Few companies can match The Plaza Group’s record for business expansion. Between 1997 and 1998, the company’s gross revenues increased from $2.7 million to $92 million. This growth, combined with the company’s unique approach to the chemical marketing business, has earned the CEO, Randy Velarde, the title of 1999 Entrepreneur of the Year, the ninth annual award given byHispanic BusinessMagazine.

The Plaza Group, which is headquartered in Houston, is a full-service marketing company that represents low-cost or otherwise niche producers of petrochemicals. These manufacturers either do not maintain a sales force of their own or have decided to outsource this function for efficiency. “Manufacturers are focusing on what they do best,” says Velarde. “Many suppliers in our industry have decided that what they do best is make products.” In contrast, The Plaza Group deals only with sales and customer service. Two-thirds of its staff members work directly with customers, taking orders, tracking their progress and following up on concerns.

It is this commitment to customers and to building successful relationships to which Velarde credits the success of The Plaza Group. It seems his customers agree. Client Kirk Hazlip, director of purchasing for Huntsman Corp., says of the recent award, “This isn’t an accident. It’s not because Velarde is lucky. He does all his homework. He’s not a haphazard negotiator. And he’s a trustworthy fellow. He’s the kind of guy you would buy a car from.”

A former employee of Texaco and Shell, Velarde utilized his extensive knowledge of the industry to establish The Plaza Group in 1994 exclusively to market Texaco products. In 1997, the company expanded its scope of business to become a full-fledged marketer for multiple producers, thus the 3,300-percent revenue leap from 1997 to 1998. Today, the company has added Shell, ExxonMobil, Phillips and Dow to its list of suppliers, and markets to companies such as 3M, Sherwin-Williams, General Electric and Huntsman.

The Plaza Group received the Outstanding Supplier of the Year Award from Huntsman Corp. last year. The company was selected from more than 1,500 suppliers of products and services.

The 1999 Hispanic Business Entrepreneur of the Year was selected from more than 300 nominations received from Hispanic Business readers and Hispanic CEOs. An analysis of 1997-1998 financial performance was utilized, along with subjective questions on business philosophy and practice. All scores were tabulated by the accounting firm of Deloitte & Touche in Los Angeles.