on doors selling packaging supplies and equipment. Around the same time, corporate clients started to practice supplier diversity initiatives and suggested that Ontiveros look into getting certified as a minority business enterprise.
“I started researching supplier diversity and went to our first minority trade fair in Chicago,” said Ontiveros. “We joined the National Minority Supplier Development Council (NMSDC) in 1981, and those connections helped us grow our business even more. Supplier diversity has grown from a federal requirement to a new philosophy based on demographics. Companies today see that it’s good for business and a win-win.”
As the company grew through the 80s and 90s, it added new businesses and entered new markets. Bob’s wife, Blenda, and sons Chris and Gregg joined the family business, and the Group O corporate umbrella was formed in 1992.
“Customers would ask us ‘what is it that you do?’” said Gregg Ontiveros, Bob’s son and current CEO. “Our answer has always been ‘what is it that you need done?’ That can-do attitude toward solving problems and helping our customers do things better, faster or less expensively is baked into the company’s DNA.”
Today, Group O solves problems for its clients across a wide spectrum. The Packaging Solutions team continues to help clients optimize their containment results through a custom mix of materials, equipment, service and analysis. The Supply Chain Solutions unit, meanwhile, does everything from bottling and shipping coolant worldwide to assembling custom repair kits for heavy equipment to managing high-tech devices and merchandising for retail locations. The Marketing Solutions group provides large-scale customer reward and rebate solutions, including data management, sourcing, creative services, and web and mobile application development. A 250-seat customer care center provides branded, high-touch support and sales. And the Business Analytics team recruits and manages more than 190 technology professionals both at client sites and offshore to help clients make better business decisions.
Gregg Ontiveros expects that recent facility additions in Minneapolis and Dallas will enable Group O to expand through the midsection of the United States and return to its employment high of more than 1,800 people, despite challenges that affect minority and other businesses alike.
“Based on factors like rapidly emerging technologies, business cycles have compressed from three to five years in the past to 18 to 36 months today,” says Ontiveros. “You really have to be diligent about understanding where your customers are going and what they’re doing. If you’re not evolving with them, you could find yourself facing your own ice age. That’s not exclusive to diversity companies. It’s the world we live in today.”
Based on its record of growth, Group O has done well evolving with its clients. NMSDC selected Group O as National Minority Supplier of the Year and the United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce (USHCC) recognized the company as one of the top-five Latino-owned businesses in the country. Group O has also earned top-supplier recognition from several of its clients.
Both Bob and Gregg Ontiveros have also been recognized for their professional achievements, business mentoring and community involvement. Gregg was named USHCC Hispanic Businessman of the Year in 2012 and to the 50 Influentials list published by Hispanic Business. Meanwhile, Bob Ontiveros has received a variety of recognition, highlighted by a 2013 Order of Lincoln award – the state of Illinois’ highest honor.
Awards like that recognize the Ontiveros’ family’s commitment to serving its community and mentoring other minority business entrepreneurs. Gregg Ontiveros has participated in the President’s Hispanic CEO Roundtable at the White House. And the company also announced the second of five $10,000 scholarships for Hispanic MBA students at the USHCC national convention September 23 in Salt Lake City.
“Our philosophy is that everyone wins when people are given an opportunity to show what they can do,” said Ontiveros. “The next generation of Hispanic business leaders will need to be prepared to lead and compete on a global level — and we’re excited to partner with USHCC to help make that happen.”
As Group O celebrates its 40th anniversary, its CEO also looks forward to building on the company’s success and helping pave the way for future growth.
“We’re like any other 40-year-old,” says Ontiveros. “We need to stay in shape, keep flexible and listen to others – namely, our clients. If we continue to build on our strengths, we’ll be in great shape for the coming years.”
About Group O
Group O is a diversified business process outsourcing provider specializing in marketing, supply chain, packaging and business analytics solutions. A Corporate Plus member of the National Minority Supplier Development Council (nmsdc.org), Group O is an NMSDC National Minority Supplier of the Year honoree and is recognized as a Top 5 Latino-owned Business by the United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. Headquartered in Milan, IL, Group O is one of the largest Hispanic-owned companies in the United States and employs more than 1,500. To learn more, visit www.GroupO.com.