In Person: The founder and CEO of Dallas-based Pinnacle Group has built a bilion-dollar-plus tech-staffing company while nurturing the aspirations of women and minorities.
DALLAS — The first time you hear about Nina Vaca, you wonder why you’ve never heard of her before.
At 46, this married mother of four owns a billion-dollar-plus tech staffing company, competes in triathlons for charity and supports STEM education efforts while uplifting the aspirations of women and minorities.
“I’ve been blessed many times to be the first, the youngest or the only,” says Vaca, founder and CEO of Dallas-based Pinnacle Group and a director of three major public corporations. “I look around the boardroom, and I don’t see others who look like me. Changing that is a focal point in my life.
“I call it a three-legged stool: my family first, my business and my community.”
Vaca is well-known in some circles — she was pictured on a recent cover of Latino Leaders magazine, featuring the 101 most influential Hispanics in America.
But Nina Vaca is hardly a household name.
In 2014, President Barack Obama appointed Vaca as a presidential ambassador of global entrepreneurship. She has traveled to five continents, representing the White House and the Department of Commerce in an entrepreneurship crusade.
She was recently in Jordan for three jampacked days as the guest of the U.S. Embassy, spreading the gospel to government agencies, women’s groups and the next generation of entrepreneurs in the Middle East.
She’s living the lofty name of her company that she picked to inspire her in 1996, when she founded Pinnacle on the living-room floor of her Dallas apartment with a $300 business check and a Dell Computer.
“I started literally making cold calls on corporations and businesses in Dallas, Texas, offering to provide them with IT talent,” Vaca recalls. “I had a purpose, a computer and an attitude. I told myself: ‘I can do this.’ ”
And she has.
Since 2012, Pinnacle Group, which offers tech workforce solutions, mostly to large corporations, has more than quadrupled its revenue, blowing past the billion-dollar mark last year.
Pinnacle has topped or placed second on the 50 fastest-growing women-owned/led companies list compiled by the Women Presidents’ Organization in conjunction with American Express in each of the last three years
Vaca figures Pinnacle has a shot at No. 1 again because she expects revenue to balloon to $1.6 billion this year.
And that doesn’t take into account a megadeal with MetLife that was inked in August. Beginning next year, Pinnacle will manage the insurance icon’s spending on technology services.
“It was clear that (Pinnacle) could adapt to any business climate and overcome complex problems,” says Michael Schiappa, vice president of global procurement for MetLife.
Behind the awards
The lobby and hallways of Pinnacle headquarters on LBJ Freeway are a gallery of recognitions.
“Awards are a symbol of what we’ve done,” Vaca says, passing a plaque proclaiming Pinnacle as AT&T’s supplier of the year in 2016. “But they’re not a symbol of who we are.”
So “who” is Pinnacle?
“We’re much like the Southwest Airlines of our industry,” she says. “We’re nimble, flexible, entrepreneurial and really, really good at what we do. We’re turning heads with the caliber of clients we’re winning.”
So who is Nina Vaca? An immigrant by a twist of fate.
Her parents, Amanda and Alfredo Vaca, emigrated from Quito, Ecuador, to California in the ’60s. As the middle of five kids, the other four of whom were born in Los Angeles, Nina should have been born in the U.S.
But Amanda, a civic activist who fought for U.S. rights of Ecuadoreans, was on a trip to her homeland when Nina was born on April Fools’ Day 1971.
Her entrepreneurial parents put their children’s education first, moving to neighborhoods in the San Fernando Valley that they couldn’t afford so the kids could attend better schools.
“No matter where it was, I’d wake up at the crack of dawn and take the rapid transit to school,” Vaca says. “It was hard and a lot of work, but it taught me a lot about life: If I wanted that good education, I’d be at the transit station at 5:30 in the morning.
“Today, I have an incredible work ethic.”
Her father, who owned a travel agency, was slain in 1989, when Nina was 17.
“My dad died at 46. My age exactly. And he left behind five children,” Vaca says. “It was a tragic time for my family. That’s what makes our success story so beautiful.
“Yes, like a good entrepreneur, I found a need in the marketplace and a way to fill it. Yes, the barriers to entry were minimal at the time because there was so much demand for IT. Yes, all those things are true.
“But the real purpose behind me starting Pinnacle was to create a better life and a better circumstance for my family.”
Her older sister, Jessica Narvaez, joined Pinnacle’s management team early on, followed by her younger brother, Freddy Vaca, then her husband, Jim Humrichouse, and cousin, Ximena Alvarez.
Today, Vaca numbers her “family” in the thousands, including 5,000 employees and consultants and people in the communities here and abroad that she helps.
Verizon and AT&T gave Vaca her first big boosts in late 2001.
In 2007, EDS signed a $160 million contract with Pinnacle, which was generating only about $40 million in annual revenue at the time. “It was the proverbial whale that took us into 45 states,” she says.
Comcast came on board nearly four years ago. Pinnacle manages the telecom giant’s contingent IT labor force and hundreds of tech suppliers. “Comcast gave us an opportunity to do something extremely strategic and big,” she says. “But what they really did was give women-owned businesses hope.”
And MetLife just entered the big picture.
“Pinnacle keeps kicking butt,” says Vaca, who stands all of 5 feet.