Comerica Corner: Frank Venegas
Like the infamous Charlie Bucket from Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, Frank Venegas took a chance on a golden ticket that would shape him into one of the most successful entrepreneurs in the country. However, unlike Charlie, Venegas’ ticket did not come from a candy bar, but rather from a fall festival.
In 1979 the infamous “Golden Ticket” was a hot commodity. At the time, the Livingston County Building Association held a Fall Festival of the Home Builders Association.
“The party was 150 bucks to get in and that was a lot of money at that time,” the CEO of Ideal Group said. “The guy I worked for wouldn’t buy the ticket, so I paid for the ticket myself.” During the night, guests at the Annual Dinner danced all night around a 1979 Cadillac Coup de Ville that was being raffled off. Maybe it was luck of the night, but the native from Southwest Detroit entered the drawing.
“At the end of the night I drove the Cadillac home,” Venegas said. “I kept it for nine days and sold it. That’s what I used to start my company.” A Cadillac Coupe de Ville held a high value revenue of $12,000 dollars and for Venegas that was all he would need to start up his own company, Ideal Steel and Builders’ Supplies in Hamburg, MI.
In 1996, Frank moved his Ideal Shield operations (a division of Ideal Steel) to Southwest Detroit and formed Hispanic Manufacturing Center with Gonzalez Design Engineering, Munoz Machines and Uni Boring. “If it wasn’t for Comerica Bank and General Motors saying that they were going to support Detroit businesses and impoverished communities” Venegas said. “We would never be a $300 million company.”
When the company first started, Frank, HMC Business owners, and a priest sat down with the leaders of five different gangs active in the community and asked them what they wanted in return for a peaceful work zone. Frank was amazed at what they responded when they said that all they wanted were “jobs”. Venegas and the HMC business owners hired 80 of them on the spot.
In 1996, Frank Venegas became a founding board member of the Gang Retirement and Continuing Education and Employment program (GRACE), a program that transitioned youth from gang life to work life.
One of the areas where Venegas has high praise for is his personal educational initiatives resulting in career opportunities for the Southwest Detroit area. “I’m a fanatic, I put a lot of money into the community,” Venegas said. “We support the community.”
Ideal has been a big asset to Detroit Cristo Rey High School. “The unique thing about Detroit Cristo Rey is that the kids go to work and school at the same time,” Venegas said.
“My grandfather was an immigrant from Mexico,” Venegas said. “It’s important for leaders like myself that have done well to go into the communities, support the schools but more importantly than anything is mentor people”