Newswise — As a child, Kim Ruiz Beck spent nearly every day after school at her family's Tulare, CA food manufacturing company, Ruiz Foods.
Her duties were miniscule, pretty much anything to keep an antsy 6-year-old preoccupied while the adults worked. As she grew up, her jobs intensified: filing paperwork, completing payroll and packaging burritos.
Her father and grandfather co-founded Ruiz Foods in 1964. To Ruiz Beck, they were entrepreneurial masterminds who, with $400, a freezer and a stove built from junkyard scraps, created what has become a multi-million dollar business.
But Ruiz Beck recognized times were changing, the company had evolved and, if she was to take charge, she needed to prepare for the challenges that lay ahead. The way to do this, Ruiz Beck decided, was with higher education.
The Transformational Power of a College Degree
When she graduated from California State University, Fresno in 1988 with a bachelor's degree in business administration – marketing, Ruiz Beck became the first in her family to earn a degree, forever transforming the way future generations manage the nearly 55-year-old establishment.
"As the company got bigger and we started having more success, there was a need for more procedures, more formality," Ruiz Beck explains about her decision to purse a degree. "I loved Fresno State because it allowed me to focus on learning and getting everything that I could out of my classes while working [at Ruiz Foods]."
Today, Ruiz Foods is considered the leading frozen Mexican food manufacturer in the United States. The company distributes their El Monterey® and Tornados® brands nationally with manufacturing facilities in California, Texas and South Carolina. They have grown to nearly 4,000 employees, demonstrating exponential growth from the 500 employees when Ruiz Beck graduated from Fresno State.
Ruiz Beck serves as chairman of the company, having previously served as interim CEO and president.
"Growing up, I remember being so proud and wanting to be a part of the family business," she says. "Going to Fresno State really affirmed for me that I could contribute and be an important part of my family business."
Testing the Curriculum in the Workplace
As a student at Fresno State, Ruiz Beck learned of the importance of a corporate philosophy in one of her business courses. Intrigued, she asked her father about Ruiz Food's corporate philosophy.
"His answer? We didn't have one," Ruiz Beck laughs. So, she introduced the idea to her father and the two worked together to form one, which still lives today.
"We are able to use our corporate philosophy to tell our team members who we are; we use it as a guide when we make company decisions; and we use it to hold ourselves accountable, too," Ruiz Beck explains.
This is just one example of how the courses at Fresno State allowed her to become a "more organized, more detailed and more corporate" business leader, she states.
The married mother of three sons remains committed to the campus, serving on the Fresno State Foundation's Board of Governors and as an advisor for many Craig School of Business programs. In 2017, she was awarded Fresno State's Top Dog Award, its highest alumni honor, which recognizes its recipient's commitment to scholarship, service and leadership.
"I always leave [Fresno State] so impressed with the students and the ideas they have," she says. "They are programs like the ones at Fresno State that give students the real-world experiences they need to succeed."
About 80 percent of Fresno State graduates work in the area after graduating from the university. "Fresno State is an important part of our community; it's where our future community leaders are being formed," Ruiz Beck states.
"Our family has been very blessed, so we are very committed to giving back. I am very proud and happy to be able to be involved," says Ruiz Beck, who also serves as president of the Valley Children's Healthcare Foundation and is involved in Ruiz 4 Kids, a nonprofit founded by Ruiz employees that has raised more than $3 million in scholarships for local graduating high school and community college students.
Looking Forward: The Fourth Generation of Ruiz Foods
Born and raised in California's Central Valley, Ruiz Beck is the eldest of four children. Matt, one of her siblings, works in the family business; two of her three sons have day-to-day responsibilities in the business, as well, introducing the fourth generation to Ruiz Foods.
Decades after approaching her father about a company philosophy, Ruiz Beck recently experienced a déjà vu moment when her son — also a Fresno State marketing alumnus — approached her about using an app for a project they were discussing.
It became apparent to her that the new generation was ready to make its mark in the family business, and Ruiz Beck couldn't be more proud.
The advice she gives to her sons and all future business leaders is direct: "Take advantage of every opportunity given to you. You might fail, but give it a try. I promise you, you will learn something from it."