Students arrived on the University of La Verne campus Monday toting backpacks and hot coffee, some still sleepy-eyed from months of summer relaxation and others raring to go for the first day of t...
In succeeding Benjamin Harris as Board of Trustees Chair, La Verne alumnus Luis Faura ’89 has big shoes to fill, but knows that hard work, resolve and focus will take him a long way.
When Luis Faura was a boy, he often accompanied his grandfather to work, where he’d run errands for the older man and go with him on visits to clients and suppliers. Faura didn’t realize it at the time, but he was soaking up his grandfather’s business acumen.
Generations later, Faura, now President and Chief Operating Officer of C & F Foods, Inc. — the company founded by his grandfather — does the same thing with his children.
And Faura’s grandfather, a 90-year-old Cuban émigré, still goes to work every day.
“He’s an outstanding individual, a man of honor, word, principle and ethics,” said Faura, the new Chairman of the University of La Verne’s Board of Trustees. “He’s a great individual who has taught me a lot by example in his leadership and also his hard work and perseverance.”
Those who know Faura, 43, say he has his grandfather’s work ethic, resolve and focus, traits that have served him well in his professional career and will help him as he leads the Board of Trustees in dealing with myriad issues, including the effects of this challenging economy.
A well-organized, gracious man who gets up at 4 a.m., Faura has the enviable ability to do it all and to make it look easy.
He is known as a devoted family man who puts his family – wife, Maria, and daughters, Alexandria, Daniella and Mariella – first. He’s a visionary businessman and a committed philanthropist who believes giving back is vital.
Faura also appears to have mastered the ability to compartmentalize his life. Work stays at work. When he walks through the door at the end of a work day, it’s family time. The mornings, while everyone else is sleeping, are his quiet time to read, watch TV, and brainstorm and plan for the day.
But there is also a surprising side to Faura, who earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Business from La Verne and an MBA from Pepperdine University’s Graziadio School of Business and Management. Whenever he has the chance, Faura gets on his Harley-Davidson and soaks in the fresh air and the freedom. Two years ago, he and friend Bob Hackerd rode their bikes to Sturgis, South Dakota, for the annual motorcycle rally, which draws a diverse group of people from across the United States.
“He is an extremely successful businessman and I don’t mean just by monetary terms,” Hackerd said. “He’s a very well-educated man, he contributes to the community and contributes to his own charities; he’s a very giving guy. But when he’s out and about with me, he’s a regular guy.”
Faura’s approachability is one of his assets, according to University of La Verne President Steve Morgan.
“Luis believes in a team approach,” Morgan said. “He treats all of the people who work with him as associates. He is in constant contact. He is a very inclusive kind of leader.
“I’ve known Luis for a number of years and have always been impressed with his energy and his ability to be articulate and his ability to identify problems and then look for common solutions,” Morgan said. “I think he knows a lot about the university. He has a lot of practical experience and a lot of interest in higher education. He has a particular interest in the students we serve, both the traditional undergraduates and the adult students.”
Faura, who has been on the Board since 2002, brings experience from his own business to La Verne. While dealing with the impact of the economy on tuition, enrollment and financial aid will be of concern to the board, additional renovations and capital projects will continue. He aims to keep good financial responsibility and governance of the institution.
There is also a lot to celebrate: Forbes Magazine ranked the University of La Verne 18th among California colleges and universities and 206th overall in its recently released “America’s Best Colleges 2009;” the campus and community recently celebrated the opening of the 40,000-square-foot Sara & Michael Abraham Campus Center; and the university’s new website has given the school a huge lift, Faura said. Faura said that he is excited and honored to be chosen chairman. He credits his predecessor, Benjamin Harris, for laying a strong foundation.
“Benjamin Harris was quite a chairman and luckily he’s on the board still so I can use him as a source of wisdom,” Faura said.
Harris called Faura an excellent choice and said now is the right time for Faura to take the helm.
“We kind of wanted someone with some young blood. I think he’s going to be a great chairman and he’s got youth on his side,” Harris said.
Former trustee Kurt Rothweiler describes Faura as a “phenomenal guy” who will do well in his position and that the board will look for him to take ownership and propel the university into the next century.
“People love to follow his lead,” Rothweiler said. “He has the personality and skill sets to draw people.”
