Mosaic Stories

    Franco Jimenez

    Franco Jimenez realized he wanted an international career while studying abroad in university, and his Spanish company, Abengoa Bioenergy, gave him the opportunity to work abroad. Franco is originally from Seville, Spain and studied Agricultural Engineering in Cordoba and Stuttgart, Germany during a year abroad. Franco described his experience in Germany and said, “That is where I discovered the international experience, and I knew I wanted to be abroad in the future. So I focused my career on international business since that point.”

    After completing his MBA in International Business and his master’s in Industrial Management, Franco began working with Abengoa Bioenergy in 2011. He worked for Abengoa in the Netherlands in 2012, and then moved with the company to Chesterfield, Missouri in 2013. Franco had a slightly unique immigrant experience, since he did not move to the U.S. on his own or with his family, but rather with 30 of his Spanish coworkers. Coming to St. Louis with a Spanish community was comforting, and Franco explained, “I think it was very useful to come with this company, because it was a transition. I was here, but when I wanted to be in Spain, my office felt like Spain. If one day I was a little low, I could say, ‘Let’s do a barbeque all together.’ Then I felt like I was in Spain, so it was helpful.” 

    While Franco had the support of his Spanish coworkers, he was determined to become involved in the St. Louis community.

    “Since I arrived I wanted to be involved in the society and meet other Americans. All of my friends are from here, because I wanted to integrate in society. We were 30 or so Spaniards with my company and I used to see them everyday in the office, but I didn’t want them to be my world. I wanted to integrate.”

    Franco’s ability to separate himself from his company was especially helpful when Abengoa went bankrupt at the end of 2015 and the majority of the company returned to Spain. Franco was grateful to have made strong connections in St. Louis to help him stay in the U.S. without his former company. It wasn’t until the beginning of 2016 that Franco really faced the challenges of an immigrant looking for work in the U.S. He had to build professional connections and apply for a green card while looking for a new job. Fortunately, Franco utilized the region’s resources and found support from local organizations. He described this process, “Since December, I have been looking for mentorship everywhere. I had a really good relationship with the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, so I have been working with them a lot. Also with the Mosaic Project, I am involved with teaching Spanish classes to kids in different neighborhoods. I also volunteer with the Missouri Botanical Gardens and Venture Cafe.” Franco also participated in the Professional Connector Program with the Mosaic Project, and hopes to be able to mentor others in the future.

    Franco has delved into the St. Louis community and has loved his experiences. He is especially excited about the startup community and the opportunities that St. Louis has to offer, particularly to young people. In addition, Franco has found the community to be extemely welcoming and friendly. He appreciates that people are welcoming of his background and his accent, as well as his recent marriage to his husband, Tony Westbrooks. “We haven’t found any rejection from anyone in St. Louis. I am very happy for this experience and how people from St. Louis dealt with that.” 

    Franco’s hard work networking and getting involved in the community paid off, and he is now working for Anheuser-Busch, dealing with sourcing management for North America and Mexico. Franco is excited to grow his career globally, as well as to develop his career alongside his husband’s career as a lawyer. The couple loves St. Louis and plans to stay here.

    Franco had a successful experience immigrating to St. Louis, but he did acknowledge some challenges he faced. Franco said, “I think the most difficult part is to adapt to the culture.” Franco struggled to adapt to the politeness that is the custom in the midwest. He is used to speaking very directly in Spain and saying exactly what he is thinking. It wasn’t until recently that his husband taught him the “sandwich” technique. “My husband says I have to do a sandwich when I say something negative. I have to say something positive before and after to be polite.” Franco thinks it could be very helpful for immigrants to learn these cultural norms when they first arrive. Franco explained, “I think it could be very interesting to have a program where you can learn about American culture, you know those things you cannot read in a book, like how you should behave. For example, this thing about the sandwiches!” 

    Franco also stressed how important it is for immigrants to understand the American process of applying for jobs, such as thank you notes and follow ups. He saw how these differences could be a disadvantage for immigrants who did not understand the culture. Franco also highly recommends that immigrants take advantage of language classes, to not only improve their English, but also to meet others in similar situations and discuss cultural norms.

    Most of all, Franco is an excellent example of taking advantage of all that the St. Louis community has to offer. Through volunteering and networking, Franco has been able to explore many areas of St. Louis and has made a wide range of connections. Franco enjoys learning about the diversity of St. Louis, since his hometown is more homogenous. He also hopes to see St. Louis become even more inclusive in years to come. Franco explained, “It is not just integrating the immigrants, it is also integrating the community that is already here.” Franco is excited for the future with his husband in St. Louis, and he looks forward to continuing his involvement with the Mosaic Project.