Three Molinas Forge New Business

June 13, 2011

by Michele A. Schulze
Jacob Chinn photos

At a time in his career when the next major step could have been retirement, University of Arizona alumnus Manny Molina ’70 spun 180 degrees. He enlisted his family and plowed into the world of entrepreneurship. After being the Phoenix-based regional president of Clear Channel Outdoor for 13 years, Molina founded Molina Media Group in 2004. He made his first move to acquire Hispanic-oriented media by purchasing Latino Future magazine, and created Molina Outdoor, a billboard division.

“I had the best teacher in the world of entrepreneurship in Karl Eller (UA alumnus and philanthropist),” Molina said of his former boss and mentor for the past 25 years. “I felt it was time to move on (from Clear Channel). I consulted with Karl and he told me ‘once you do this, you’ll be sorry you didn’t do it sooner.’”

Eller also advised him to “stick with what you know.” While Molina waited out his non-compete clause with Clear Channel, he formulated his business plan and called on his wife, Jenny, and son, Matt, to add their voices to his vision.

Before Clear Channel, where 225 employees reported to him, the Tucson native had been a senior vice president at Circle K Corporation, where he oversaw 9,000 employees, 2,000 stores, and a gross-revenue budget of $2 billion.

The decision to join the new venture was an easy one for Matt ’03, the eldest of the three Molina children. The Molina’s daughter, Michelle, graduated from the University of Texas-Austin, and their son, Michael, is a UA senior majoring in regional development.

Matt was introduced to the outdoor advertising business through an internship at Tucson Clear Channel Outdoor that he calls an “invaluable experience.”

“I didn’t want to come in three years down the road and be labeled the boss’ son,” Matt says. “I wanted to learn from the ground up.”

While at the UA, Matt earned a bachelor’s degree in communication and lettered in football. As a senior linebacker, he was honored with the Jim Ewing Memorial Award for “superior character and scholastic performance.”

“The UA was all I knew and it probably began the day I was born,” Matt says with a laugh. His father chimes in, “Matt was going to be a Wildcat even if he had to be a walk-on.”

During the football recruiting process, father and son visited Arizona State University (ASU). Manny wore all black that day. He said he was secretly hoping to see film of the UA beating ASU. Following the visit, Matt told his father he was impressed with the program and the school.

Manny told him, “You need to go where you will fit in, but remember, we’re only going to watch you play one game a year (if you go to ASU)!”

It turned out the joke was on Manny. Matt had no intention of going to ASU, but successfully convinced his father otherwise.

Manny and Jenny had always envisioned themselves remaining in Tucson, raising their family, and staying involved in numerous community activities, but in 1990 they headed to Atlanta. Manny became the regional president for Eller Media. The Molinas remained connected to and actively supported the UA, and continue to. Manny now serves on the UA Foundation Board of Directors.

“There’s so much that makes me proud (about the UA),” he says. “All of the changes in the past few years have been remarkable and the quality of professors across the campus gets us excited.”

The family returned to Arizona in 1999, after nine years in Atlanta, and Matt completed his senior year at Chaparral High School in Scottsdale.

In reflecting on his UA experiences, Matt says his most important lessons came through football.

His football career took place during the roller-coaster era of Dick Tomey and John Mackovic as successive head coaches. None of the business classes he took, he says, gave him the firsthand experience he got from observing two coaches with distinctly different leadership styles.

He learned, from watching both coaches, how to deal with the pressures of winning and losing and how to manage player issues. Tomey’s philosophy emphasized hard work and perseverance and it was Mackovic who was an expert in working with the media.

As publisher of Latino Future, Matt has grown the bimonthly magazine from less than 200 subscribers in 2006 to more than 10,000 today. Aimed at an affluent Hispanic audience, the publication focuses on travel, money, health, home, business, and fashion, featuring articles on Hispanics who have “found the key to their success.”

He draws on his competitive nature to make a mark for the magazine. “This is an industry in transition,” he says. “So, we use multiple components to be successful — there’s the Web, and also events where we promote ourselves. We’re as innovative as we can be.”

Jenny Molina ’76 did not hesitate to jump in with both feet to join her husband of 29 years and their son. As the first Molina to be an entrepreneur (she began a successful event-planning business in Georgia), she was ready to do business. “I am proof that you don’t have to just have one career!” she says.

She also was a behavior disorder high-school teacher for 14 years at Tucson’s Pueblo High School and also in Georgia, Jenny enjoyed working with the “tough cookies.” The best reward for her, she notes, was making a difference in her students’ lives. Sometimes the differences were small, sometimes not, under the challenging situations facing her students, usually involving the juvenile court system.

Her bailiwick at Molina Media Group includes being the company’s finance manager and she oversees the myriad details involved in the day-to-day operations. Jenny also plans and supervises the Latino Future signature events — Carnaval celebrates the Brazilian street party; Havana Nights is infused with Cuban culture; the Latino Beisbol Awards Festival featuring the Orlando Cepeda Leyendas Award (named for the Hall of Fame first baseman that played baseball for 17 seasons) honors the positive contributions that a Latino former player has made to Major League Baseball and his community.

Manny, president of the Molina Media Group, is quick to point out that everyone has an equal voice in the business and the melding of two generations is “exciting.” Matt describes the business as “lean and mean.”

“When you mix a parent and child together in business, it is both rewarding and challenging. As fathers, we have been coaching all of our lives. When I’m 80, I’ll still be coaching him. Matt brings his new ideas to the table and we listen to him. He has as much to say as I do. He’s earned the position he’s in. I wouldn’t move him along just because he’s a family member.”

Both were nervous during their first father-son sales call. What would Matt call his business partner — Dad, Manny? With decades of experience, would Manny take over or jump in to close the deal?

In the end, the deal was closed by Matt, who decided to refer to his father as Manny in the workplace and his mother as Jenny.

“Being an entrepreneur has a lot of highs as well as some lows,” Manny says. “I’m still learning and in fact, we all learn from each other.”