Hero. Mentor. Role Model.
From an early age, Hank Aguirre was destined to be all three. In his youth, Aguirre worked for his father’s business, the Aguirre Tortillas Factory in San Gabriel. He made, packaged and delivered tortillas. At 4am, the young Aguirre would work his hardest to make deliveries before school. The discipline he gained in those early morning “workouts” prepared him for his journey in pursuing his dream of playing Major League Baseball, where he enthralled many fans with his talent and sparked dreams of opportunity in the eyes of the children and youth who watched him. The “Tall Mexican,” as he was affectionately called due to his 6’4” stature as well as the size of his heart, began his career with the Cleveland Indians, was later traded to the Detroit Tigers, followed by a trade to the Los Angeles Dodgers and ending his professional career with the Chicago Cubs. After Aguirre retired from playing baseball, he spent time as the bullpen and pitching coach for the Cubs, but he had larger aspirations in mind.
In 1979, with the encouragement and support of Jack Masterson, an executive with Volkswagen of America, and attorney John Noonan, Aguirre mortgaged his home to borrow $350,000 to start up a manufacturing business in southwest Detroit. His company, Mexican Industries, produced headrests, steering wheels and air bags. He knew he could provide jobs by breaking into the auto industry as a parts supplier.
The factory stood in the shadows of Tiger Stadium as a profitable business and a community outreach. The company gave job opportunities to poor Mexican workers who were looking for gainful employment. When Aguirre first established the plant, it had only eight employees. After a difficult start, Mexican Industries thrived during the 1980s, becoming a multimillion-dollar business that created hundreds of jobs for people in the Mexican Village neighborhood on Detroit’s predominantly Hispanic southwest side.
As the business grew, Aguirre helped bring economic development and opportunity to his community. Mr. Aguirre was a constant presence in the barrio, offering encouraging words, establishing a scholarship fund for local schools and donating an estimated $50,000 each year to deserving students. He also helped pay for after-hours recreational programs for inner city kids. Aguirre even advocated on behalf of Latinos and other minorities to expand their presence in Major League Baseball’s management and city government positions.
In Aguirre’s plant, he did things that few others dared to do- he offered English classes for his Spanish-speaking workers and Spanish classes for non-Latinos who were interested in learning. Mr. Aguirre had a very caring nature, and it showed in the relationships he developed with his employees. Each morning he would walk through the plant, greeting each person by name, inquiring about their health and their families. His loyal employees were always grateful for the genuine kindness Aguirre brought to their work environment.
In 1987, Aguirre was named “Businessman of the Year” by the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce; and by the mid-1990s, Mexican Industries employed roughly 900, making it the largest Hispanic business in the state of Michigan.
Upon his passing in 1994 due to complications from prostate cancer, the community of Detroit mourned him like a conquering hero. In fact, Aguirre is celebrated as “an outstanding citizen in the City of Detroit,” as remembered by the former mayor of Detroit, Dennis Archer. Mr. Archer went on to say that Aguirre “has been a role model to many young men and women in the Hispanic community.” Few professional athletes, whether active or retired, have achieved the humanitarian levels of Aguirre.
Because he was an extraordinary community and business leader who leveraged his diverse talents to benefit the community he loved, it is fitting that Mr. Aguirre is remembered and honored by being inducted into the Michigan Minority Business Hall of Fame. The MMSDC’s induction ceremony will be held during its annual ACE Awards on Oct. 6th at the Detroit Marriott in the Renaissance Center.