Now more than a decade into his business career, the only internship Mr. Vasquez, 33, has had was what he terms an "internship by fire" -on-the-job training.
For example, he was a full-time store manager at the supermarket chain Alpha Beta at age 20, while also taking a full class load as an undergraduate student at the University of California, Los Angeles.
His experience at Alpha Beta, in terms of how to drive revenue and how to work with a diverse group of colleagues on the job, still helps him at work today, he says.
Graduating from UCLA with a degree in English in 1987, a fascination with marketing took Mr. Vasquez to Georgetown University, where he received an MBA, in 1989.
After a year at Atlantic Richfield Corp., Mr. Vasquez went back to the land of his heritage-Colombia-to work at ad agency Publix Bates, owned by his cousin. He was able to leverage his knowledge of the U.S. marketplace with the Colombians' need to understand American business trends.
Mr. Vasquez says he returned to the U.S. to pursue a career in the soft-drink industry, the product category with, in his opinion, the highest-profile marketing programs.
Mr. Vasquez received job offers from both Coca-Cola Co. and PepsiCo, among others. Even though Coke gave him a better job offer, Mr. Vasquez in 1991 chose to work at Pepsi, which he saw as "much less conservative, much more diverse, a whole different corporate culture."
At Pepsi, he says, he found minorities could flourish.
Mr. Vasquez's first post at Pepsi was district manager-designate, but he hoped for a position in marketing. His area manager-an African American who agreed to sponsor him-assured Mr. Vasquez that a position would open up. Six months later, Mr. Vasquez became associate marketing manager of the Los Angeles area.
Being a minority member opened doors for him, he admits.
From this position he was promoted to associate marketing manager in the ethnic marketing department, and he moved to New York to join Pepsi's ethnic marketing team. Among the projects he helped develop and execute there were "Double Take," directed toward Asians, and "Casa de Sus Suenos" ("house of your dreams"), a long-running house and cash giveaway and one of the largest promotions ever in the Hispanic segment.
In 1993, Mr. Vasquez became brand manager of Wild Cherry Pepsi, and in 1995 returned to Los Angeles where he took his current position, hoping to move into a role in operations, strategic planning or international.
In a job he likens to playing on basketball's Dream Team, Mr. Vasquez says, "there are no color lines." All employees are allowed to benefit from the best marketing tools, regardless of their level or their color, he says.
To help support his community and other Hispanics, Mr. Vasquez participates in the National Society of Hispanic MBAs. As part of his involvement in the group, he makes a habit of talking to kids. In his chats, he encourages them to further their education, offering his own story as an example of what they might be able to accomplish.
"I am a Latino trying to make it," he says he tells them. "I was in your seat."
Mr. Vasquez hints that corporations looking to boost diversity in their recruiting might want to visit a broader range of colleges.
The downfall of many companies, he says, is that they draw from a narrow group of colleges where minorities usually won't attend-because they lack the necessary money, want to stay close to their families and, he jokes, "because