Meet Anette Landeros, President/CEO of the Fort Worth Hispanic Chamber of Commerce
You’ve probably heard some variation of this saying: You can take the girl out of Texas, but you can’t take Texas out of the girl. That fits Anette Landeros, who dreamed most of her life about working in Washington, D.C.
Until she didn’t.
She became the president and CEO of the Fort Worth Hispanic Chamber of Commerce on July 15, replacing John Hernandez.
It was a tough decision for her because for a while she had the best of both worlds.
She had a plan: Go to college, go to graduate school, get two degrees in public policy, go to Washington.
Landeros was an analyst in the Inspector General’s Office of the U.S. Department of Transportation and spent two years in D.C. because “that was the plan.” She was living the dream, walking by national monuments every day on the way to work.
“But after two years I realized I was more a Texas girl than I thought. And I was like, ‘I really don’t like it here.’ I did it, but it wasn’t necessarily fulfilling me, because I realized there’s a sense of community that I really need. And you don’t necessarily get that in Washington, D.C.,” she said in a Fort Worth Business Press interview.
She traces her interest in public policy to her family in San Antonio and watching television news with her father Heriberto Soto.
“We only had one TV, so whatever dad wanted to watch is what you watched. So we watched a lot of 60 Minutes and a lot of those shows,” Landeros said. She would pepper her father with questions about who made the decisions that affected people.
Government, he said. Local and state and “the people who are in Washington D.C.”
That settled it for her.
“I’m going to be in Washington, D.C., making those decisions one day, too,” she told him
She was 15.
Turned out that she could still work for the government but in Fort Worth in the inspector general office here but spending a lot of time on the road in Washington. She took that job when it was offered.
“If you really, really want to go, just stay with us and go to Fort Worth,” her bosses told her. She’d never been to Fort Worth but figured it was lovely because it was in Texas. She figured she could afford a couple of years in that job.
“Fell in love,” she says. “Fort Worth has a wonderful way of just welcoming you and making you fall in love with the people, the community, all the great things we have going on.”
This is home now.
That wasn’t in the plan, and she admits that it was a tough decision to leave government work for the local chamber.
Landeros was working on big things – major bridge collapses, cross-border trucking with NAFTA, with Mexico, the implementation of positive train control nationwide. She was in D.C. about a week a month and managing people in New York, D.C. and other cities as well.
She was on the board of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce when Hernandez announced he was stepping down. She began to get phone calls from some board members and others that she should consider the job.
She had 12 years in the federal government and the next step would have been director and a vacancy in that job was seven or eight years away.
She and Joseph Landeros married in May 2018 and she asked him why people were calling her about the job. He noted that she had been involved in the non-profit world for years as a volunteer and, at the end of the day, the chamber was a non-profit organization.
She quotes him: “There’s a lot of skills that you actually do have and the things that you’ve done outside of work that would apply directly. And then not only that, what you do for a living is evaluate programs and make recommendations for efficiency, which every organization could benefit from.”
Landeros decided it was an opportunity to focus on a community that she loves full-time, and not just part-time after work, or on volunteer committees, or leading boards.
“It’s an opportunity to live in my passion, and it’s been wonderful,” she said. “It’s definitely different and it’s a different pace of life and a different skill set, but it’s been really energizing. Every morning it is really exciting to come to work, because I know that the things that we’re doing here are going to impact our community.”
Landeros says it’s not her mission to change the Hispanic Chamber, although of course she will.
Her training has been to look at a situation and ask questions like are we performing the best we can or can we do it better.
“I’m just trying to say are there ways that we can do it better? Are there ways that we can increase our impact? Are we quantifying our impact?” she said.
It’s important to ask those kinds of questions because Fort Worth is at such a pivotal place in growth and decisions made today will affect how the city develops.
It’s also important the Hispanic chamber be not only involved in those conversations, but also bring information and data to the conversations to help the city be informed.
The Hispanic chamber has about 400 members and 40% of those are not Hispanic, some of those corporate members that cannot be identified by race. And the board includes non-Hispanics as well.
The chamber is creating an individual membership now to allow aspiring entrepreneurs to get looped in before they are officially businesses so they can grow, Landeros said.
She said members are not only involved to help their businesses grow but also to help other members grow their businesses.
“That’s an energy that the chamber has had for a few years and we’re hoping to continue to get that out there,” Landeros said.
She says she’s often asked by non-Hispanics if there is a need for separate Hispanic and Black chambers of commerce.
“I encourage them, ‘Get engaged and then maybe you’ll see we are reaching a certain community. And it is important that this community be active and a part of our city,’ ” Landeros said. “We do some similar things as the other chambers, but we do it in two languages.”
