An award-winning bilingual business communication expert, Edgar Rafael Olivo founded Compass CBS in 2011 as a computer and business school to provide services on workforce initiatives. “This was at a time many people were trying to get back on their feet after the 2008 recession. We did great work supporting veterans find employment through our partnership with the City of Phoenix,” Olivo says.
In 2013, the Scottsdale-based company pivoted to offering business education to large and small businesses while continuing to work with large organizations across the State of Arizona on their employee development programs. “We saw a big need in offering financial literacy in Spanish-speaking communities, so we decided to invest in bilingual programming.” A native Phoenician whose parents were Mexican immigrants, Olivo says, “At the time, very few organizations were supporting Spanish-speaking business communities in Arizona, and we partnered with groups who were encouraging entrepreneurship and small-business development to roll out bilingual programs with them.”
Serving that sector was a growing challenge, as Olivo recalls, “After the 2016 election — the same year we opened our bilingual business center — we saw a rise in discriminatory practices, specifically from commercial landlords, racists’ attacks toward our Spanish-speaking students, and the rise of predatory lending practices within small-business community.
“The need was so great, our private company could no longer sustain expanding in areas where we needed partners to keep serving at the local level,” he relates. “I needed to shut down this part of our business two years after opening the school and close the doors to our center.” It had been his dream to run a bilingual business school and, indeed, there was pressure from various sides to keep it open, but he felt he needed to reset the trajectory of his business in order to make a greater impact. “It was a very painful experience, especially since we had created what has been recognized as the country’s first bilingual business school, according to the United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.” During the two years it was open, the school worked with more than 16,000 program visitors of all countries, not just from Latin America, and helped many business owners launch, scale and connect to other resources in the entrepreneur ecosystem.
Splitting the economic development efforts and executive training services, Olivo launched the nonprofit Compass CBS Foundation in 2018 to continue his mission of supporting the small-business community. Within months of its launching, the nonprofit won grants from Facebook, National Bank of Arizona, Raza Development Fund and Arizona Public Service, and earned support from organizations like Arizona Humanities, Valley of the Sun United Way and One Community to host free bilingual business conferences across the Valley.
While the nonprofit focuses on economic development projects for small businesses, the company today is a premier provider of bilingual employee learning and executive leadership training to Fortune 500 companies in the United States and Latin America. Says Olivo, “We work with subject-matter experts who facilitate in-person and virtual workshops with over 18 years of combined experience working with companies in areas of leadership, cultural competency, communication, team building and diversity education.”
But COVID-19 has added new challenges. “The pandemic has exposed the importance of providing bilingual resources for business residents, and I am very pleased to see many of the leading organizations in our state understand that,” Olivo says, noting, “During unprecedented events, like the pandemic, it is critical to think of everyone who owns or works in a business — businesses are run by people, and when we take care of people we are also taking care of business.” Through the Compass CBS Foundation, Olivo provides virtual education to small-business owners affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Everything I do is to ensure that I can create the educational resources for others like me to help them accelerate their journey to personal and professional growth,” says Olivo, recalling growing up on a ranch as an LGBT Mexican-American. A passionate advocate for economic development, community, culture and education, he shares, “The time we are in calls for all of us to take a moment to reflect on the way we are currently doing things. We must ask, ‘Is what I’m doing hurting anyone or anything? Is what I’m doing helping anyone or anything?’ If you are pleased with the answer, keep doing it. If you are not, it’s time to make some changes. But taking the time to reflect requires time.”
A Compass to Lead the Way
- Edgar Olivo hosts a weekly business podcast show called “Hablemos de Negocios con Edgar Olivo” (“Let’s Talk Business with Edgar Olivo”) with Univision Arizona, Los Angeles and New York.
- Olivo holds a business communication degree and applied business data analytics certificate from the W. P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University, and is certified in business, finance, data analytics, corporate training and executive coaching.
- Compass CBS has experience working with large groups in many highly regulated and demanding environments such as banks, government agencies, mining operations, medical institutions and more.
- Olivo contributes his philanthropic efforts as an executive board member for grant-giving organizations, social-arts-focused charter schools, financial advisory boards and social justice projects.
- Edgar Olivo is editor of En Negocios, presented by In Business Magazine in Spanish for the Spanish-speaking business community, connecting them to opportunities, business services and educational resources to successfully grow their business in Arizona.