Martha Ceballos has worked hard for her success. From the time she began in business, she has been relentless in providing the highest level of customer service. A firm believer in the old saying, “Long after the price is forgotten, the quality of service remains”, Martha practices what she preaches. If one were to look in the dictionary for the definition of quality and integrity, they would likely see a reference to Martha!
Growing up as a first generation American in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, Martha was the second to youngest of four children born to her Cuban immigrant parents. Martha’s father had actually fought against Castro and in 1960 (just before the U.S. severed relations with Cuba) he immigrated to the United States with Martha’s mother who was pregnant with their fraternal twins.
Martha’s entrepreneurial spirit was definitely influenced by her father who was the mercurial entrepreneur. He was always coming up with creative ways to support his family from owning and operating a construction company to owning an ice cream factory in South Florida. Who knew that one of his business endeavors would become such a catalyst for change in his daughter Martha’s life!
Due to the poor economy in Florida during the late 1970s, Martha’s father moved to Houston and ended up working for a trucking company. Martha reminisced, “He packed us up and took us away from our lives in Florida and moved us into what I called the foreign country. When we finally arrived, we were shocked because we thought we were going to get out of the moving van and onto horses! We had no idea that there were cars here. We thought we were going to be riding in wagons and on horses.”
Things were quite different in Texas than the lifestyle the family left in Florida. No longer was Martha being isolated in the Latin atmosphere she had been brought up with in Florida where chaperones accompanied her everywhere she went. Even though her father was a firm believer in his children assimilating into “Americans”, he still wanted to retain some of their Latin cultural customs. Unfortunately for him, once Martha had been exposed to a less regimented lifestyle free of chaperones, she had no desire to go back to the “old” ways. So, at the young age of 17, Martha decided that it was time to be on her own and with that she moved out.
Knowing she had to work to support herself, Martha got a job at Gerland’s Grocery Store yet she still managed to attend classes at Katy High School. When she first tried to get a job at Gerland’s, she was turned down. Every day without fail, the determined Martha would ask the general manager if he would hire her. He kept telling her no until he finally gave in when he realized she wasn’t going to stop bothering him until he hired her!
“After I finished high school and graduated, I continued working at Gerland’s for quite a few years because I really had no money to go to college. I didn’t know what I was going to do so I worked in different departments around the store. I’m a worker bee; I like to learn and do different things,” stated Martha.
Eventually, Martha moved on and got a job as the receptionist at David Hobbs BMW, a new, downtown car dealership where a friend of hers worked. That is where she met Dan Ceballos who worked in the parts department. Their relationship progressed quickly and three months after they met, they began living together. It was love at first sight for Dan and told everyone he knew that he was going to marry Martha. A short eight months after they met, they were married and soon thereafter started a family together. Obviously Martha loves Dan as much as he loves her and they have been happily married for almost 33 years now!
After getting married and living in Austin a short while, they moved back to Houston to be close to family. Dan continued working in the parts department of a local car dealership while Martha stayed at home to care for their newborn baby. As is the case with a lot of young families, money was tight and became even tighter shortly after their firstborn child, daughter Melissa, was born. After staying at home for awhile, Martha got a job with an oil and gas company and Martha’s mother, who had always been a stay at home mom, helped take care of the baby. Martha worked for the company a little over two years and then an opportunity came about for her to work for a CPA firm. As it turned out, this new job would change Martha’s life and since then, she has never looked back!
Working for an independent CPA allowed Martha the opportunity to grow as a person and learn from a business professional and entrepreneur. Without knowing, Martha was being mentored and exposed to a world full of business possibilities. She reflected, “While I was working as the office manager, the owner took me under his wing and taught me everything from running an office to operating all aspects of a business. I learned to prepare tax returns and keep bookkeeping records for clients. I wasn’t a math genius but I always loved numbers!”
Martha continued, “My second daughter, Michelle, was born during the time I was working at the CPA firm. I was allowed a relaxed schedule and atmosphere so that I could pick up my girls at school and bring them back to the office and they would just hang out with me at work. It was such a great environment for me at the time because I was still young and I basically grew up there with a great mentor.”
With an entrepreneurial spirit running deep within her veins, after working 16 years for the CPA firm, Martha knew it was time to move on. She was bored and needed a change. An opportunity arose with an acquaintance who owned a company that remanufactured toner cartridges. He wanted her to start up a company and become minority certified so they could do business together. The plan was for Martha to go out and get accounts that were required to buy from minority classified businesses and she would in turn buy the product from the remanufacturing company to sell to her clients.
Martha began working out of her house and started ELP Enterprises, Inc. as a woman owned business. She became certified with the city of Houston and the state of Texas. When Martha first started, she sold toner cartridges for copiers, printers, and faxes. Since then, with the help of Ruth Ann Barron, the company’s primary Corporate Sales Representative, Martha has expanded to include other products including the complete gamut of office supplies. In addition, Martha has grown the company by diversifying into other areas that include the oil and gas industry where she sells chemicals for the uphole drilling process.
Martha is always taking advantage of ways to improve and expand her business. She became certified and affiliated with the Women Business Enterprise Alliance (WBEA) and the Houston Minority Supplier Development Council (HMSDC). In addition, she started regularly attending networking events and meeting people who could give her insight into opening new doors that would lead to new business. Through these events, Martha acquainted herself with procurement managers from large corporations like Shell and Exxon. She tried selling to these larger companies for a couple of years but without success. Finally, while attending a networking event, a procurement manager suggested that since their companies had existing contracts with vendors for products that Martha offered, she might consider trying an entirely different strategy by selling products unrelated to the office supply industry.
