Antonio Guillen: capitalizing on opportunities.

Author:Penhollow, Steve

When Antonio Guillen, currently a senior vice president at Wintrust Bank in Chicago, was in his late teens, he was awarded a "full ride" to cover the cost of attending the University of Illinois.

He intended to spend the summer before his freshman year relaxing, but Guillen's mother had other ideas.

Guillen said his Mexican-born parents believed in the value of hard work and they tried to push him.

"Typical of immigrant families, my parents did not have a lot of education," he said. "In fact, my mother went to school one or two years and my father, three or four. They grew up on a ranch. So it was always about work. That was the hard work ethic that they instilled in us."

Guillen's mother told her mathematically inclined son to go to the bank where his sister was employed and see if there was any work for him. A hiring manager at the Chicago financial institution, Cosmopolitan National Bank, told him that they did indeed have the makings of a summer job.

"She said, 'We'll give you some summer work,"' he recalled. "Bookkeeping department; all kind of simple, customer service things. I said, 'OK, sure.'"

Within a few weeks of working there, Guillen was asked to fill in for a longtime employee who had departed.

"They showed me, trained me," he said. "And in no time, I was finished. Done. And she's like, 'You're finished?' And I said, 'Yeah.' And she said, 'It took what's-her-name forever to do this.'"

Guillen mastered successive responsibilities and he quickly went from "go-fer" to must-have. Guillen said he appreciated the increasingly complex work because he likes challenges.

"You can find mistakes and dig out what happened and 'Why is this not balancing?'" he said. "I said, 'I like this!' and she said, 'You like this?"'

When it came time for him to start school, his employers convinced him to delay his start date until January.

"That was a turning point," he said, "because I didn't go back to school.'"

The bank managers moved Guillen into the loan department because they believed his sunny disposition was ideally suited to working more directly with customers. He started taking night classes, working toward a certificate in lending and administration.

Guillen did not want his classwork to interfere with his job because he was getting as much education working the latter as he was doing the former.

"I was going to school at night and I was going to school at work," he said. "Because everybody else was mentoring me."

Guillen said he was...

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