PUT together a group of people dressed in their best business casual, chattering, the smell of food warming up, and in a family-like, professional setting—and you’ve just walked into a Fil-Am Masterminds meeting.
An enthusiastic member greets you with a warm smile and a handshake, asking where you are from and whom you represent, and you instantly feel it—the welcoming, hospitable Filipino nature and trustworthy professionalism of the Fil-Am Masterminds.
A new and unique non-profit organization aiming to make professional and personal connections in an industry-exclusive network, Fil-Am Masterminds (FAM) was formed in 2013 by four Filipino entrepreneurs who are passionate about progress.
The idea for the group first sparked when FAM Founder Reggie Mares helped form a chapter of the international business organization, LeTip, in Orange County. Mares, a life insurance agent and specialist for Melaleuca Wellness Company, was inspired to start a new LeTip branch to better serve the Inland Empire, where there was a lack of professional business groups.
“I wanted to form my own group for my Filipino-American counterparts, to especially lift the business community in this area,” Mares told the Asian Journal. “I had seen a lot of Filipinos around since moving here, but not yet a professional business network. It was time for that to change.”
In 2013, Mares got together with a few of her colleagues to discuss her ideas. She wanted first and foremost to promote businesses, build ethical and long-term relationships, and collectively share ideas and referrals to help generate new industries. Her initial goal was to make the group Filipino American, and to make it trustworthy.
“I want to get rid of the ‘crab mentality’ of Filipinos often not wanting to do business with other Filipinos; to look at this problem of being territorial, generalizing and unsupportive of others, and to fix it,” she said. “We are one community, and it’s important for us to sustain one another.”
“We don’t want the ‘Filipino Time’ thing here—we want to get rid of that mentality, we want to cultivate an exclusive, professional networking service that guarantees excellent results.”
The group relies on three pillars as its core: referrals, guests, and attendance. Starting in January 2014, Fil-Am Masterminds meets on a weekly basis in the Chino/Chino Hills area to facilitate productive meetings where members can network, discuss important business-related topics, and ultimately build referrals to meet sales goals.
“We are always concerned about quality over quantity,” shared Mares. “We don’t charge dues. First and foremost, it’s about building trust within the community—being transparent, honest, and showing up. That’s where the value stems from, having this community network of people who trust in and support one another.”
FAM also emphasizes business category exclusivity. Members come from a variety of industries and involvements ranging from solar energy, cosmetics and catering, to payment processing, immigration law, travel and real estate. FAM Secretary and Co-Founder, Raziel Arcega, is also the President of the Asian Business Association of Inland Empire. With one person representing a different product or service, FAM ensures professional exclusivity in networking at its best.
While there are no membership dues, preferred candidates should have at least 5 years of professional experience, 2 years in business, involvement in professional affiliations/associations, a legitimate license or certification, as well as several business references. Applicants should first attend a meeting to see if they fit in with the group, and members of the executive board will contact them to fill out an application, attendance and exclusivity agreement form, as well as a Code of Conduct. The FAM Board will then screen and decide on the applicant’s membership.
“We also use what we call the ‘FAM Metric’—if you are calling yourself a mastermind, we want people that have minds,” said Mares. “People with very wholesome backgrounds, professionally and socially. We look to see what they are active in to make themselves a better business professional. And after one visit, people usually run back and asking when the next meeting is!”
“When I first joined and even now, I honestly believe that there could be a qualified networking organization that will have people creating services as an individual with trust,” said Alvin Garces, Treasurer of FAM. “After that, everything follows.”
Alvin and his wife, Cynthia Garces, were allured by Fil-Am Masterminds after Ms. Mares brought up the idea of creating a professional business group of to “solve the numbness and distrust Filipinos often feel.” Garces, a territory manager for payment processing in Heartland Payment Systems, enjoyed the thought of promoting something that is disciplined and that works.
“We are all professionals; we still have real jobs and are extending our time to do this,” Garces, who revealed that he has made quite a buck since joining FAM, also shared. “We went into this knowing the objective and that we would be challenged, but it’s worth it.”
