Published July 13, 1998
Volume 6, Number 7

From Humble Beginnings, John Dutra Shows Hard Work Still Makes a Genuine American Success Story

John Dutra
John Dutra's company had a sales volume of over $630 million in 1997, with sales of over 2,500 units. The company operates six residential real estate offices and employs over 240 agents. Sales are projected at over $800 million for this year.

John Dutra thought he had retired from politics after leaving the Fremont City Council in 1996 after serving for over 10 years. 

"I believed in term limits and thought it was appropriate for me to step down, so I voluntarily chose not to run for reelection," he explains. 

As a search mounted for candidates for the state's 20th Assembly District, five potential names appeared. Seeking to avoid a contentious primary, they attempted to work out an agreement amongst themselves which would clear the way for one candidate to run. 

"I wasn't in that group, and I wasn't giving consideration to running, but at one of the last meetings a gentleman proposed my name," he says. "All five of the representatives indicated if I were to run that they would stand down."

After consulting with his wife of 41 years, Bernadine, he decided to take up the mantle and run. So far, the campaign has been quite successful. After circumstances thrust him into the spotlight, he embraced the situation with vigor. Dutra won the primary and is expected to win a seat in Sacramento this fall. 

Negatives into Positives
Dutra has always been good at making the best of the circumstances around him. 

His father passed away unexpectedly when Dutra was just five years old, leaving behind a 28-year-old wife and five children, the youngest of whom had been born just five months earlier. His mother's efforts in raising the family as a single parent instilled in him the value of hard work; her intelligence showed him the value of education. 

"She would tell us, 'If this country didn't think a lot of us, they wouldn't be helping us this way. They're providing us money to live with'," he explains. "We were on welfare. She took a very negative circumstance and turned it into a very positive situation as we read it in our own minds. We thought, we have a debt to repay. It was a humble beginning, but not a bad beginning."

After he served in the military, he went to San Jose State on the G.I. Bill and earned bachelor's and master's degrees in business while simultaneously supporting his family, working at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. He founded Dutra Realty Enterprises in 1972, five years after receiving his MBA. 

Patience and Hard Work
Dutra learned the value of planning as a graduate student and has never forgotten it. 

"I saw it as an excellent business opportunityparticularly a company that would eventually be totally vertically integrated in terms of a first mortgage company, second mortgage company, Dutra Land & Investment where you would actually put investment groups together, a relocation division, and so forth," he explains. "When we first opened the business, I knew eventually that was the direction we wanted to go. It was a deliberate plan." 

From the beginning, the company has reinvested 100 percent of its earnings, building an asset base that has allowed them to build and occupy their own buildings. In fact, every time the company has constructed new space for itself, it built a twin building which was leased out. Those twin buildings now pay the debt service on the space occupied by Dutra, giving them a further competitive advantage. 

Dutra also believes in hiring the best people available. 

"That's part of being a good manager: knowing that you have talent around you, to take advantage of that talent and to respect that talent, and realize that that talent is critical to the company, so be grateful for it," he says.

The Secret is No Secret
The key to Dutra's success, he believes, is that there are no secrets. He notes that the principles which have made his business successful aren't unique to Dutra Realty. 

"They're unique to essentially any enterprise that is successful: faith in your employees, financial strength, watching the bottom line, cash flow," he says. "I have found that if you have a deliberate plan, and you expand and improve every year at a certain level, you will accomplish certain things. If you do that, and then build on it, your company will be successful."

He offers one more tip. 

"It takes a certain patience," he adds. "You don't act impulsively. Business is a risk, but it's not Las Vegas gamblingthere's a difference." 


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