Nationally, she said, Hispanics are three to five times more likely to start a business than others, but the research also shows that they generally stay small and don’t scale.
“There is something to be said for business attraction, but if you can scale a small business and multiply that times all the small businesses, you’re creating workforce development,” Landeros said. “You’re creating an economic impact, you’re bringing in more money into Fort Worth, and jobs as well. So there is something to be said with working on that micro level.”
She said there is a good age range among members but she thinks the chamber could do better with younger entrepreneurs, an area where she thinks chambers in general could improve.
“It’s because the young folks, they’re figuring out on their own … and they’re going at it at their own. They’re creating their own media, they’re creating their own marketing, they’re creating their own business plans, they’re changing the game,” Landeros said.
Bridging that generational gap is one of her priorities.
“It may just be that some of the services that we offer need to evolve. It really is important to ask those questions: Where could we have filled in gaps? Where should we have been along your journey?” she said.
She wants members to see the chamber as an extension of their own businesses rather than turning to resources online, noting that the chamber also consults with people yet to start their business.
“Some people come in with capital already saved, some come in with like no idea, they just have a bright idea. Some people want to know if they’re allowed to do things out of their home. It’s our job to listen, to identify their problems and, because we are the chamber, we have resources that we can pull on and contacts that we can pull on to give them the solutions,” Landeros said.
The chamber can help navigate through permitting issues, accessing capital to scale businesses and other concerns such as marketing.
“Each business has different needs, but we want to be that resource guide. So, I tell all of our members know that your business and your mind are running a mile a minute. So just pick up the phone, just come in, stop by, let us know what your problem is and let’s see if we can help you fix it,” she said.
Soon after Landeros took the job, she joined with other chambers on a trip to Phoenix.
“It was incredible to see how that city has really turned itself around. They mentioned that 2008 hit them hard, but they really came together as a community,” she said.
The result was a regionally focused effort.
“One of the things that I realized was that the business community investing in these kinds of things is really important,” she said.
Local chambers can and should be economic development champions.
“Fort Worth is growing rapidly and everyone needs be at the table to make sure that we’re defining the city that we want and the industries that we want to have here,” she said.
Things will change but focused attention can direct the results of that change.
“It’s amazing to see how many people are on board and love Fort Worth, and want to contribute to the prosperity of our city and where we can take this city,” Landeros said.
Community has always been important to her she says, and that is one reason she was so willing to change her planned career to take the Hispanic Chamber job.
“A lot of my career has been very planned and it’s gone very well. But I thought to myself, I have an opportunity to really just live in my passion and go for it. And if you don’t you might regret it later. The federal government will always be there, I can go back. I know I can,” Landeros said.
A lot of that comes from her parents – Heriberto and Angelica Soto – who still live in San Antonio.
“They’re both immigrants from Mexico. They’re both amazing hard workers who have taught me work ethic, but I think they also instilled in me a sense of responsibility, and so that’s what I’ve grown up with,” she said.
Landeros was honored as a Great Woman of Texas in 2019 by the Fort Worth Business Press, which also featured her among 20 Women to Watch in 2015 and Forty Under Forty in 2016.
She’s the current immediate past state chair of the Hispanic Women’s Network of Texas, an organization committed to the advancement of women in public, corporate, and civic arenas.
She was the youngest person elected to lead the organization’s state-wide mission and provided direction for chapters located in eight different cities throughout Texas.
Landeros created the HWNT Legacy Fund to provide a new donor and funding mechanism to support future state-wide professional development programs for Latina women.
Under her leadership locally, the Hasta Los Muertos Bailan Día de los Muertos Scholarship Gala was established to increase fundraising for college scholarships and the Pláticas Sobre La Salud Latino Health Symposium to spur an open dialogue on topics of health.
She also serves or has served on various local boards including Fort Worth Sister Cities International, the Fort Worth Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Carter BloodCare, and the Planned Parenthood Community Board.
She holds a bachelor’s degree in public policy analysis from Indiana University and a master’s degree in public affairs from the LBJ School at the University of Texas at Austin
Landeros is a member of Leadership Fort Worth and alumnae of the Leading Edge Class of 2011. She was recognized by Telemundo as a “Heroe Hispana” and selected as one of HWNT’s Estrellas de Tejas in 2014 and as one of 12 national nominees for the 2016 Coors Light Lider of the Year award.
Most recently, Landeros was named a 2017 Woman of Distinction by the Girls Scouts of Texas Oklahoma Plains.
This article, written by Robert Francis and Paul K. Harrel, originally appeared in the Fort Worth Business Press.