Hispanic Heritage Month: Jesus Laborit’s journey

October 13, 2022

Stepping onto the sidewalk outside Toronto Pearson International Airport, on a cold day in January 2015, Jesus Laborit couldn’t help but notice the weather.

He had been traveling for almost a full day. He felt tired and unsure about how he was supposed to get from the airport to the city. People chattered in unfamiliar voices all around him. As he shivered in the cold Toronto air there was no mistaking it: he was now a long way from Venezuela.

Jesus hadn’t come for vacation, nor with a job itinerary in hand. He had no family in Canada, only a couple of loose acquaintances. His friends, his business associates, his family members — plus those of his wife, Yackeline, who’d taken the journey to Toronto with him — remained at home in Caracas. Jesus didn’t know when he’d see any of them again.

Jesus had been successful in Venezuela. He was leaving behind a flourishing B2B wholesale technology company, with over 200 customers and dozens of suppliers. The company, Dintec JL, had been named a top IBM Latin America partner in 2010. Revenues were up. Jesus recruited and managed a growing sales staff. His talents as an entrepreneur were likewise prospering.

But the downside of Jesus’s business success was that the more his company succeeded, the more impact it sustained from economic headwinds rattling Venezuela at the time. In 2014, oil prices and production had entered a sharp decline, undercutting government revenues in the petroleum-dependent country. Meanwhile, recession began to set in. Social services were in peril. Inflation skyrocketed toward 100 percent, the highest in the world and the highest in Venezuelan history.

“Venezuela’s economy was not trending in the best direction,” says Jesus. At one point, Dintec’s pricing was having to change 10-20 percent every day. “How do you budget for that?”

Jesus and his wife made the tough decision to seek economic and personal stability elsewhere. Latin America felt too politically uncertain at the time. They considered the United States and Europe before ultimately choosing Canada. In addition to economic prospects, it was the ability to feel comfortable bringing their own heritage, and to contribute it to Canada’s expanding human tapestry, that appealed significantly to the Laborits.

“Canada is a beautiful country,” Jesus says. “They are receptive to immigrants; they are a multicultural country.”

Applying for a study permit allowed Jesus to work part-time. He got a position with a car-care company called Pro Oil Change, initially in the role of a business analyst. While his English was only basic then — a challenge, Jesus admits — he quickly learned to leverage his ability to analyze data as a primary communications tool.

“When the numbers are red, people understand,” he says. “I managed it through the numbers more than anything else.”

When Driven Brands acquired Pro Oil Change, Jesus started a rapid ascent within the company. He transitioned into an analyst role within the Driven Brands collision group, followed by a development role to steer the company’s expansion efforts, adding strategic analytics and marketing to his suite of responsibilities. He had no shortage of achievements in his time with the collision team, but throughout that time, he also earned an Executive MBA from the renowned Rotman School of Business from the University of Toronto. Then in August of 2021, Jesus was promoted to Chief Operating Officer of the Driven Glass division, the title he holds today.

Along the way, he’s always relied on the skills and mindset that he developed as a business owner in Venezuela, even as Driven has grown significantly alongside Jesus’s career within the organization. He says that his ownership spirit and “hunger to grow” thrive at Driven. “They allow you to be an entrepreneur. You feel that you own part of the company.”

In addition to his business skills, Jesus says that his Hispanic heritage and the diversity he contributes to the organization have tangible benefits for the work he and his colleagues perform.

“I highly believe in diversity, a thousand percent,” Jesus says. “It allows us all to grow, because diversity allows you to get different points of view, different thought processes. That allows us to get to a solution that we may not get without it.”

What’s more, Jesus believes that workforce diversity at the corporate level has been an asset as Driven has expanded through acquisitions and franchising into additional markets, where front-line employees are as diverse as the communities they serve. When an acquired business or a franchise sees diversity thriving at the corporate level, he says, it helps with buy-in and comfort levels for everyone.

As such, Jesus sees diversity as an important priority moving forward. “We need to continue embracing it.”

Outside of work, both at home and within their adopted community of Toronto, Jesus and Yackeline continue to preserve the cultural heritage that they brought north nearly eight years ago. They now have two children, ages 5 and 2, both born in Canada, but as parents they make a point to speak Spanish in the home. The kids are avid soccer and baseball players, even going to baseball practice in their Venezuelan national team jerseys. Cultural holiday traditions, like the big Christmas Eve dinner that the entire family takes part in preparing, maintain an important place on the calendar.

Not that it takes a special occasion to fill the home with the familiar smells and flavors of Venezuelan cuisine. Jesus says that food, in addition to the Spanish language, is “one of the key pieces you miss as soon as you leave your country, so we tried to continue keeping our traditions around food.” The kids, he adds, “are all in on that.”

And, despite the time and distance that separates Jesus from his old life in Venezuela, he still makes a point of returning to visit friends and loved ones. Recently, he flew home to celebrate his mother’s 80th birthday.

Emigrating from one country to another is no easy thing — personally, economically, culturally, and legally — but Jesus and his wife are glad they made the decision they did. “Latin American people can come to North America with a lot of opportunities available to them,” Jesus says. “Without forgetting our traditions, we can continue growing and making our path to a better future for our family. You just need to work hard, believe in yourself, and believe in your traditions.”

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