Hilario Gutierrez, KSB/MBA ’05, returned to his native Mexico in October 2005 to a homecoming no one dreams of — his hometown of Cozumel was ravaged by Hurricane Wilma less than one week after his return. Expected to last approximately 24 hours, Wilma raged across the island for more than 63 hours.
“It was the worst hurricane ever to hit the island,” said Gutierrez.
Cozumel is no stranger to hurricanes. Hurricane Gilbert devastated the region in 1988 and crippled the tourism-dependant economy, setting it back five to ten years. However, after the experience of Hurricane Gilbert, the people of Cozumel learned how to bounce back from natural disasters quickly and get back in shape for tourists as soon as possible.
Gutierrez and his family were concerned with more than the damage to the tourism industry however. They were worried about potential damage to their school, Universidad Parthenon de Cozumel. Thirty years ago, the Gutierrez family founded Parthenon, a private institution on Cozumel that teaches students from kindergarten through college. When Wilma hit, Gutierrez had just returned to Mexico to become director of the school’s international programs division.
He had studied at Parthenon before heading to the United States for his undergraduate studies and enrolling in the MBA program at AU in 2003. After receiving his MBA, Gutierrez decided he had the educational background and vision to make changes to help the school reach its full potential, so he decided to return to Cozumel.
Thankfully, Hurricane Wilma caused minimal damage to the Universidad Parthenon de Cozumel. The cafeteria was destroyed, windows and doors were broken, and some equipment was ruined, but overall it was a situation the family could handle.
The day after the hurricane ended, 40 people came to the school to help clear it of debris. They picked up broken glass, washed walls, and prepared the classrooms for students. With the help of parents, students, staff, and faculty, they had things in good enough shape to re-open the school in just one week, making Universidad Parthenon de Cozumel the first school in the region to re-open after the hurricane.
Unfortunately, others on Cozumel were not so lucky. Even though the community had taken precautionary measures such as boarding up windows; getting extra fuel for stoves and generators; and stocking up on food, water, and batteries; the damage was still extensive. More than 500 homes were destroyed and debris littered the island. Residents were determined not to let Hurricane Wilma damage their economy the way Hurricane Gilbert had, however.
"The people of Cozumel tend to be very optimistic, with a strong sense of community. They set a goal of getting the island back on its feet and ready for tourists within one month," said Gutierrez.
They are working hard toward their goal. Two piers are working, 15% of the hotel rooms are open, and three cruise ships a day arrive at the island. By February 2006, they hope to have 50% of rooms open and to resume the normal five cruise ships a day rate.
Gutierrez is happy to be back with his family and able to help in the rebuilding efforts after Hurricane Wilma. After looking at the courage and the team effort displayed in the recovery efforts, Gutierrez feels fortunate for the kind of people who surround him. "I am proud of the Parthenon organization and I feel confident about the future of our family business."
He also looks forward to bringing Parthenon to the next level of success. Gutierrez is excited to use his experience of studying and working in the U.S. as a guide for the formal study abroad programs he is developing. He is specifically interested in organizing customized programs for international high school students, college students, and faculty to study at Universidad Parthenon de Cozumel. Subjects will include Spanish, Mayan, and Mexican history; marine biology; and Latin American business.
“I find the combination of managing a business, while remaining in an academic environment a great source of energy and enthusiasm,” said Gutierrez.