The Hard Pivot

By Tad Vezner


A few months after working on the floor of Guero Pallets, learning how to operate every machine and forklift, Martha Razo (AMAT, M.S. ’17) was handed a shoebox full of receipts. It was her father’s “filing system.”

It was rare to have a woman in the industry, much less working the floor. Her fellow employees at the pallet plant on Chicago’s West Side had answered her countless questions as she learned the ropes. But her father, Agustin Razo, who owns and founded Geuro Pallets, had found a harder job for her.

The shoebox wasn’t that difficult to organize. But the more she organized, the more her trepidation grew.

“It didn’t really trigger until my father let me have access to the [company] bank account,” Razo says. “We were $3,000 in the red [in debt].”

She immediately confronted Agustin and implored to him, “Stop writing checks!”

“That’s why I have you here, so figure it out,” she remembers her father saying. He had rarely spared words on her after she’d left home at the age of 18.

“I still look like I’m 15. This is a male-dominated industry, and a lot of men wouldn’t take me seriously. It was tough in the beginning.” —Martha Razo

He still hadn’t forgiven her, she thought, wondering if it was a test she was meant to fail.

Within six months, Razo had the business back in black. Her father made her CEO of the company, which thrived where competitors failed during the COVID-19 pandemic. Since then, Razo has led a book project with 20 other female entrepreneurs and launched the Xcelerator Business Summit, a Chicago-area business conference.

“For Martha to do what she’s done is a huge accomplishment. She’s had to overcome many obstacles. Her business is mostly male-dominated,” says Ron Martinez, a business colleague who attended the conference as co-founder of Chatavise, a web-based business texting platform. “To know that was the first event she ever put on was kind of crazy. It had 35 speakers and hundreds of attendees.”

Says Razo, “If somebody humiliates me because I’m a woman and I’m so young, I work harder. I always tell myself, ‘You want to be the dolphin in the ocean, not the droplet in the ocean.’”

Against Tradition

Growing up in a traditional family, Razo was told she could start dating when she turned 18. Then, when she turned 18, her father told her, “wait until you’re 25.”

She moved out that same year, after graduating from Chicago’s Curie Metropolitan High School.

“My father gave me the silent treatment,” she said, adding, “He encouraged [her brothers] to work. He always pushed them; he never pushed me. But kids are stubborn, they want to do the opposite. I was used to the hustle of doing more than I was expected to.”

When she was 14, Razo created a nonprofit called Students for Students, which offered college scholarships for undocumented students. She knocked on doors on Chicago’s West Side and raised $8,000.

Razo got into Illinois Tech with a hefty aid package, but she still needed to support herself. She got a job at Chipotle, “and I was just terrible,” she laughs. “But I was so nice and optimistic that they kept me.”

She winded up cleaning bathrooms. After less than a year of that, she returned to her father and said simply, “I need a job.”

“I knew work was sacred to him. He wasn’t going to say no to that,” Razo says.

But Razo notes that she was literally a “little lady,” petite and easy to dismiss.

“I still look like I’m 15. This is a male-dominated industry, and a lot of men wouldn’t take me seriously.
It was tough in the beginning,” Razo says.

After inheriting the shoebox of receipts, Razo embarked on a three-month crash course in QuickBooks, pricing, and getting to know every vendor and client. Within six months, she had the business out of arrears; she graduated the following year, and her father immediately made her CEO.

Always Be Pivoting

When the COVID-19 pandemic arrived, Razo was accustomed to pivoting—and fast. She quickly increased her pricing in reaction to supply chain shortages, and rather than cold-call nearby warehouses for new clients, she’d visit them onsite.
“I’d just go into shipping and receiving, and say, ‘We sell pallets.’ Nobody ever really goes out and cold-calls into somebody’s warehouse. They said, ‘Oh, this is an interesting human,’” Razo laughs.
John St. Anthony, director of warehousing for Grane Transportation, a Chicago-based multimodal transportation and distribution company that is a Guero client, says, “I liked her style. She was bold enough to come in, and she sold her company pretty convincingly. She’s very impressive; she’s got no fear.”

Razo says it comes down to an essential rule of sales:

“People do business with people. People like people. At the end of the day, it doesn’t even matter about price.”

Guero’s revenue went from $5 million to $14 million during the pandemic. Razo’s success made her want to help others in the business community. In December 2022 she published a book called Business Diva, with contributions from 21 other female business owners who offered their insights about what they’d learned as entrepreneurs.

After the book launch, she thought, “Why not a bigger event?” She put down a deposit at the Tinley Park, Illinois, Convention Center for a business summit with her own money. All her time networking at countless chamber of commerce meetings and business groups would be put to the test.

In the end, she recruited 35 speakers (her goal was 18) and filled 82 booths. Roughly 300 people attended the 2023 Xcelerator Business Summit. This year, she wants to triple that for the October 3–4, 2024, event.

“A lot of times business owners, they’re in their “Like I said, people like people. That’s what it’s about.”