Gustavo Serrano: Christians are called to show excellence in the workplace

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Gustavo Serrano is a member of Calvary Baptist Church in McAllen. He is the warehouse general manager for Lone Star Citrus Growers, having worked for the international produce company four years.

From deep in the heart of one Texan, he shares his background and thoughts on being a follower of Christ in the marketplace. To suggest a Texas Baptist leader in the marketplace to be featured in this column, or to apply to be featured yourself, click here.

Background

I lead the efforts of 160 to 240-plus employees on all areas of our citrus operation, including processing of fruit, packing and part of our juice extraction process. I’m responsible for all aspects of the operation and budgets associated with them.

The produce business has been my passion for the past 10 years, and I have been able to work with every major retailer in the United States and with every produce commodity in the market.

What other businesses have you been in, and what were your positions there?

• Bland Farms, assistant general manager (2010–2015)
• JEI Engineering, design engineer (2009–2010)
• University of Tennessee, graduate assistant (2009–2010)
• New City Fellowship, manager of development (2008–2009)
• Georgia Southern University, graduate assistant (2006–2008)

Where did you grow up?

Tachira, San Cristobal, Venezuela

How did you come to faith in Christ?

I accepted Christ into my heart at 7-years-old and made a public covenant through baptism when I was 12-years-old. Through the years, I have served in different ministries from music to Sunday school teacher, and as a member of our church, I have been part of the buildings and grounds, new projects and missions committees.

Where were you educated, and what degrees did you receive?

• Bakke Graduate University, Doctor of Transformational Leadership with a concentration in entrepreneurial organizational transformation (2016–2019)
• The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, Master in Engineering Management (2008–2010)
• Georgia Southern University, Master of Public Administration (2006–2008)
• Universidad Catolica del Tachira, Business Administration and Management (2000–2005)

Life in the marketplace

Why do you feel called into the marketplace?

I feel God has a ministry and a personal call in every path of life. In my case, I always have aimed for excellence and a lean management approach in every manufacturing process.

Because of its nature, the produce and manufacturing world are some of the fastest logistic processes in today’s markets. Therefore, for me, improving processes and developing higher standards are ways to show Christians also are called to show excellent results in the workplace.

How does being a Christian influence your decisions in the marketplace?

It reminds me to treat others with the same respect, love and consideration that Christ would use with them. It ensures that my team and I are held accountable to a higher standard of honesty and hard work.

What is your favorite aspect of the marketplace? Why?

Leading a diverse group of employees always has been fascinating. I get to experience the American dream daily. These days, diversity is sometimes perceived as a threat to progress, but I have seen the complete opposite. Diversity nurtures team efforts and ensures I have a different perspective every time I’m resolving opportunities and challenges.

What one aspect of the marketplace gives you the greatest joy?

To serve and train others with a smile. To see our employees grow and develop their full capacity and to see them accomplish goals they didn’t see possible. That’s something that always brings joy to me.

What one aspect of the marketplace would you like to change?

I think the manufacturing and processing businesses are behind in the aspect of allowing new management principles into their operational practices. They rely more on seniority and old experiences to develop business and operational practices. If we compare this mindset to other innovating industries like Silicon Valley, then you get the point that innovation is progress.

How has your place in the market or your perspective on the marketplace changed?

My place in the market has seen fast and productive growth through the years. I started in the distribution market, and now I’m very involved in the packing and processing of citrus.

My latest accomplishment was finishing a doctorate in transformational leadership with a concentration in entrepreneurial organizational transformation. Since my passion is in training and development, I’m starting to explore the opportunity of teaching in higher education.

How do you expect the marketplace to change in the next 10 to 20 years?

I believe the Rio Grande Valley has everything in place to become the next major metropolitan area in Texas. We are located at the very bottom of Texas, and this opens all kinds of possibilities for market development with Mexico and other Central American countries.

If you could launch any new venture, what would it be? Why?

I have my eyes set on teaching, aside from managing my current operation, but I’ve always thought about the importance of a sanitation company to provide compliance with food safety for all major retailers and importers that handle direct contact commodities.

Name the three most significant challenges and/or influences facing your place in the market.

I think the threatened tariffs on Mexico will carry challenges to every import coming from this country and will have straight repercussions to consumers in the United States.

I also think major changes in food safety will increase pressure to small importers. Every year, we see more constraints to Mexican imports and also stricter compliance audits.

What do you wish more people knew about the marketplace?

I wish we all could appreciate how much effort is put by minorities in the United States to bring fresh produce to all homes in the U.S. I think understanding these challenges would bring a fresh perspective to many decisions from the political standpoint.

About Baptists

What are the key issues facing Baptists—denominationally and/or congregationally?

We need to be more incarnational and understand that preaching and evangelization are just the first steps to develop a steady and active congregation. We need to do more as a group. We must develop more initiatives that address real problems in our communities. Other denominations in the Christian world seem to have more active partnerships with other non-profit organizations.

What would you change about the Baptist denomination—state, nation or local?

Leadership is not well-defined. I’ve heard we have different groups within the Baptist community, but none of them seem to provide a clear representation at the state or national level. Either that, or we lack in our communications department.

About Gustavo

Who were/are your mentors, and how did/do they influence you?

Bruce Peterson from Peterson Insights was one of the developers of the first produce department at Walmart. He inspired me to learn more about the produce business and develop my technical knowledge to be more competitive for the growing markets in the Rio Grande Valley.

Jesse Rincones, the executive director of Convención Bautista Hispana de Texas. He is showing me that my work is my ministry and that private professionals also can have an impact on God’s work for the city.

My father Gustavo Serrano. His influence has been in every aspect of my life, but the main characteristic is him showing me how to treat others with respect and serve them with consideration regardless of their position

What did you learn on the job you wish you learned elsewhere?

One thing I enjoy is numbers, budgets and cost analysis. I believe any individual in any position is called to be a steward of the resources God has put in his or her hands. I’m a strong believer that we are lacking management and financial education in our churches, and many professionals in the private sector have a lot to offer to the church on this educational matter.

What is the impact of the marketplace on your family?

The produce business is very time-consuming throughout harvesting seasons. Creating a balance during those times is important to keep family together and to be connected to their concerns and needs. They have been very supportive in every aspect of my work.

Other than the Bible, name some of your favorite books or authors, and explain why.

When Helping Hurts by Brian Fikkert. This book allowed me to understand the dynamics of mission efforts and helped me understand how everybody has something to offer for the growth of their communities.

City of God, City of Satan by Robert C. Linthicum opened my eyes to understand how evil can develop in organizations and how Christians must face such troubling scenarios.

What is your favorite Bible verse or passage? Why?

Romans 5:6-8. “You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

I love this passage because it shows me the true nature of the love and sacrifice of Jesus Christ for my life. He died for me and my sins, not because of me, but because of his beautiful nature of love and compassion.

Who is your favorite Bible character, other than Jesus? Why?

Peter. He always reminds me that what I think about me is not important. What’s important is what Jesus thinks about me and how he perceives me with my true colors.

Name something about you that would surprise people who know you.

I’m very outgoing and a people person, but I also enjoy my time alone and in meditation.


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