Luis Riesco

From A to Z

“Which one?” asked the Kinko’s employee, holding out two copies of the resume.

Luis Riesco turned to Melissa, his trusted wife and life partner, and she chose the resume printed on manila paper. The other copy, printed on plain white paper, was tossed carelessly into the garbage can. “I was seven years out of college, working at a company called E-Systems doing systems programming support,” he remembers. “At the time, though I couldn’t articulate it, I was frustrated at not being able to see the whole trajectory of running a business, from A to Z.”

Luis was cold-called the next day by a representative from SETA Corporation, a Federal Government IT contractor. It wasn’t until several months into his tenure there that he learned that his new boss had been at Kinko’s that same evening making copies, and had noticed his resume in the trash. He spent the next eight years of his life in management and business development roles at three small businesses, where he learned how a business operates and captures new work. “I felt like I had earned a Doctorate degree and had serious thoughts about starting my own business,” he remembers.

It was a stroke of fate that set Luis on a ladder to success—a ladder that would lead him to that expansive perspective he had always been drawn to. It’s the ladder that led him to the world of small business, and later to the world of entrepreneurship, where he became the founder and President of Lumark Technologies.

Lumark is a professional services company in the Federal government marketplace, initially focused on providing commercial process improvement support to vendors bidding on government contracts. Luis’s systems background and expertise in performance management, combined with his senior leaders’ experience across many federal clients, demonstrate core competencies in the areas of IT services, program and project management, quality assurance and performance improvement, and engineering and logistics support service delivery. “We’re skilled technical managers across many disciplines who can handle any high-tech or policy-oriented challenge, as well as meeting simple day-to-day project support delivery needs,” he explains. “Having in-house software and systems development capabilities enables us to help the government oversee large systems projects, specifically in the areas of work planning, cost tracking, schedule management, risk controls and delivery compliance.” The company also has a commercial consulting practice that helps vendors obtain Capability Maturity Model Integration (CMMI) ratings and International Organization for Standardization (ISO) certifications.

Lumark is proud to have earned a CMMI level 3 in 2015, a quality hallmark that indicates compliance with industry best practices and expertise in project processes. This improvement initiative began in 2007 to include ISO certification and is embedded in the company culture with a strong focus on continuous improvement. In 2015, Lumark was honored with a US Commerce & Trade Research Institute (USCTRI) Excellence Award for its work at the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) William J. Hughes Technical Center (WJHTC) in New Jersey.

But Luis considers repeat business his highest award. “At this point, customers can clearly see that we’re seasoned, experienced, and extremely efficient,” he says. “In a sense, we operate largely with a coaching mentality, helping the government make the most of taxpayer dollars from a delivery perspective. And the best part about it is that we have a whole team of people we can put behind our customers’ success.”

Luis’s passion to succeed and create pathways for others to pursue success stems from the earliest days of his childhood, where he watched his parents struggle with a lack of opportunity. His father, an Argentinean, met his mother, a Chilean, at a party her family was hosting. They married, and when Mr. Riesco landed an engineering job in New Jersey, the newlyweds ended up making a life for themselves on the Jersey Shore. Luis and his two younger brothers were born there and would spend their childhoods playing sports on the beach, earning merit badges in Boy Scouts, and picking up English from their friends and neighbors.

Riesco in Spanish is interpreted as “risk,” and Luis’s parents lived up to their name when they immigrated to the United States to build a better life for their children. His father, though a talented electrical engineer, was subject to discrimination based on his nationality, and wasn’t able to achieve his full potential. When he was fired for reasons beyond his control, he accepted a part-time job so he could continue supporting his young family. Still, Luis could see his father was meant for something more, and it affected him. “I remember seeing all that and feeling how important it would be for me to control my own destiny,” Luis reflects. “I didn’t want to be limited in that way. It was a feeling I never forgot, and it compelled me to have high aspirations for my own future.”

His parents provided the basic foundation all children need to grow—housing, nourishment, love, and care—but they were limited financially. Left to his own devices, Luis was always very motivated to make his own money, starting with a paper route. “My mom was so proud when my friend and I won an award that first year for landing the most subscriptions,” he remembers. “We had our picture printed in the paper and felt like we had accomplished so much. It didn’t matter that we only earned pennies.”

