Creating industry and optimism in southwest Detroit
Frank Venegas’s grandparents came to Detroit from Guadalajara, Mexico in 1917. Seeking a $5.00/day job at Ford, Frank’s grandfather initially became a “Gatekeeper”, one of the men lined up at the Ford factory gate every morning hoping to be hired as a day laborer. The strategy worked, and he secured full-time employment, ultimately working at the plant for 41 years. Frank’s father found employment at the same plant, putting in 39 years before his retirement.
They both dreamed of Frank becoming an engineer at Ford, but the young man had more entrepreneurial plans. Frank’s big break came when he won a 1979 Cadillac in a raffle: he immediately sold the car, and put his $12,000 earnings toward the creation of Ideal Steel.
The Ideal Group has grown into a $200 million multi-tiered organization employing 500 people in southwest Detroit. Its eight companies offer a variety of utilities and solutions, from steel service centers to logistical support to construction contracting. Standing – not by coincidence – on the grounds of the site of the former Cadillac assembly plant where the raffle-winning car was built, the Ideal Group has consistently been recognized for quality and service, winning ten “Supplier of the Year” Awards from GM.
For all of Ideal’s commercial achievements, Frank Venegas’s business prowess is matched by an equally strong record of community outreach. In 1996, he helped found the Gang Retirement and Continuing Education and Employment program (GRACE), which aims to help Detroit youth gang members transition into steady careers. He has financed major improvement projects at Detroit’s Cristo Rey High School, including building upgrades, enhancements to the library, STEM-based games and activities, and a gift of 62 iPads for student and staff use. This last contribution came in response to a shortage of computers at Cristo Rey, and carried one condition: before using an iPad, students had to commit to take or retake the ACT test and apply to college. ACT scores at Cristo Rey jumped as a result, and 92% of the seniors affected by the policy were accepted into college.
Venegas was granted an honorary Doctorate degree by Dartmouth College for his philanthropic work in 2016. And he was particularly honored to receive the Consul of Mexico’s International Ohtli Award, the highest honor for a civilian living outside of Mexico who has “devoted his or her life to forging a new path abroad for Mexican citizens.”
Einstein’s famous insight that “the value of a man resides in what he gives, not in what he is capable of receiving” applies to Venegas, a man who has put his good fortune back into the community he loves. He is a deserving recipient of the AHF’s Distinguished Service Citation.