Ask Gabe Munoz how it is that he was born in the United States, but Spanish was his first language, and he’ll laugh and say, “You haven’t been to Brownsville, have you?”
Munoz, manager of energy efficiency programs for Entergy Arkansas, explains that in his 1977 Brownsville, Texas, high school graduating class of 2,600 students, it seems there were only four or so classmates who were not of Mexican descent. Brownsville, he said, “is not quite Mexico. It’s not quite America. It’s Brownsville.”
Munoz describes himself as “Sangre Mexicana, corazón Americano,” or “I was born with Mexican blood, but with an American heart.”
“I have 11 brothers and sisters. So, a large typical Mexican family – very close. There’s nothing that goes on that the others aren’t involved in. And not because they have to, but because they want to.”
Munoz experienced a heartbreaking example of this family support just three months ago when his wife of nearly 39 years, Kathy, passed away unexpectedly. “She was the world to me. Every one of my brothers and sisters was here within 40 hours. Every one of them. And they helped me through some very difficult times.”
Munoz and Kathy met while he was studying electrical engineering at the University of Texas. School could wait, but love could not. “I got married and had to make some money. So I didn’t finish my education then,” he explained. Instead, he put his energy into a business he’d already been in since he was 17: managing restaurants.
Munoz worked for numerous establishments in multiple locations around Texas. Starting as a kitchen manager at one place, he worked his way up to region manager of a chain of Tex-Mex restaurants. Over 25 years Munoz parlayed his experience, contacts and entrepreneurial spirit into owning a string of Tex-Mex restaurants in Dallas. With 300-plus employees and annual revenues over $10 million, Munoz had done quite well for himself without that engineering degree. But he wasn’t finished yet.
Another chain in Houston offered to buy Munoz’s business. “I discussed it with my wife. At that point I hadn’t seen my father in three years – I’d been too busy. I had nephews and nieces I hadn’t even met. I said, ‘This is not the life.’” So, at age 38, Munoz cashed out and retired.
It sounds like a dream, but “retirement isn’t what it’s cut out to be when you’re only 38,” Munoz said. Finishing college had always been in the back of his mind, so Munoz went back to school at UT and got his degree in electrical engineering. It was then, in 2000, that he went to work for Entergy Texas, working his way up through the ranks in the transmission group to senior wholesale executive.
“I have 11 brothers and sisters. So, a large typical Mexican family – very close. There’s nothing that goes on that the others aren’t involved in. And not because they have to, but because they want to.” – Gabe Munoz
A storm assignment in Arkansas opened Munoz’s eyes to the beauty of The Natural State. He later brought his wife up for a visit, she loved it, and they decided to make it their home. The first job within the company Munoz found in Arkansas was in the energy efficiency group in 2011. “I can tell you I knew nothing of energy efficiency when I came up here, and it’s just been one long course.”
With the retirement of the previous energy efficiency manager, Richard Smith, in June, Munoz now runs the department. “I’ve got a great staff. I’m lucky to have the folks I have and to work with my director Kurt Castleberry. I worked with [Entergy Arkansas President and CEO] Rick Riley in transmission, and I love the fact that he’s up here.”
Looking ahead, Munoz’s challenge is to meet the energy efficiency program mandates put in place by the Arkansas Public Service Commission. This includes a 10 percent increase in current targets by the end of 2018. Munoz oversees a delicate balancing act. His program helps Entergy Arkansas customers use less electricity, and the programs need to be designed for and accessible by all customers.
Munoz demonstrates his value to the company every day. But during storms – when it’s all-hands-on-deck – employees on storm duty in the incident command center are thankful for Munoz’s skills from his previous life in the restaurant business. He’s in charge of getting the workers fed, and let’s just say nobody goes hungry.
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