Finding a home
The constants in Guerra's story are that her work always has been in the hose couplings industry, and in Compton.
When she moved to live with her sister, she found a job as a machine operator at a fittings firm in the South Central Los Angeles area. She knew very little English. "Yes," "bye," "hi," "sure" and "OK" were about it.
At her job, Guerra said she liked watching the programmer set up the machines. "With a piece of metal, he can make a beautiful part. I started paying attention to what he was doing," she said.
The programmer saw her potential to learn, and one day asked if she wanted to give the setup a try. After all the time observing him, when he gave her all the materials she needed, she changed it over, put everything on the machines, and did the setup for the fittings and couplings.
That led to a promotion to programming helper. Soon after, her boss told her he wanted her to learn English so she didn't have to bring in an interpreter every time she needed to speak to him. The problem was she worked 10 hours a day, and that did not leave a lot of time for English classes.
Her boss agreed to allow her to leave early to get to classes, while still paying her full wages.
She ended up attending classes only for a month, because the night programmer was found sleeping on the job and let go.
"They told me I had to work 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. so I could cover both shifts," Guerra said, though she continued to work hard on her own to improve her English.
At some point, the owner sold the company, and she didn't like the new owners. They only wanted her to be a machine operator and no longer do setup duties. But after a few months, her old boss that had sold the company opened another shop and asked her to come aboard, again as a programming helper.
One day, however, the programmer did something that made Guerra mad. Guerra told the boss she wanted to leave, and her boss let the programmer go. Guerra reminded him that it was the other employee who knew how to run the programs.
That led to a crash course for her.
"So he fired him and called somebody to teach me in three hours how to make the program," Guerra said. "And in two hours, I had to learn how to run the computer. So in five hours I learned how to run the computer and make the programs. So I stayed."
Not long after, the boss made her plant manager, to go along with her duties as programmer. But after four years, he sold again to an owner from Ohio. The new owners left her in charge of everything, basically running the operation as general manager. She was in charge of buying materials, determining prices and quotes, and making sure production ran efficiently.
After another four years, the Ohio owners sold the company to owners from Oklahoma. They, too, left Guerra as general manager in California, and she now had the opportunity to start interacting with customers.
The customers apparently liked working with her, in part because of her speedy turnarounds. While the reply from the home office often was a requirement for two to three weeks in lead time when a customer requested expedited service, Guerra could better that mark by a lot.
"Because I was on salary, it didn't matter if I worked late," Guerra said. "If somebody called me and said they needed the part for the next day, I would stay until 7 or 8, sometimes 10. By doing the part, I could ship it the next day, and all of my customers were happy with what I was doing."
Becoming an owner
On Aug. 15, 2005, Guerra's future would take a new, unexpected trajectory. The owners came that day to inform the people at the coupling site that by Sept. 1 the manufacturing operations there would be transferred to Oklahoma and the California facility would be closed.
Guerra was offered the chance for relocation, but elected to stay in Compton. At that point, the owners routed all calls to Oklahoma, she said, so customers couldn't call Guerra at the plant. But somehow, she said the customers got her cell phone number and started calling her.
"They said, 'Brenda, I need you to start making the parts for me,' " she said. "I said, 'How do you want me to do that? I have no money. I have nothing. I have no place. I have no machines. How do you want me to do the parts for you?' "
Working for various coupling businesses over two decades, she used that money to help send her children to college, leaving little in seed money to start her own company. The customers asked her to think about it, that they would help by committing to buying couplings from her.
That started to open up her mind, and she leaned on her ever-present faith. "God put everything in front of me," Guerra said. "He brought me the opportunity. I think it was his plan for me to start my own company."
She had good relationships with vendors, customers and the repairman who fixed the machines. Guerra called him to come look at two machines the owner was going to throw away to see if they were usable. He came and checked, and she got the machines, along with a third the repairman had fixed. And he told her to pay when she could.
Next she needed to find a place to open a shop. A friend of a worker gave Guerra a lead on a potential facility to lease—still in Compton—and she went to see it. But when the broker came, he said he had four or five applications in front of her's, so it was unlikely she would get the facility.
"I closed my eyes and put my head on the wall, and I said, 'In the name of Jesus, if this is the place God wants for me, you're going to give it to me.' "
At that point, the broker asked if she was Christian, and about her church and the events they conducted there. Guerra, who is a licensed minister at her church, told him how they sent clothes, shoes, food and money for medicine to Honduras and Guatemala.
The broker was moved by the story and told her she could have the place, as long as she could pay $7,500 by the next day for rent and insurance. That prompted a call to her brother-in-law, who owned a restaurant in Bakersfield, Calif. She told him of the opportunity and asked if he could lend her the money. He put the money in her account that day, and she secured the lease on the factory for her new business.
Guerra then started calling customers and vendors. One vendor came to the new site, and set her up with everything she needed on the shop floor, and gave her three months to start paying. The material supplier gave her the same terms that her employer had been given. And the repairman got the machines set up in less than a week.
"Come Sept. 1 when they closed the other place, we already had our own place," she said. "By Oct. 1, I shipped my first order."
Her firm is named LGV Coupling in honor of her three children, sons Ludim and Gerson and daughter Vivian.
LGV started out with five customers, and through recommendations had 25-30 customers by the end of its first year. One of the firm's biggest customers even recommended LGV to a customer in New Zealand, then to one in Canada.