A true force for diverse advocacy
Fresh from receiving her Diversity Professional Magazine’s Women of Excellence honor, Rebecca Aguilera-Gardiner, vice president and co-owner of Diego & Son Printing and co-founder of Veterans in Business (VIB) is back working her passion—advocating for all veteran-owned businesses worldwide.
Awards seem to be an integral part of Rebecca’s life. In 2016, she won the John Rak Award for her dedication to helping Service-Disabled, Veteran-Owned Small Businesses (SDVOSBs) and in 2017 she was honored at the Multi-Cultural Convention Services Network “Women Leading the Way” luncheon. As the Sales and Marketing force behind Diego & Son Printing, Rebecca was instrumental in the company’s minority business enterprise (MBE) Supplier of the Year and Family-Owned Business Awards from the National Minority Supplier Development Council.
To best understand Rebecca’s passion for SDVOSB advocacy, one has to look at the history of Diego & Son Printing, a SDVOSB, MBE and HubZone-certified company, founded in 1972 by Aguilera-Gardiner’s parents. At the time her parents were starting their business, Rebecca’s brother, Nicholas Aguilera (now president of Diego & Son Printing) was serving in the U.S. Air Force. Over the years, both Rebecca and her brother periodically worked in the family business, but didn’t take over ownership until 1999. Even then, Rebecca continued with her education and honed her presentation skills as an on-air radio personality at XHRM-FM 92.5 and then at K-WAVE Radio. While at K-WAVE, she realized that while the fame was onair, the money was in sales.
When the time was right, Aguilera-Gardiner went home and took her sales skills with her. She quickly took Diego & Son Printing to “the next level” by bringing on such clients as CVS Pharmacy, MetLife, Blue Shield, SDG&E, Southern California Edison and more. It was during this time that she learned about the advantages of certification as an SDVOSB and how to leverage that certification.
How did she learn? They say experience is the best teacher̶she lost a bid to a certified veteran-owned business. That veteran-owned designation was the main differentiator between the companies.
Not one to waste time, Aguilera-Gardiner researched certification for SDVOSBs and jumped into advocacy for the company. She was the chair of the San Diego Workforce Investment Board from 2013 to 2015, and continues to be an active member of Business Leaders United, which supports workforce programs throughout the U.S. She was invited to the White House, in 2014, for a bill signing with President Barack Obama.
A true force of nature, she was instrumental in getting California Governor Jerry Brown on site at Diego & Son Printing for a bipartisan bill signing to reform workers’ compensation. In 2017, she became a board member of the CalVet Disabled Veteran Business Enterprise Advisory Council.
Veterans In Busines, Aguilera-Gardiner’s current 501c3 organization, grew out of her desire to make a real difference for veterans. She wanted to reach out to younger veterans by creating a more digitally social VIB community. Actual veteran business owners run the organization.
“Our perspective is about owning a business, sharing knowledge and helping veteran-owned businesses succeed together.”
The organization is trying to and succeeding in making it easier for companies to find SDVOSBs to do business with. They are focused on outreach and educating member business owners. “They are there to teach everybody about business,” says Aguilera-Gardiner. The organization is open and free to all veterans. A free directory is available and while VIB does not certify businesses, links and information about certification is available to all. Regular veteran-to-veteran online events are available where members can share ideas and best practices on a monthly basis.
VIB is succeeding and Aguilera-Gardiner wants to see veterans and businesses alike, benefiting from these resources. She invites suppliers, supplier diversity professionals, estimators and anyone looking to connect with veteran-owned businesses to join the VIB Network. Once again, her passion is showing.
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