“We have a ‘LinkedIn mentality’ here—for example, if Alvin has 50 connections, and Cynthia has 50 connections, when they meet, that grows to be 100 connections because we are open and accessible to one another,” Mares continued.
At regular meetings, members of the group meet and introduce themselves to one another, with the goal of helping people reach their fullest potential through collaboration. Combined with guest speakers, activities and food, the atmosphere is generally light and easygoing, with the productive vibe of a sales meeting.
“At FAM, we’re trying to build a family and business friendships, so that people are not begging for referrals. We try to give people some sort of lure to keep coming back,” said Mares. “That’s why we take referrals seriously, tabulating and taking notes of who closes and how much money is made. That way, we can really find out how much business is generated and how we as a group progress!”
Another great aspect of FAM’s meetings are the 30-second commercials members give promoting their service or product. After reciting the pledge and announcements, every person in the room (guests and members alike) has 30 seconds to “talk up” their business, as if they were giving a timed elevator speech. Not only does the practice build essential communication skills, it allows members to talk about themselves and what they do.
FAM meetings also include a brief presentation from a guest speaker to discuss select topics related to building better business: anywhere from Internet SEO, sales and marketing, and how to speak to and persuade clients. Past guest speakers have included a toastmaster winner, a body language specialist, and even a comedian.
Members also get their own time in meetings to talk about their business, any strategies and lessons learned. Testimonies are also shared, reiterating the overall value of referrals.
“We want the presentations to be relevant and appealing to everybody,” said Mares. “No matter what industry you are from, there is always a takeaway on business from these professionals. We also encourage people to meet one-on-one outside of the group.”
FAM also hosts regular networking events, including its first business mixer held in March.
“We had about 15 people in attendance,” Mares recalled. “Now, we have anywhere between 26-30 people in our meetings, and about 25 active members now. We’re even thinking about expanding to start a FAM chapter in West Covina!”
Since its beginning, Fil-Am Masterminds has also expanded to include members from different cultures and not just Filipinos—professionals who hear about the group who either have Filipino friends or are married to Filipinos.
“The fact that we attract multi-cultural, not just Filipinos, and everybody wants to find out more about us, we have arrived. We are at the very tipping point of explosion. And we are about to expand,” Mares shared excitedly. “That is the ultimate goal.”
In the end, the FAM board members emphasize word-of-mouth as a heavy tool for advertising and networking to create not only professional, but personal growth relationships.
“Ultimately, we are a FAM-ily. We nurture and supporting each member, providing resources for them to network and grow, because we truly care for one another,” said Mares.
“This is my first networking group, and I have learned a lot so far,” said FAM Seargeant-at-arms and Co-Founder Mike Santos. “As a real-estate agent, we have different ways to market ourselves. These people are my core-advocates to help me with my business. Here, there are results. I feel like I can talk to them about anything, from business to personal problems, to make approaches for better problem-solving.”
“I’ve been to a lot of networking groups, and this one has become my family,” Cynthia Garces shared.
Added Alvin Garces, “I’ve gotten real friendships out of this group, people that I can count on, and at the same time, I have generated thousands of dollars from different income channels. It’s only been two years and I am amazed at our progress, and excited to see how Fil-Am Masterminds will continue to grow beyond the IE.”
“It’s the power of the network. Even the smallest conversations can help,” finished Reggie Mares. “Each of us voluntarily stepped out of our comfort zones to have faith that there are really good Filipino entrepreneurs we can help grow and flourish. It’s up to the members to find value in networking and step up to the plate.”
Napoleon Hill’s “mastermind alliance” principle says: “Every mind needs friendly contact with other minds, for food of expansion and growth…to encourage one to follow through with both plan and purpose.”
Following this ideal, Fil-Am Masterminds aims to fulfill just that: building purposeful and professional lifelong connections.
(LA Weekend July 4 – 7, 2015 Sec D pg. 1)