Daniel Perez, who is originally from Colombia, has experienced these challenges firsthand. Perez is an advocate for his fellow immigrants and the founder of the luxury transport company DPV Transportation. In a recent interview, he shared some insights and experiences as well as his thoughts on how closing the wealth gap—and addressing the dangerous systemic problems that have been highlighted by the pandemic—requires unified action from the top.
Disclaimer: This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
What can you say about growing up in Boston as a Colombian immigrant?
Daniel Perez: I came to this country when I was 11 years old, in 2000. My mom was an attorney back in Colombia, and my dad was an entrepreneur himself in the transportation industry.
My mom and dad actually sent us—my sister and me—by ourselves first. My dad sent me with 200 bucks in my pocket and we arrived to a 10x10 apartment. One of my uncles was hosting us with his wife as well as his son. There were seven of us. It was rough and cold, especially coming from hot weather, and the conditions were not the best.
Today, you're the president of DPV Transportation. Do you think that minority entrepreneurship plays a role in closing the wealth gap?
DP: I think a lot of minority owners don't see [their background] as an asset. Instead, they see it as a liability. I used to be that way, too, but now, I've turned things around to where I use it as an asset—as a lethal weapon, pretty much—to get into the Fortune 500. I encourage other minority owners to do that as well.
In the beginning, I was very ashamed of myself, because growing up, we used to get a lot of discrimination. So I kind of grew up with that mentality, that I was less than. Then I realized, "Hey, you know what? I have to embrace my journey. I have to embrace who I am." . . . So, once I realized that power I had in me, I just unleashed it. The way I use it, pretty much, is that I find companies that support minority-owned suppliers. Obviously, you have to have the right capabilities to meet their needs, and you have to meet their standards, right? You still have to deliver.
Can you talk a little bit about your experience starting DPV Transportation?
DP: I used to drive this van to my college in Back Bay, and one of my teachers asked me, "Hey, why don't you start transporting the athletic teams?" I did a good job, and from there, he referred me to a good school, which referred me to another school, and then I moved to the corporate market.
Deep down inside, we all have a journey. I kind of knew that I was born to be who I am today, but then, it was about just respecting that journey and at the same time keeping committed to becoming who I am. That being said, I have gotten a lot of help and support from mentors and my whole family to become who I am today. I didn't get here just by myself.
Can you talk about an experience you had growing up that ultimately allowed you to become who you are today?
DP: While growing up, I was a wild teenager, and I got arrested driving a stolen vehicle. I was in jail with a buddy of mine for like five hours. And he was just hanging out, you know, he didn't really care, and I was super frustrated. I was walking around the jail cell. I was like, "What am I doing here?"
You know, I have my mother, who is really professional. She has all these values and principles. My dad always was a hard-working man. . . . So, I was like, "Honestly, this is not going to take me anywhere." And from that moment, I was determined to start coming away from the circle of influence that I was already involved with in order to become who I really wanted to become. That moment really changed my perspective on life and changed the path that I really wanted to pursue.
What is the best way that people can support minority entrepreneurs?
DP: As I mentioned earlier, it comes from the top, whether or not it's from government, to create programs with individuals that actually care. A lot of times, the individuals put in charge haven't been through what minority communities live like on a daily basis. So these programs need to understand their pains and their needs and actually come up with strategies to help.
Why should people support minority-owned businesses compared to bigger corporations or white-owned businesses?
DP: If there's a gap of 2000% difference, if we don't make a difference, we're pretty much going to become slaves to the communities that are currently thriving, and the other ones are pretty much just [left] watching how the other communities continue to grow.
At the end of the day, this is a country built by immigrants. Believe it or not, most of us immigrated from somewhere. In Boston, Hispanic net worth is just $2,700 compared to $247,500 for white households. . . . I'm speechless about this statistic, to be realistic. As entrepreneurs, as leaders in the community, we need to improve the gap. One of the things that I will say about education is that it comes from the top. Whether it's from government or Fortune 100 companies here in Boston, they need to actually put their money where their mouths are and just collaborate by real action.
Turning to COVID-19, how has this pandemic affected the wealth gap?
DP: So, if we had a major hole prior to this pandemic, now the hole just got bigger. So we just got to see how we collectively get ourselves out of the hole. We need more grants rather than loans. . . . [What] a lot of small companies and minority-owned companies don't realize about loans is that just because you're getting loans at 1%, and you don't have to pay the interest fees for six months to a year, you need to be mindful that if you had a major financial crisis prior or during the pandemic, you still need to pay those dudes at one point. So just be mindful that you need to make an analysis to see if you have a viable business, sustainable business. . . . Grants, though, will not only help you survive but essentially be profitable.
So, how do we educate and how do we provide resources to minority-owned companies that don't have them? How do we make sure that they survive? Because, to be honest, not a lot of them will survive. . . . We definitely need to create better programs for struggling individuals, in their languages, with actual help and more action instead of just information 24/7, which is all we have right now, especially with the news.
What advice would you give fellow small business owners during this time?
DP: Based on my experience, being an entrepreneur now for 14 years, you [need to] definitely create a circle of influence and work with business coaches that know more than you do. Make sure that you're moving in the right direction. Challenge your assumptions, and make sure that you're making strategic decisions, smart decisions, instead of just emotional decisions. This is not the time to make assumptions. Right now, it's the time to be realistic.
Your family, your team, and your community all need you. So if you were to fast-forward three years from now, do you want to be remembered as the guy who threw in the towel, or do you want to be remembered as a hero? So please show up. Don't give up. In pandemic times, take pandemic actions.
Daniel Perez is the founder and president of DPV Transportation, a company that has grown in leaps and bounds since 2006. Learn more about DPV.