Hernandez Designs Success

August 11, 2008
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ZEELAND — With a Forrest Gump-esque past, it’s surprising Luciano Hernandez hasn’t been seen standing behind a president during an inaugural speech, or helping to tear down the Berlin Wall. Or maybe he has and just forgot to say.

“There’s probably a bunch of other things I haven’t told you, only because I don’t remember them,” Hernandez laughed.

Hernandez moved to the east side of Michigan in 1971. His parents were migrant workers, and his father got a part-time job working nights at the H.J. Heinz Co. in Saginaw. Then Heinz offered his father a mechanics job in West Michigan.

“He had worked at night … at Heinz, and he was offered a full-time job here in Holland, so that was his way of saying, ‘OK, now we can settle down,” said Hernandez. “It’s interesting because neither one of them had a high school degree, and they finished up their G.E.D. here in Holland. And my mother actually went on to go college to become a teacher and is a retired teacher now.”

His mother taught first grade in Holland for more than 30 years. Between his mother and his father, Hernandez said he had “plenty of inspiration, as far as role models, to continue to work hard and get an education.”

Which is exactly what he did.

Hernandez attended Ferris State University and worked toward an associate’s degree in technical illustration. Before completing his studies, however, he joined the National Guard in the spring of 1983. He returned to school after boot camp to complete his degree.

Hernandez spent seven years in the National Guard and was a sergeant in the infantry.

Briefly

Name: Luciano Hernandez
Company: Tiger Studio
Position: Founder
Age: 44
Birthplace: Morton, Texas
Residence: Holland
Family/Personal: Married to his wife, Janie, for 19 years; two children, ages 12 and 13
Community/Business Involvement: Former involvement includes Holland City Council, County Board of Commissioners and Hispanic Student Organization.
Biggest Career Break: Receiving a month-long project for Tiger Studio that developed into more long-term projects.

After completing his degree at Ferris, he had three job interviews on the east side of the state. By the time he returned home, he had messages from all three companies offering him jobs, but during the drive back to Holland, Hernandez had decided he wanted to do something more creative than sitting at a desk doing technical drawings.

“I wasn’t going to work in one of those cubicles all day long to become a technical illustrator,” he said. “I came to the realization that I wanted to do more with my brain. Technical illustration came very, very easy for me. I said, ‘There’s got to be more of a career than that.’ And sure enough, I got the challenge of my life. Innovation and design are just huge.”

A friend of his was a student in the industrial design program at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo, and Hernandez decided to give it a try. While at WMU, Hernandez met his wife, Janie, at a quinceañero (the less common male version of the quinceañera, a celebration of a girl’s 15th birthday). He joined the Hispanic Student Organization and toured the state talking to students about staying in school and going to college. Through an event the organization held in Holland, he was approached by some community leaders and was asked to run for city council.

“I frankly hadn’t thought about it. I actually said no twice. I didn’t want to be a politician … being a designer, I didn’t want to wear a tie,” Hernandez said. “I prayed about it and the third time they came back to me, I said, ‘Alright, I will give it a try.”

So, while finishing his last semester of college, Hernandez became a part of the Holland City Council at age 23. He was the first Hispanic city official elected, which put him in some very tough situations.

“It was almost like walking a tight rope. On one hand, you have the Hispanic community saying, ‘Well, we’ve finally elected a Hispanic person to the Holland City Council.’ Then on the other hand you have — I’m talking about extremes here — ‘Well, now we’ve elected a Hispanic to the city council, now all of a sudden they’re going to start to demand more things.’ So I’m kind of walking that tightrope at 23 … and how do you balance those thoughts? That’s what it was; it was a balance. I was going to be fair to whoever needed help from me in any way I could.”

Hernandez worked at Castes Industries beginning the summer of 1984 and continued working there while attending WMU. He worked for Castes’ illustration department until he started a screen-printing and embroidery company at the age of 28. After six years, he took a job with Ventura Manufacturing, where he worked for two years. It was during this time that he started to notice a shift in the manufacturing market.

“I didn’t understand everything, but I knew there was a change occurring,” said Hernandez. “All of a sudden, you hear talk about more outsourcing, and I figured I’d better make my move.”

His move was to create Tiger Studio, an industrial design firm. For the first year, Hernandez was the sole worker. He then hired a part-time graphic designer, but it wasn’t until the third year, that he hired his first full-time designer.

“Almost a designer a year — we’re in our eighth year and we’ve got eight people,” he said.

Tiger Studio started by doing graphic design only, then began “getting into design sketches; then started getting into the bigger process of developing products. All of a sudden, we’re doing full-process projects, and all of a sudden we’re doing more and more of those,” said Hernandez.

“Our jobs go from two days to a week; from a week to a month to three months. That’s really the way we wanted it.”

Longer jobs are what helps stabilize the company, Hernandez said, stating his advisers are a large part of his success.

“For a long time we toiled — or I did anyway, when we were a one-man operation — doing the two-day jobs and doing those overnight. When you start out, of course, you do things fast and cheap to get any interest in the market place,” said Hernandez.

“At the same time, we took a risk in putting a core team together and offering up our minds.”

Hernandez said he’s made mistakes while the company has grown, but he has also refined its business model, which has attracted more long-term customers that secure Tiger Studio’s future.

“Some customers have said, ‘Yep, you’ve got a good model, you’ve got a good process, you’ve got good people. We’re going to give you this month-long project,’” said Hernandez. “And that’s the break we needed.”

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