How Linda Alvarado Went From Manual Labor To Becoming One Of America’s Richest Self-Made Women

In a politician’s style, Linda Alvarado wiggles her way towards her spot at the Major League Baseball’s 2021 All-Star Game, pausing to greet or talk to everyone from Roy at the concessions booth up to Colorado Rockies CFO Hal Roth. When the tribute to Hank Aaron begins, she can access an image of her together with the former Hall of Fame slugger on her smartphone. “Baseball will always be in me,” she declares. In a purple-colored suit that matches the Rockies uniform’s dominant color, Alvarado is more than just another fan. As per Colorado’s then-governor, Roy Romer, she was a part of the team’s first investor group in 1991. Her stake was only one percent, but she was notable she became the very first Latino owner of MLB and the first female owner who was self-made. “It was not my husband,” she declares. “It it was my money. I was the one who paid it.”

Since then, her influence and wealth have only increased. Her power is evident throughout Denver. The company she owns 100% Alvarado Construction, has had any involvement in the development of downtown’s Mile High Stadium, the arena in which Denver Nuggets play, Denver Nuggets play, and Denver International Airport, in addition to other iconic landmarks. Alvarado Construction also constructed the majority of 258 Yum! Brands restaurant chains (Taco Bells Pizza Huts and KFCs) are operated under Palo Alto Inc., a franchise owned by 51 percent by Alvarado and 49 percent by her husband, Robert. That last company makes up the bulk of her fortune of $230 million, making her among the country’s 100 wealthiest self-made women.

Alvarado says she’s achieved success by not getting distracted by “conventional thoughts.” This has led her to play with various innovations, including a fresh Taco Bell design for tight urban areas that place cooking on the top floor using a conveyor belt system that can load trays robotically and deliver these to feet below.

Alvarado’s story is anything but typical. Her first experience was in the form of Linda Martinez in a two-room house made of adobe in Albuquerque, New Mexico; there was no running water, except for when it was flooded each summer. “I thought that everyone visited the Red Cross for summer vacation,” she says.

Her parents were builders by nature. His father was a Baptist pastor from Mexico who was a security worker in the security department at Sandia National Laboratory, had constructed the house from adobe himself. The mother of her children would frequently repeat the phrase as if it were an anthem: ” Empieza pequeno but I am huge“(start modestly, and then think large, but think very).

On-the-job training: Linda Alvarado, shown in her Denver headquarters, mastered construction management quickly during her first day at work. “Fortunately, I had a boss who was lazy,” she says. “He taught me a lot since he was fond of taking off early to play golf.”

What was more remarkable than their drive to immigrate was Martinez’s determination to remove their child from “women’s” household chores so that she could concentrate on school. Being the youngest of six siblings being the one girl in the family, Alvarado was expected to be a part of the team alongside her brothers. “You have six children, and you have an entire team,” her father would tell her. When a high school teacher said to Alvarado that girls weren’t allowed to participate in high jumps, her mother went to school and demanded changes. Alvarado was awarded the high jump, as well as she also won the Girl Athlete of the Year award, which is a recognition of her achievements in a variety of sports, including softball.

The physical condition of her body caused Alvarado to make what proved to be a significant move towards a career in construction while studying in the field of scholarship and economics in Pomona College in California; she refused the suggestion of an administrator to be employed in the cafeteria or library and opted to join the grounds staff instead. She explained her decision this way: “I don’t have to wear those painful shoes for a girl. . . . I’m going to get tanned, and I’ll be paid to work with these men who are single.”

The experience in groundskeeping led Alvarado to be offered a position in a Los Angeles construction management company when she graduated in 1973. It was also a little cover-up–she claims she could get an interview since she had used only her initials in the application, disguised as her gender. This is a tactic she’ll use in the future when signing construction bids.

A few of the all-male construction teams described her as a “spic girl” and published sketchy sketches of naked Alvarado inside the porta-potties of the site. However, she enjoyed watching a building emerge from the blueprints and decided that she’d found her niche.

She completed courses in estimation and surveying, computerized scheduling, and more and then moved from Colorado along with her spouse (their first meeting was at a Dodgers game). In 1976, aged 24, she launched her own business believing her computer skills would help her gain an advantage. “I have updated that I would be unsuccessful due to the double disadvantage of being Hispanic as well as a woman,” she recalls. “But I thought that in math, when you take two negatives and multiply them, and you will get positive.” After six banks rejected her for a loan, her parents loaned her $2,500 but didn’t tell them until after she returned the money they had borrowed against their home at 24 percent interest. Her mother had taught her that she would start with a small scale, like pouring rainwater and sidewalks and building bus stop shelters. Eventually, she got a Small Business Administration-backed loan. Her breakthrough was in 1983, when Joy Burns, another barrier-breaker who created the Women’s Banking of Colorado, hired her to renovate the hotel’s 17 stories and 80 rooms. Burnley Hotel in downtown Denver.

The most significant test occurred in 1992 when two ironworkers putting up the beam fell to their deaths when Alvarado Construction was building an office tower near Denver’s airport. When the work was stopped as the purpose of an OSHA inquiry, Alvarado had to fend away other contractors who wanted the job. “I needed to restore my credibility,” she says.

Her construction company operates offices across Arizona, California, Colorado, and New Mexico and builds Kaiser Permanente, Xcel Energy, and PG&E projects.

In her determination to establish a construction firm, Alvarado got into fast food nearly through accidental. She was constructing an outlet mall in the slums of Denver and was trying to get a fast-food restaurant with a brand name. Taco Bell, then owned by PepsiCo, would not take the risk. However, the company agreed that the Alvarados would open franchised operations in the area, and Robert was keen to operate it. After a few years, the couple was approached by Taco Bell to buy the franchise in return; they refused and demanded more locations.

Presently, Palo Alto is the country’s largest restaurant franchise company with annual revenues of $325 million from franchises in Colorado, New Mexico, and California. Former Yum! Director of Operations Greg Creed says Alvarado won the respect of franchisees through sharing “the techniques to the trade”–from the most effective materials for construction units to appealing LED lighting and inspections using drones.

Alongside reducing the time to build new restaurants, The Alvarados have also tested everything from kiosks for ordering online and dishwashers to new dining formats. They created a prototype of their Taco Bell Cantina concept, which offers premium beers and menu items and televisions that play sports to create a fun place for families to relax. Alvarado is also building an initial prototype for the Taco Bell spinoff called Live Mas (named in honor of the company’s tagline for marketing which translates to “Live more”) and working using shipping containers to create popping-up Taco Bells.

Regarding franchises, the Alvarados distribution of duties is clearly defined when it comes to franchises. Robert was the restaurant’s manager, but recently, their youngest child, Rob, a Cornell graduate restaurant and hotel school with an MBA and an LLB degree, has taken over this role. Alvarado continues to oversee her passions and interests: buying the land and building it. “I do not like four-letter words like cook wash, cook, dust.

- Advertisement -
Avatar photo
Robert Scoble
Robert is the assistant managing editor for HC News, overseeing coverage of markets, companies, strategy and business leaders. Originally from Boston, Scoble began his journalism career in 1997 & now resides outside New York.

Latest articles

Related articles