In the small West Texas town of Abilene, you’ll find two Hispanic leaders running the city’s biggest media provider and serving throughout the community in an effort to provide Latino representation and inspire future generations. For General Manager Albert Gutierrez and News Director Travis Ruiz, their stories represent an American dream they hope can pave a pathway for success for others.
As in other industries, it’s rarer than it should be to find a Latino leader at the helm of a television station. It’s even more rare to find Hispanic managers holding two of the top leadership positions. That’s exactly what’s happening at CBS-affiliate KTAB, NBC-station KRBC, and Telemundo Abilene.
“It’s certainly a point of pride that we are both Hispanic, but it also shows that we have to continue to embrace diversity at all levels,” Ruiz said.
Diversity is certainly on display at this station group. In addition to Gutierrez and Ruiz, Assistant News Director Victor Sotelo helps lead the editorial process each day. Station leadership represents a growing Latino base that now accounts for 19% of the country’s population.
The diversity in leadership is noticed by employees who say they’re encouraged to celebrate their unique background and life experiences. Anchor/producer Monica Diaz-Meek said it was important to work for an employer that didn’t change who she is. Diaz-Meek feels she found that in Abilene with a leadership team who understands where she’s coming from — because they’ve been there, too.
“Travis made me feel comfortable to embrace my culture and use it to connect with others,” Diaz-Meeks said of her news director. “I wanted to use my voice for the voiceless and oppressed LatinX communities, and Travis gave me opportunities to do so.”
You’ll quickly see that connecting with the community is exactly what this team is about. Station leadership is committed to going far beyond typical business hours to provide the public service of journalism and get out of the office to set a standard of commitment with nonprofits and business groups.
I saw this on display in a recent video the stations produced for an Abilene Chamber of Commerce event. It highlighted station talent and leadership giving “Cheers to Abilene” and talking about what made the town special. I’ve worked regularly with Gutierrez and Ruiz but hadn’t put two and two together that Nexstar Media Group had this level of Hispanic leadership at a station until I saw it in the clip.
It was pretty cool — and so are their stories of getting to this point.
“When you live in Latin America, you learn fast that the only way to achieve success is through hard work. This keeps you motivated,” Gutierrez said. “I think this is particularly true of most immigrants.”
Gutierrez moved to the United States as a 23-year-old. He learned English growing up in Monterrey, Mexico, but it wasn’t his first language. Something else he picked up as a kid? The art of sales from his mother.
“She is the best salesperson that I know,” said Gutierrez. “I used to go to the flea market on Sundays and I would spend weekends watching my mother sell clothing.”
Ruiz didn’t grow up in a massive metropolis like Gutierrez. Instead, he spent his early years in the small rural town of Guymon, Oklahoma. But like Gutierrez, he learned the value of hard work.
“It was a city full of migrants and minorities, so growing up as a Latino was seemingly normal. Minorities and Latinos did manual labor and did not have leadership roles,” he said.
Leadership and representation were important to Ruiz, even from an early age. Whether it was running for student council or volunteering to do the morning announcements at school, he felt drawn to the idea of leading and helping others.
“My father taught me that you work hard and don’t ask for praise,” Ruiz said. “He told me that as Latinos, we were going to have to work harder than others for a spot at the table. I’ve always had the attitude that representation is everything.”
Gutierrez added: “As a Latino, I’ve always had to work harder than the rest of the pack to reach my goals. If I can do it, you can do it too.”
In addition to hard work, Gutierrez and Ruiz, who grew up 900 miles apart, were also raised on the ideals of humility and charity. Now working together in Abilene, the pair is committed to serving in the community and setting an example for others.
“Latinos are about family, community and loyalty. It’s part of our DNA to contribute. For me, this was such a natural move to get involved and improve my community for future generations, including my children.”
Both understand the responsibility they have to deliver news and information to an area of West Texas known as the “Big Country.” Through those efforts, both have gotten involved in initiatives the stations regularly cover.
Whether it’s being named the corporate partner of the year for Big Brothers, Big Sisters, earning the Bonner McLane Community Service Award from the Texas Association of Broadcasters, or getting involved in dozens of local events and initiatives, you’d be hard-pressed to find stations more involved in their community.
Ruiz currently serves as the chairman of the Hispanic Business Council. While news directors typically come and go from markets in two to three years, Ruiz has stayed in Abilene — largely because of the connections he’s made in the community. Ruiz said he learned he could use his impact as a news director and cast a wide net across community organizations.
“I didn’t really know what it was like to have someone like myself as a leader,” Ruiz said. “I like to imagine young Latino children seeing me, someone who looks like them, in leadership positions.”
It’s something Gutierrez has also thought about, saying he hopes to “raise the bar” for younger professional Latinos.
“The sky is the limit,” he said.