So an opportunity presented itself and a door opened for Martha to start selling chemicals. She knew nothing about the oilfield industry or the drilling process. While previously working at the oil and gas company, she learned that it was a man’s world in that industry so she knew there would be challenges in this new venture. In spite of the obstacles, Martha continued to network fiercely as she promoted and introduced her new product line to anyone and everyone she met. Martha developed a business relationship with a manufacturer and with their support she has been able to provide a necessary product at a good value. “In addition, I have the advantage of offering my certifications to help my customers meet the needs of their set aside goals,” stated Martha.
Even though Martha is a workaholic, she knows she can’t do it all herself so she continually works hard in developing strategic alliances with other small business owners. In such a cutthroat industry, Martha is shrewd enough to know that these strategic alliances make sound business sense. One of those special relationships is with Donna Cole of Cole Chemical. Martha explained, “When I needed help in the chemical side, I reached out to Donna. She is doing something completely different than I am but at the same time, it is the same. She talked to me about the dos and don’ts when I explained to her that I had an opportunity in the chemical industry. I had an opportunity to attend the CEO Academy offered by HMSDC and Donna was involved with the classes. She is a great person.”
Martha is also a cohort of Houston’s inaugural class of the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses Program. The Program was an opportunity for Martha to realize what she could do to grow and progress her company. “I’ve met a lot of great people over the last five years who have really helped me and mentored me,” shared Martha.
Through various mentors, Martha has gained valuable insight into business gains. One such mentor explained to Martha, “If you can devote a good five years to your business then your business will have a good chance to take care of you for the rest of your life. Don’t take no for an answer and keep on pushing.” Those are words of advice that Martha has definitely taken to heart. She gets a lot of nos but eventually, due to her persistence and determination, those no’s turn into yeses!
Martha’s husband, Dan, has also been a really big supporter of her business endeavors. In addition, Martha has received invaluable support from people she met in the Goldman Sachs Program. John Whaley and Donald Rumer-Rivera, financial advisors for the program’s classes, were instrumental in guiding her through the task of making sound business decisions. Martha feels privileged to remain friends with other cohorts from her class including Renee McNeil, owner of Corporate Move Consulting, and Sheree Speck, owner of Speck Insurance and Financial Services.
Martha has built close, personal and business relationships with like-minded women business owners including Jane Henry, owner of Xcution, Kristin Rickett, partner of Collaborative Engineering, Debra Crabtree, owner of Advantage Business Consulting, and Esther Halford, owner of Halford Busby Construction Consultants. Additionally, through her association with the Houston West Chamber of Commerce, Martha has developed special relationships with Sarah Cain, owner of Sarah’s Florist, and Kathie Edwards, owner of Westpark Communications. All of these ladies are powerful businesswomen and Jane, Sarah, and Kathie have also been cover honorees of Small Business Today Magazine.
Martha shared, “I feel privileged and honored to be friends with such an astute group of women. We all try to do business with each other, and when we don’t have that chance, we at least try to mention one another when the opportunity presents itself. We can usually all be seen networking together at the same expos and conventions. We’ve also started a women’s only CEO round table and meet regularly. We are able to discuss everything concerning our lives and especially our businesses. We pat each other on the back and we are able to lean on each other. This in turn motivates us and helps us grow our businesses.”
Martha loves to give back to the community. Not only does she mentor other women in helping them succeed in business, she has been very involved with the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo for the past 15 years. Martha is quick to say that it is her passion. In fact, when the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo starts, you won’t see very much of her. Last year, Martha was on three committees. She is the first to tell you that she is a volunteer junkie yet somehow she still manages to run a successful business!
Through her involvement with various community associations and organizations, Martha has received many awards and recognitions but the one she is most proud of receiving is the E-10 Award from the Houston Minority Supplier Development Council in 2013. She has most recently been elected to the Board of Directors for the Houston West Chamber of Commerce. In addition, she is a member of the Houston Chapter of Executive Women International, a member of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, a certified participating member of the Women’s Business Enterprise Alliance, and a certified participating member of the Houston Minority Development Council.
When she is not running her business, volunteering, or networking, Martha finds time to travel. She grew up swimming in the South Florida area and loves doing anything near the water. Her parents spoke to her in their native language her entire life so Martha is fluent in Spanish. In addition, Martha has instilled her Cuban heritage within her children who both know Spanish as well. Stronger than her passion for the rodeo is her love for her family. Growing up in a tight knit family, Martha is still close with her brother and sisters. Although Martha’s father has passed away, she talks to her mother by phone nearly every day sharing the day’s events.
Martha loves spending time with her family but the apple of her eye is grandson, Austin. She especially enjoys every minute she gets to spend with him. Martha also enjoys dining out, drinking good wine, and socializing with good friends. She elaborated, “I’m a social butterfly. I guess I just like being around people who are positive; they make me happy.”
Of the four children that Martha’s parents had, she was the one who became the most independent because of her ability to think outside of the box. Always the go-getter and the most like her father, she loved going with him to the ice cream factory and helping clean at night. It was fun to her. Even at that early age, Martha recognized the pride of working for oneself. Martha stated with conviction, “It’s something that’s yours and you’re working for yourself instead of working for someone else. It’s just a good feeling so I don’t mind working 24/7 when I have to. It’s mine and I know I am taking care of my business the way I want it to be cared for and I know my customers are happy with me. They will tell you that I care about people and the bottom line is that I truly try to make people happy.”
Everything Martha does she does with integrity and quality. She believes people really have forgotten about customer service but Martha has not. In fact, the level of customer service she strives to provide is the one thing she takes the most pride in. She works hard to provide her clients with the best price, the best product, and the best service. Last but not least, because she is such a loving, giving, and caring person success has been Martha’s reward.