Well-known leadership consultant and entrepreneur David Ibarra is the founder of four companies: eLeaderTech, the Ibarra-Brito Group and David Ibarra Enterprises in the United States and eLeaderTech Limitada of Costa Rica. He also received a U.S. patent for his performance management software “Executing the Standards®.”
He possesses all the qualities of a great leader. He is kind and humble yet strong, confident and determined. It is almost difficult to merge the image of the successful entrepreneur with that of a troubled youngster who struggled to fit in.
David’s story can be traced back to the late 1950s in the state of Utah, where he and his brother Mickey were raised in foster care. As the son of a white American mother and a dark-skinned Mexican father in a predominantly white community, growing up was hard for David as he experienced discrimination and prejudice for being one of few children of color in their community.
His personality started to develop as a consequence of his experiences and interactions with others. He coped with the anxiety and frustration he felt by expressing his anger through physical fights.
“I can recall being singled out or picked on, but I could quickly hide that discomfort by turning around and physically defending myself,” said David. “The attention would then go to the person laying on the ground rather than me.”
He tried to assert himself in a racially non-inclusive environment without much success, which prompted him to move to Sacramento, California, at the age of 14 to reunite with his father.
Learning about his heritage and being with his family was a key to solidifying his identity.
“The first time I met my aunt, she hugged me longer than I had ever been hugged, and I understood then what it meant to have a family; what it meant to belong,” he said.
However, even in Sacramento, a predominantly Latino community at the time, he experienced rejection because he was a Latino who did not speak Spanish. At that point, he realized there always would be people judging him because he was different, and it was going to be up to him to achieve the type of life he wanted.
“There are two things that motivate you in life,” he said. “You are either motivated by joy or fear. Unfortunately for me, it was fear; the fear of not belonging, of poverty or failure. But instead of crying about it, I decided to get busy working to achieve more than I ever dreamt possible, and that’s exactly what I did.
“You can spend your time wondering why you are always defending yourself or you can get busy creating your dreams into reality. Once I began being motivated by joy rather than fear, well… it was simply a game changer.”
He was 18 years old when he had the good fortune of meeting Mr. Robert E. Farrell, the owner of Farrell’s Ice Cream Parlour Restaurants. David worked at his restaurant at nights and on the weekends while attending Sacramento City College and working as a bank teller during the week. During one of Mr. Farrell’s visits, he spent time talking to David about the purpose and growth goals for his business, which immediately made an impression on him.
“Mr. Farrell was an individual who knew what he wanted and how to go about achieving it,” said David. “I learned that success was quite simple, but it required repetitive action — which is why most people can never achieve it. The day he talked to me, I decided to start working for him full time. Soon after that, I quit my job at Wells Fargo and dropped out of college.”
David quickly made a name for himself at Farrell’s. He was the type of team member that would always volunteer for any assignment whether during the day or at night; he was always willing to go the extra mile. Never say ‘no’ and always give more than you are paid for, was his motto.
His hard work paid off and he moved up in the company. David became a restaurant manager at the age of 19, a district manager at 21, then a regional manager, and a director of training for the western United States. He was 28 years old when he bought a Farrell’s Ice Cream Parlour Restaurant in 1978. David added three additional theme restaurants in the same shopping center over the next three years.
This was a major accomplishment for David. However, he shared that most of the wisdom and knowledge he gained over the years did not come from his successes, but instead were the results of his failures.
After being in business for eight years, he received notice that the shopping center where his restaurants were located was opening a food court and his full-service restaurants would not be granted new leases. Overnight, David went from a successful restaurant owner to the owner of used restaurant equipment with very little value. Like any other individual who experiences defeat, David went through a grieving period.
“I remember sitting one night looking out the window and thinking ‘What’s going to happen next?’ A tear or two rolled down my face as I once again felt fear,” he said, “but then I thought, ‘I have achieved great success before and I can do it again in half the time.’”
David set a new goal for himself: to achieve the same type of success in a five-year period. The first thing he did was to identify a need and look into ways of filling that need. He studied the automobile and car franchise industry — one of the most hostile work environments in America, he said.
After selling cars for one year, David approached a car dealer who had performance problems and presented him with a business plan for improvement based on culture, theme, people, and process. After 10 years, the dealership he led as general manager was recognized as one of the best-run dealerships in the western United States.
To most people, this might have seemed a risky scenario. However, David saw it as an opportunity to assert himself and deploy his skills by satisfying a need within the industry.
“Everything is a risk,” he said. “The question is, do you want to work for just a wage or do you want to learn new knowledge to create wealth and improve lives?”
“Only 3 percent of individuals in the workforce are natural problem seekers and problem solvers. But to experience a high level of success one must be willing to take risks,” he continued. “I personally take great pride when I am approached with a problem and asked to find a solution for it.”
David and his brother started the Ibarra Foundation in 2004 and he directs 99 percent of his personal charitable contributions to the Ibarra Foundation, founded in 2004. The Ibarra Foundation provides full tuition scholarships for Latino students seeking to achieve a college education.
“I looked at the statistics and learned that only 12 percent of our youngsters go to college, which I believe means the government is not going to solve this problem on its own,” David said. “When we have a deficiency involving our children, Latino business men and women should stand up and help fix the problem.”
“I started the Ibarra Foundation to take action and make a difference,” he continued. “I don’t ask for money from anybody. The Ibarra Foundation is self-funded by me and my brother. To date, we have been able to assist 64 students from our community to achieve a college education.”
Along with the contributions made by the Ibarra Foundation, David also offers Wednesday night appointments where members of the Latino community can bring their business ideas to him. He provides guidance and recommendations. He does not profit from these meetings but participates in them as a way to share some of the wisdom he has gained.
“The deal I have made with God and myself is that if I help someone, I can never take any monetary gain from it,” David said. “I believe that those who succeed must step up and give back. That is the responsibility that success itself brings.”
He continues to work closely with his brother Mickey to help others achieve prosperity. Part of his journey is being able to guide those who struggle with trying to figure out where they belong. With passion, conviction and determination, David has become an inspiration to many.
At 64 years old, he lives a happy and abundant life in Salt Lake City, Utah. He enjoys spending family time with his two sons and grandson.
When asked what advice he would give to those who might identify with his story, he shared:
“Anger is a disease and it spreads. It is not going to take you anywhere. Whenever you feel anger entering your heart, try being helpful to another person and the anger will slowly disappear.”
“I have yet to meet a family that doesn’t come from some level of dysfunctionality,” he said. “You can look at it as a disadvantage, or you can look at it as the place where God intended you to start. So instead of looking back, focus on today and tomorrow and don’t be afraid of dreaming big, because if you can dream it, you can achieve it.’’
*Come back Thursday for a story about David’s brother, Mickey Ibarra.