Luis saved up to buy a ten-speed bike when he was in eighth grade—one of his earliest experiences in setting and achieving goals. Though he knew it would mean taking out large loans, he always saw himself going to college. He had ambition and drive, but he didn’t know yet where it would take him. After demonstrating an interest in chemistry as a young man, he set his sights on a future in the field, as his mother’s father had. This pursuit held through his first two college years at the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, Virginia, but when he decided to take a computer science class his junior year, it was an instant natural fit. A second computer class confirmed that he had found his calling, so he extended his studies an extra two years in order to complete both majors.

Through college, Luis’s life purpose unfolded against a backdrop of soccer, his lifelong love since childhood. He made the starting team as right defender during his freshman year and kept the position until he graduated, playing a key role in the team’s success as co-champions of their region during his junior year and making it to the national tournament in his senior year. Luis carries this lifelong passion forward today through participation in a competitive league with retired pros, which allows him to be a more balanced entrepreneur. It’s also an avenue for giving back, as he donates to a soccer team for underprivileged children. “Soccer is where I clear my head and enjoy great camaraderie,” he says. “It’s my passion, my hobby, and my outlet. On Sunday nights, when most 51-year-olds are on the couch watching TV, I’m out there running around and having a blast. It doesn’t matter if I’ve had a high or low day—soccer always makes things great.”

Luis’s one notable regret from his college years was a decision not to study abroad in Argentina, where his father had attended college. “I was concerned my coursework wouldn’t be recognized as equivalent to education in the American higher education system, so I decided to turn the offer down,” he recalls. “It would have been a great experience, and in retrospect, I’m sure the academics would have been just fine. Since then I’ve been more cognizant of how important it is to seize those unique opportunities in life.”

When he graduated in 1988, Luis worked a brief stint at Versar before settling into his role at E-Systems. There, he quickly earned the reputation of the maverick—a hotshot programmer who received support inquiries from some of the world’s biggest vendors. He worked long hours with the pedal to the metal, so most supervisors were inclined to let him run with it. He was promoted to lead positions on various projects and teams to which he was assigned. He also married Melissa, an incredibly bright woman with wisdom beyond her years who always recognized and supported his grand ambitions. Most days, it felt as if he had reached the pinnacle of life’s potential.

Five years into his tenure at E-Systems, however, a supervisor observed that his technical rating was off the charts, but his work style was not. “I was irate,” he recalls. “However, I look back now and see that she did the best thing for me that day, giving me a dose of reality. It opened my eyes to the managerial aspects that come into play when you run a business. She also recognized immediately that I had an appetite to see from A to Z, and that I needed to transition to a small business setting. With that, I moved to a smaller E-Systems subsidiary the following year, and in 1995, I left to join a small 8(a) professional services firm—my first real taste of small business.”

That IT company was technically-oriented, and the top executives quickly realized that Luis’s strong communications skills and expert technical knowledge were a hit with customers. He was quickly placed in business development, where he learned proposal development. “I definitely got my feet wet there, but I was still only seeing from F to R,” he remarks. “After two years, I took a position with a similar firm, which really allowed me to see from A to Z for the first time. I learned infrastructure, HR, legal, contracts, and quality, and from that vantage point, I could see for the first time the true nature and entrepreneurial reality of all I could do. I really came out of that experience feeling like I had earned a doctorate in business administration, company administration, and corporate development.”

By 1999, Luis knew he had the knowledge and experience to start his own company. He could write proposals, network, and line everything up from A to Z to capture business. He recognized the various pieces he needed to have in place, from legal counsel to a financial accounting system. He had the material to develop briefs and proposals, and the ability to deliver on what he won. The one thing missing, however, was a source of income. He knew he needed to work on developing relationships with potential clients that would lead to revenue and eventually a paycheck, so he incorporated Lumark and then set it aside to take a job with a small company. “I had a heart-to-heart discussion with the owners before I took the job,” he explains. “I told them I intended to start my own business in two years and would love the opportunity to work for them in the meantime, maintaining the strictest ethical standards. In return, they wanted me to bring in new business and help them get to CMM level 3, which I delivered on in spades. It was truly a mutually-beneficial arrangement and I stayed a third year.”

By 2001, Luis knew that everything was in place to take the plunge, say goodbye to his steady paycheck, and invest himself in Lumark full-time. He had switched the company from a C Corp to an S Corp, as it should have been designated since Day One, and had set up QuickBooks as his accounting system. He decided against outside funding, committed to growing his business solely on what it earned. The company opened its doors in 2001 and within several months, he had landed his first contract for $8,020. “I earned $13,000 gross for that year, which all went toward paying off the computer, QuickBooks, taxes, and small business registrations,” he reflects. But it was time to make the break, and Luis transitioned to Lumark in June 2002 full-time with no salary. “Thankfully, Melissa had enough trust in me to know that, at some point, it would probably work out,” he continues. “Still, it was a hard road at first, and I was definitely motivated by the desire to not disappoint her. I’m grateful she was willing to be the breadwinner while I pursued it.”

