Alex Saldarriaga: Small-business person of the year

Three years ago, Alex Saldarriaga, 45, founded Home Health Advocates, an in-home senior care business. It is now worth more than a million dollars and has a staff of 36.

On Monday, Saldarriaga was recognized at City Hall as the U.S. Small Business Administration’s San Francisco district Small Business Person of the Year.

“My mission is to get American elders to feel that there is a place for them,”Saldarriaga said. “I want them to go to bed thinking, ‘Oh, my god, I can’t wait to get up in the morning and do X, Y and Z.’”

Coming from Colombia to the United States, Saldarriaga saw a lack of respect for seniors.

“In Colombia, everyone has a grandma that lives with them,” Saldarriaga said. “In America, elders are very quiet and in the background.” They are also often the victims of financial and physical abuse, he added.

Born in Medellin, Colombia, Saldarriaga came to the United States two months before his 18th birthday as a medic for the U.S. Air Force. During his time with the Air Force, Saldarriaga became a licensed vocational nurse. He has practiced nursing for 21 years and has spent the last 10 in geriatric care.

“I had the realization I could change the world one person at a time,” Saldarriaga said.

At the same time Saldarriaga is trying to change Americans’ perceptions of elders, he challenges the stereotype of an employee.

Saldarriaga makes it a point to hire people who might otherwise have a tough time getting a job because of prior drug abuse, homelessness, language barriers or other issues, and he does much of his hiring through nonprofits such as Arriba Juntos, the Salvation Army and the Private Industry Council.

Home Health Advocates serves about 50 clients, and many of them are Alzheimer’s patients.

Also honored this week were Leo Guillory, chief of contracting and property management for the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, as a minority business champion; Farhana Huq, C.E.O. Women, as a women’s business champion; Jenny McNulty, Urban Solutions, as a financial business champion; and Ilana DeBare, small-business columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle, as the small-business journalist of the year.

BUSINESS

New project: Launching a proprietary Client Management software

Last project: Company image campaign

Number of e-mails a day: 60

Number of voice mails a day: 15

Best perk: Health, vision, dental and a reasonable living wage, all of which are rare in this field

Education: Nursing, business

Last conference: EO (Entrepreneur Organization) University

First job: LaGuardia Community College, Registrar

Career objective: To change the model of senior home care

PERSONAL

Age: 45

Likes: S.F. Ballet and good food

Dislikes: Pennies

Defining quirks: Must have the latest tech gadgets, even if I do not need them.

Hometown: Medellin, Colombia S.A.

Sports/hobbies: Swimming, hiking and of course skiing

Transportation: Burgundy Lexus and my motorcycle

Vacation spot: Tahoe

Role Model: Madonna

Reading: The life of Pi

Worst fear: Slow, painful death

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