Businessman Named Minority Entrepreneur of Year : Immigrant’s Dream Led to Son’s Success

Times Staff Writer

Guadalupe Saldana crossed the Mexican-American border in 1917 in search of the land of opportunity. He tried to make his fortune by growing potatoes on a 40-acre plot in South-Central Los Angeles. But bugs infested the field and ruined his crop.

Although his potato farm never succeeded, he passed his dream on to his son, Fred Saldana Sr.

Fred Saldana, a 66-year-old Diamond Bar resident, has been so successful that he has been named minority entrepreneur of the year for 1987 in the U. S. Small Business Administration’s Los Angeles region.

Supervisor Pete Schabarum presented Saldana, owner and president of G & D Aircraft Parts Inc. in Pomona, the award at a recent meeting of the county Board of Supervisors.

Chosen From Among 250

Saldana was chosen from among 250 Los Angeles businessmen. Their firms were judged on efficiency, profits, speed and quality of work on government contracts, said Coe Wilkins, regional public information officer for the SBA.

“He developed, completed and perfected the contracts best and most efficiently,” Wilkins said. “He did the job well--the best in the L. A. area.”

G & D Aircraft Parts specializes in manufacturing aircraft parts and missile components for the federal government and the aerospace industry. The company, which began in 1966 with a $500 investment, is now worth nearly $5 million, Saldana said.

Saldana attributes much of the company’s success to members of his family. One brother, Ralph, serves as financial officer, and another, Lupi, handles various jobs on a part-time basis. His son, Dennis, is vice president in charge of production, and another son, Fred Jr., ran the company when his father suffered a bout with cancer a few years ago.

“You can’t trust anyone like you can your family,” Saldana said.

“I’m real proud of him,” said Saldana’s wife, Grace Doreen, whose initials make up the company name. “I have already picked out a spot for the award.”

Saldana said his grandson Mark, 25, is learning the business and hopes to follow in his grandfather’s footsteps.

‘Deserves the Award’

“He’s worked hard,” Mark Saldana said. “He really deserves the award.”

Fred Saldana, who served three years in the Navy during World War II, began to learn the business when he was 23. He started by shoveling sand for a mold-making process at a foundry in Huntington Park. He was later hired by another company to make parts for the M1-13 tank.

A graduate of Fremont High School in Los Angeles, Saldana said he learned how to cast molds and operate machine tools in the various foundry jobs he has held. He learned about aircraft and missile parts in the same way. “You learn about these things through the work. You don’t have to be an architect to make airplane parts,” he said.

In 1966, Saldana rented an 8,000-square-foot warehouse in the City of Commerce and invested $500 in tools and equipment. His profits rose, and in 1978 he added a 4,200-square-foot building. Two years later he acquired another building in East Los Angeles.

“We began to get contracts from the government in 1968. And from there it just kept growing,” Saldana said.

In 1986, Saldana consolidated his businesses and moved to a 32,500-square-foot building in Pomona.

The 58 employees who operate the highly computerized shop are mostly Mexican-Americans, who he said are all hard workers.

Saldana attributes much of his company’s success to a work ethic learned in Mexico and passed down through the generations.

Among the aircraft parts and missile components manufactured in the shop is the MK 137 decoy launcher, used by the U. S. Navy and ships of other NATO nations. The MK 137 launches a missile that sends out a magnetic field to lure hostile missile fire away from a ship. Saldana said his business builds about 155 such launchers a year.

The company also makes parts for the TOW and Hawk missiles.

“If my father were alive today to see me win this award, he’d say it was unbelievable,” Saldana said.