Many business leaders view a company’s first five years as the time frame that determines whether it will sink or swim. Luis took the pulse of his company one year later, hosting a State of the Business Dinner where he assembled his small team and a few close friends for dinner. “I baked lasagna, prepared a nice little brief, and presented the plan—the projected staff growth, the target client base, and my goal to build up credibility through commercial work before going after federal contracts,” he explains. “I laid out the ‘why us’ rational and provided a report card of what we had done that year. It was an extremely helpful exercise.”

As planned, Lumark made it to its five-year mark, and Luis remembers that time as instrumental in positioning the company for continued growth. The people at Lumark had truly evolved into a team, and thanks to their collective due diligence, hard work, and perseverance, the company landed its first five-year Federal prime contract in 2007, and a second prime contract six months later. Through a process of controlled growth, its corporate structure continued to emphasize process and practicality, leveraging a centralized Microsoft SharePoint IT system that allowed for strong team and client-facing collaboration, communication, and straightforward performance tracking.

By the time the company hit its tenth anniversary, it was mature by all counts, with its processes and identity firmly in place. It also had a diversified client base including the FAA, the U.S. Department of State (DOS), and the Department of Education (ED). Luis also seized this milestone opportunity to upgrade Lumark’s IT infrastructure into a private cloud implementation that has enabled its workforce to be virtual and scalable “by the press of a button.” This investment has well positioned Lumark for its growth over the past several years, making it “Day 1 Ready” for large growth “anywhere, anytime.”

Now, Lumark is in its sixteenth year of operation and nearing 45 employees with a strong backlog of work through multi-year federal contracts to include the same FAA, DOS, and ED client base, as well as the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). In 2015, Lumark opened a Washington, DC operations office to better support its growth. This, coupled with its private cloud implementation and expanded CONUS and OCONUS program office presence, better positions the firm for continued managed growth in the global marketplace. Lumark is a mature, exhilarating, and rewarding place to be, thanks in part to the company’s early years when Luis had plenty of time to plan and implement a client-focused and managed growth strategy resulting in many lessons learned. The company is now a tight-knit and high-functioning team that brings compounding returns to its clients. “To me, leadership is bringing out the best in people,” Luis says. “Where there’s an inadequacy, I work with it and try to bring it into the best light possible. And more than anything, leadership is about clarity and vision. There isn’t any problem I don’t see a solution for. I can visualize the ingredients, elements, or actions whose absence holds us back from those solutions. As a team, we set our sights on those solutions and move forward.”

This philosophy is key in Luis’s advice to young people entering the working world today. “Planning can be a pain, but it’s absolutely essential,” he says. “The basic understanding or ability to plan is huge, because with that comes an understanding of how to reach a pragmatic outcome. It’s important to be able to lay out a viable path forward, rather than an unattainable wish list.” Luis also underscores the importance of patience and perseverance, which are critical in plan execution. Things will undoubtedly go wrong along the way, so he stresses the importance of mid-course corrections without letting fear take over. Feedback is incredibly helpful throughout this process, and should be sought both externally and internally, calibrated against one’s own measures and observations of how the business is doing versus industry trends and standards. Keeping records of metrics from one year to the next allows for invaluable exercises in self-awareness, as long as one makes the time to review and reflect.

Beyond this, he highlights the importance of work ethic, motivation, and drive—qualities that must come from within, rather than from the outside. “You either have them, or you don’t,” he remarks. “Sometimes, just being able to see from A to Z—in business, or in life—is not enough. One needs to translate those visions into action. When I was young, I thought success meant just having a job and a family. But after sixteen years in business and acting on my beliefs, I see that it’s just as much about delighting clients, motivating employees, empowering leadership, winning repeat business, and sustaining growth. Indeed, the true A to Z roadmap to success is far more textured, far more demanding, and deeply rewarding.”

Luis Riesco

Gordon J Bernhardt


President and founder of Bernhardt Wealth Management and author of Profiles in Success: Inspiration from Executive Leaders in the Washington D.C. Area. Gordon provides financial planning and wealth management services to affluent individuals, families and business owners throughout the Washington, DC area. Since establishing his firm in 1994, he and his team have been focused on providing high quality service and independent financial advice to help clients make informed decisions about their money.

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