As published in the Sacramento Business Journal on April 9, 2021

We’re introducing you to our Most Admired CEOs. Robert Rodriguez is an honoree in the medium-company category.

It’s one of the more unusual business origin stories. Robert Rodriguez said that when he was a young and somewhat directionless 20-something, he was strolling down the street when he spotted a scrap of paper fluttering in the breeze. He stopped to pick it and saw that the paper had the word “consulting” scrawled on it. As unlikely as it sounds, that moment changed his life, he said.

“Maybe the universe wanted me to find that,” he said.

From that seemingly insignificant event, Rodriguez’s career took off. He landed management positions at various consulting businesses, including Synergy Consulting and Deloitte Consulting. Then, after about seven years of working for other people, he founded his own company, Cambria Solutions Inc., in 2003. Since then, the information technology and management consulting firm has grown rapidly, appearing nine times on Inc. magazine’s list of the 5,000 fastest-growing companies in the U.S. The company, which works mainly with government agencies, has about 80 local employees and 250 nationally. In March the company announced Ki Kim, a longtime employee, as its first chief financial officer.

“We’ve been growing 30% on average every year, which is equal to doubling in size every three years,” Rodriguez said. “That’s fun, exciting and exhilarating, but it can be a really big challenge as well.”

The company’s first big setback was the Great Recession. “We lost almost 95% of our contracts in 2008,” he said, but committed to no layoffs, no furloughs and no pay cuts.

“We did a gut check: people are our biggest asset,” he said, “so we had to give up whatever we could to keep people,” which included taking money out of the company’s credit line and reserve accounts.

Recommended

The pandemic has brought its own set of issues. “It has hit our company but also our people,” Rodriguez said. “So many of our people have a child out of school or are taking care of vulnerable parents.”

And the timing of the pandemic added another complication. In addition to Cambria Solutions, Rodriguez is also the founder and managing director at real estate investment firm Cassadyne Properties LLC, which he launched in 2011. In late 2019, working with a design/build team, Cassadyne finalized the renovation of a three-story, 22,000-square-foot-building at 731 K St. in Downtown Sacramento, which Cassadyne acquired from the city of Sacramento.

In early 2020, just before the pandemic hit, Cambria moved into the top two floors of the building as its new headquarters. With original artwork, custom lighting, multiple collaboration rooms and a rooftop patio, the sleek new office was intended to help attract new employees. Instead, right after moving in, the company had to transition to a virtual work environment, which Rodriguez said went fairly well. However, the transition was not as easy for some of the company’s clients, which were not equipped to work in the virtual world.

“Even if they have the equipment, they may not have familiarity (with it),” he said. “It’s like when we have a lot of software on our computer that we may not open until we need it.”

Despite the challenges, Rodriguez said that going forward, he wants to keep the remote model in place wherever possible, but he also wants “to make sure our clients are exceptionally well satisfied that we are able to deliver on our promises. We will always have a physical presence — some clients require us to be there full time at their location — but now we’re saying, does it make sense for us to do a more virtual collaboration?”

Lois Takahashi, who is director of the University of Southern California Price School of Public Policy in Sacramento, has known Rodriguez since 2017. She said that in addition to being a strong business leader, he also places an emphasis on diversity and inclusion, as Cambria has a 50% gender balance and 39% ethnic diversity balance among its employees.

“I think there is a lot of attention being paid to these issues now, but I think Robert and his business partner were ahead of the curve,” she said.

An example of Rodriguez’s commitment to diversity and inclusion is the promotion of Suzanne Vitale to company president in January 2020. “Vitale, one of the very few female presidents of a national technology company, focuses on the day-to-day leadership and operations,” Rodriguez said. “Now, I focus on our longer-term opportunities including innovation, strategic initiatives and investments.”

In looking to the future, Rodriguez said he’s conservative but also optimistic. “We are obviously more conservative than usual because of the effects and the uncertainty of the pandemic on government organizations, our primary clients. Understandably, government priorities must be on public health. But we remain optimistic and will continue to invest in technology and practice areas where we can continue to help governments modernize their technology and optimize their resources and operations.”


The Essentials

Robert Rodriguez

Education: MPA, University of Southern California; B.A., psychology, California State University Northridge

Age: 51

Career: Founder and CEO, Cambria Solutions Inc., 2003-present; founder and managing director, Cassadyne Properties LLC, 2011-present; senior manager, Deloitte, 1999-2003; manager, Synergy Consulting Inc., 1996-1999