Seven-year-old John Vargas was playing on a dusty street near a brick factory in Medellin, Columbia when he suddenly shouted:
"Some day I’m going to own a company."
That was 40 years ago.
Today, John Vargas, 47, is owner of Ceiba Technologies, a Chandler-based, high-tech computer-parts manufacturing firm that is listed among the top 500 Hispanic-owned companies in the United States by Hispanic Business Magazine.
"I remember looking at the brick factory and yelling out loud," Vargas said. "I knew I wanted to be a businessman when I grew up."
His company at 410 N. Roosevelt Street, Chandler in the Southpark commercial center ranked 418 out of 500 on the list.
Last year, the firm earned more than $7 million in revenue from sales throughout the world.
"My brother had big dreams when we were children," said Andres, 41 who is one of Ceiba’s 11 employees. "His dreams came true."
John Vargas and his wife, Jennifer, opened Ceiba Technologies 10 years ago.
"Our first office was our bedroom," recalled Vargas. "We had to tell the kids to be quiet when we made telephone calls."
The Vargas family includes two sons, Scott, 17 and Todd, 15, who enjoy hearing stories about their parents’ heritage.
Vargas, a native of Columbia, said his family — although not extremely rich — was traditionally involved in businesses in Latin America.
"I wanted to attend college in Columbia, but the political situation in the country was so terrible I decided to leave and come to the United States," Vargas said.
He earned a bachelor’s degree in engineering at Wichita State University in Kansas and a master’s engineering degree from the University of Texas in El Paso.
The couple met while attending college in Kansas, later married and moved to Arizona in 1987, where John was hired as general manager for a Chandler firm that made equipment for semiconductors.
His wife, who earned her degree in physical therapy, worked as a part-time therapist when in 1993 her husband decided it was time to fulfill his childhood ambitions.
"We agreed that we should own a company, but at the time we didn’t know exactly what products we would sell," Vargas said. "We didn’t even have a company name."
The ambitious couple began going through the alphabet until they came to the letter C and — ka-ching! — Ceiba was born.
"Ceiba is a tropical tree, and we had one growing in our front yard in Chandler," Vargas said.
The newly established company and its husband-and-wife founders next decided that selling diamond-bladed cleaning equipment for computer wafers might be a good start.
They were right.
"The trouble with the computer and high technology industry is that it’s like a roller-coaster, up-and-down and you always have to be prepared to handle changes," Vargas said.
He referred not only to the on-going economic busts-andbooms, but also the challenges of selling his products at revenue-producing prices in an international competitive market.
"In the past 10 years, we’ve had to develope and sell eight different products," Vargas said.
The couple relocated their bedroom office after about a year to a smaller location not far from their Chandler home and in August, 2001 moved into their 10,000-square foot office and warehouse in Southpark.
The company has a smaller office in Yokohama, Japan, and distributes throughout Southeast Asia and in parts of Europe as well.
"When John said he thought we should open a business, I encouraged him," said his wife, Jennifer, a native of Kansas who handled most of the company’s earlier paperwork.
"He had come a long way and it was a turning point in both of our lives. America is such a wonderful combination of different people with different backgrounds."
The Vargas family was pleasantly surprised when they learned the firm was selected to be among the top 500 in the 25th Anniversary edition of Hispanic Business.
"I’m not directly active in the Hispanic community in Chandler, but I have a strong Hispanic heritage and our company is involved with the community" Vargas said.
Another challenge he faces in the high-tech industry?
"Finding time to play with my sons," Vargas answered. "We ride roadbikes together. And, sometimes, we go sailing. But there’s always a new challenge facing our companies and its difficult to spend a lot of time with them."
Vargas often is travelling to Japan and Europe on business, but he has never returned to Columbia.
"There’s too much trouble in Columbia," said Vargas. "Sure, it’s nice if you’ve got a lot of money and time and can just sit back and enjoy the country. Maybe someday I’ll go back, when I have a lot of time and money and things are more calm and quieter."
Meanwhile, Vargas and Ceiba Technologies is trying to make the top 500 Hispanic companies for the second time again in 2005, he said.