Maria Faura said that her husband pushes himself hard and is devoted to his family.
“We’re excited for him,” she said of her husband’s new position. “We’re proud of his success and accomplishments.”
Faura, who was born in Duarte, completed his general education at Mt. San Antonio College and came to La Verne on the advice of his mother. She basically told him he would attend La Verne and he had always been an obedient child, he said.
When he arrived at La Verne, he instantly liked it. “It was small, easy to maneuver in,” he said.
“It’s the size that makes it so very quaint,” Faura said. But although small, La Verne has a big reputation in terms of academics and in terms of serving surrounding communities. “You have a voice here versus other institutions that are so large in population that you don’t have an actual impact.”
Throughout his life, his parents and his grandfather were a major influence on him, Faura said. His grandfather taught him so much without him even knowing it.
“I never really saw him as a businessman, when I was a child,” Faura said. “I saw him as my grandfather who would take me along on every adventure. Even though it was ‘go get me this’ or ‘do this,unbeknownst to me, I was being threaded into the business in a quiet way. It got me glued to it. Every summer vacation and spring break, I was there. It was really cool, really exciting. I got to hang out with all these grownups.”
Jose Fernandez emigrated from Cuba and founded C & F Foods Inc., in the City of Industry in 1975. The company is a major originator and packer of dried beans, peas, rice and popcorn for the retail, industrial, food service, canner and frozen food manufacturing industry throughout the United States and overseas.
Faura said he was naturally apprehensive when he took over leadership of the company. He had a vision for national expansion. The company exports all over Latin America, Europe, Africa and Asia.
Nearly a decade ago, Faura was on the cusp of what would become a national interest in organic food. He invested $8 million in that effort. Organic food suppliers need to invest in more expensive fertilizers and new machinery for milling and packing the beans.
“That was very cutting-edge,” Faura said. “We invested a large amount of money and it paid off. It was gut intuition as well as an inclination about the marketplace that there was a need for a better food supply in terms of quality and a changing of the American palate towards more wholesome grains.
“I think I’m a calculated risk-taker. Being in business in general, you take risks, but I try to make sure those risks I’m taking have exit strategies and fall-back positions.”
In addition to his work and serving on the Board of Trustees, Faura is on the Board of Directors for Padres Contra El Cancer and is involved with Foothill Country Day School.
“I think it’s the most important thing — to give back to the community and the institutions that have either given you an education or have provided some sort of impact on your life,” he said. “In the case of Foothill, it’s mostly to demonstrate to my kids that it’s very important to look outward and help institutions and people with as much philanthropy as humanly possible.”
Faura acknowledges that the key to getting so much done is being organized, and credits his wife, Maria, and his executive assistant with helping him stay on track, as well as other members of his team.
In his down time, Faura likes to travel with his family, taking the lead from the girls about where they should visit. The family recently returned from a trip to Spain and Egypt and will be going on a safari in South Africa this year. Faura said he believes in the importance of his children’s education and in exposing them to diverse cultures and places.
This summer, in addition to traveling with his family, Faura has plans to return to Sturgis with Hackerd.
“Luis is just a hoot to be with on a trip like that,” Hackerd said. “He’s easy to get along with and he’s just interested in everything that’s out there to see. We tried to see as much as we possibly could.
“You never have to worry about where this individual is coming from. He puts it all out there. What you see is what you get. He’s a very gracious, hard-working, high-integrity individual that I personally trust explicitly.”
Faura is the first to help anyone, Hackerd said. “I can tell you that in a lifetime those kinds of people that you have in your life, you can put on one hand or less.”
During that last trip, on the way there, the pair checked out as many monuments and historical sites as they could.
On the way back, “we rode from about 5 a.m. from Jackson Hole, Wyoming, all that day until 2 a.m. the next morning in one stretch to get back to San Dimas and Upland,” Hackerd said, experiencing extreme temperature changes as they made their way home.
Faura said the trip took 12 days. There is something to be said for seeing sights from outside the confines of a car, he said.
“You can smell the earth, the grass, the trees,” Faura said. “The olfactory sense really was the one that grabbed me. Being exposed to the elements, the wind, the rain, the sun.
“There is a certain freedom about riding a bike. I know this sounds corny, but it’s a great release.”