Distribution and Manufacturing: Foundation Building Materials
Ruben Mendoza | CEO & President | Foundation Building Materials | Tustin, CA | Founded: 2011
Building success from the bottom up
For Ruben Mendoza, prosperity begins with a strong foundation.
In a very real sense, Ruben Mendoza worked his way up from the ground floor. Coming from a lower-middle-class family, he first acted on the entrepreneurial impulse at the age of 16, when he went to work cleaning carpets and stripping and waxing floors. A man of strong personal faith, he has been moving up — and looking up — ever since.
Mendoza says that his early work experiences opened doors. “Earning money gave me options,” he explains. “I could buy a car and put myself through school.” In college, he cleaned offices and laundromats. He also sold mattresses and advertising in the toughest areas of Los Angeles.
After college, he went to work for his father-in-law as a sales manager for AMS, a leading distributor of wallboard, ceiling systems and plaster products. The job continued his education, as his father-in-law became a mentor and guide.
Risk and reward
Among the lessons Mendoza learned was to be willing to take responsible risks, saying of his father-in-law, “He wasn’t scared of things. He wasn’t afraid of taking chances.”
Mendoza believes this mindset was vital to his own entrepreneurial success when he and two others established Foundation Building Materials and built it into a public company with 4,300 employees. The willingness to take risks was a huge factor, he says: “When we started the company, I signed a personal guarantee on my house and put up everything I had.”
He says making that commitment was “the hardest thing I’ve ever done,” but he believes risk is part of the deal for entrepreneurs.
That risk-reward mindset remains part of his approach to business today. “Failure is always right around the corner,” he says. “You don’t know if you’re going to make it.” Where once the risk of failure involved merely his own financial security, now his concerns are focused on performance.
“You don’t expect to lose; you don’t expect to fail,” he says. “I still don’t feel like we’ve made it. I have an ongoing responsibility to more than 120 investors who have their own after-tax money in this business. We are tested every quarter.”
A new foundation
Describing himself as a “kind of intense guy,” Mendoza has learned to take time out to enjoy vacations and other activities with his wife, Heidi, and their three children. For him, success means having a great relationship with his family — a definition that took root when he embraced Christianity in 1995.
He also inspires a family spirit in the company, where he encourages employees to bring new ideas to the table. His “let’s try it” attitude keeps the team engaged. He says the company’s culture of caring means that employees should never be surprised by evaluations of their performance. Even the name of the company is an expression of his personal values.
“The idea of ‘foundation’ is found in Scripture,” he says. “Buildings needed to be built on a strong foundation when the storms came.”
Much of the company’s growth has come through acquisitions, and Mendoza works hard to instill the family-first culture in companies that are added to the fold. He travels to acquired companies on the first day of assuming ownership and speaks about the management principles employees should expect. The message is well-received. “People are very happy to hear that the company’s leaders want to run the business that way,” he says.
Mendoza is very much opposed to management through conflict. “There’s absolutely no reason to have that,” he believes. “You can make a ton of money, but what is it worth?”
Mendoza is continually driven to grow the company for its employees, managers, executives and investors. Since its inception seven years ago, the company has grown from a single branch location in Southern California to more than 220 branches across the US and Canada, where it is now the second-largest specialty distributor of wallboard and suspended ceiling systems. Foundation Building Materials went public in 2017.
When developing leaders to carry the company to new levels of success, Mendoza looks first to its existing workforce. Many employees have moved into management after starting as truck drivers, warehouse workers and salespeople. He identifies potential more by individual character than by credentials on paper: “somebody who will give you whatever it takes to succeed, someone who is willing to go the extra mile to get the customer, to make the sale.”
He shares his wealth with a range of nonprofits, and he has a particular affinity for the marginalized and the poor. “I’ve been given a lot,” he says. “To whom much has been given, much is required.”