Marie Cunning is a born Mexican running a 50-man-company manufacturing customized furniture in Mexico and California. She is married to an American, they have two children and live in a stunning home in Escondido (California).
You are a born Mexican – now you are an American business lady running a successful company. How did it all start?
I was very young when I came to the US and was revolting against my father. I always remember him as an old man – already retired. In order to teach me a lesson, he made me work on the fields – do the work that most Mexicans do, when they cross the border. I was a very angry girl who did not want to come to the US – I actually hated it, because we had a perfect life in Mexico. My dad used to lend money to less fortunate people, mostly farmers, who either paid him back or provided half of their harvest if they did not have money to pay their debts. Yet, he was also in politics and there was always trouble. In the end there was a bounty announced to have him killed. So, for safety reasons, he brought his family – I am the youngest of ten children – and himself to the US. This is how I came here. Involuntarily. My father told me: ‘You can work on the fields, like everyone else, or you can choose your own path.’ I decided to work on the fields because I wanted to make my own money. I did it for two months – it was so freaking hot and hard work, so that I gave up. I was 14 then. Afterwards, I went to high school and at 15 they transferred me from high school to college because I was very advanced, due to my private school education in Mexico. When I was 17 I was bored and wanted to do something and so I started my company. I hired experts that were 40/ 50 years old and taught me everything about the furniture business.
As a boss – what is important to you?
I have always wanted my employees to feel important – because if they feel important, everything they do is a positive outflow. I treat them very well, I never yell, I am very respectful. I do not baby them either. If they complain about something, I want them to provide an answer and a solution. I hate negativity.
What makes your company successful?
I honestly think that people choose us because we really, really – from the bottom of our hearts – want to produce something beautiful and make somebody happy. We are pleasers by nature. We please them with something well done, in time and at a decent price.
What would you consider your biggest mistake/ failure in running your business?
I once trusted a client too much and delivered products before he paid me. He had told me he would pay the following day but that has never happened. I lost a lot of money. Now, I do not care who it is, if he wants my products tomorrow at his house, he has to pay me today. There are no exceptions – for nobody.
Do you think that as a woman it is harder to run a business?
I think it is still harder for a woman to prove herself – especially with bigger orders – because people still expect a man to run a larger corporation. When you see a woman – and on top of it one with an accent – they think about it twice. You have to beg, to ask for a chance. I understand their doubts and tell them: ‘Give me a small contract first and let me try. I promise you that next year you are going to beg me to work for you.’
Not being American – did it help or was it a burden regarding business? Did you have to face prejudices or clichés?
The fact that I am a foreigner with an accent is actually appealing to Americans, especially in the industry of furniture, fashion, design, whatever. It is kind of attractive for them. So, for me it was an advantage. At least in California, where they are more open to diversity.
When your kids were little, how did you manage to do both jobs? The one of a businesswoman and a mother?
I could not have done it without my husband. Although he is a professional and has a master’s degree, Timothy made the choice to stay at home and raise our children. I never worried about them because he did a fabulous job and I could run my business. Although it was difficult emotionally to leave them, logistically everything was just fine. I have been so blessed with my husband.
What are you looking forward to after a long day of work?
Fireplace on, candles on, a nice cognac, tequila or red wine. And every once in a while a cigar.
What is the best thing about being Mexican?
Family, friends and food (laughs). As a Mexican you are not only close with your siblings but with your cousins, uncles, etc… you have a clan of people to support you. You are never ever alone. You always have a place to take a nap. You are never going to be hungry. If I call people up and tell them that I have a party tomorrow, 50 to 70 people will show up (laughs). Just like that! I love it. I love my culture. I really do.
What do you love the most about the States?
The rule of law. I love that. If we could all have that and still be progressive and kind-hearted, it would be perfection.
You are married to an American. What do you consider the most difficult when two different cultures are combined through marriage?
That you have to accept how a person was raised. You need to invite him to your own culture/ family and he needs to appreciate its values and customs. He must analyze what is good about the other culture and embrace it. So, he has to be open. My husband is actually more Mexican than I am – he loves how devoted we are to family, how we work so hard but it is not for me or him but for our children. We also have my mother living here with us and we take care of her. He sees how unselfish the Latin-American culture is. It is all about giving but as everyone thinks the same there is also a lot of getting.
What is the most important thing you want to pass on to your children?
They are the captain of their own ship. Nobody can dictate their future because they are in control of their own path. I do not want them to be afraid of anything. They should love themselves because just then they can also love other people unconditionally. I want them to be free of any burden or insecurity, fear or inadequateness because they are perfect. Pure perfection! I just expect them to be happy and to do the things they want to do.
For you, what defines a beautiful woman?
Somebody that is free-spirited, that can express herself. An independent woman that does not need a man to make her happy. I admire woman who are kind, self- sufficient, devotional and passionate about what they do.
What is your favorite place in Europe?
I know very little about Europe but I like London. I love the organization over there because it is so different from my culture. I could never be that way. Mexicans are all about emotion or passion but not about rules and organization.
What goal have you set for yourself for this year?
I need to increase my business, my goal is to double my business till next July.
What does the world need more/ less of?
More patience and understanding, compassion and less reality-TV. It is such a waste of brain cells.
What would you not be able to live without?
Outside my family – my iPhone. They can take everything else but not my iPhone.
If you had any superpower – which one would it be?
To destroy evil.
Which woman would you like to interview?
Lady Di. She would have a lot to tell. I want to know why did she put herself through all that?
Home: My family.