Constructing success; Spears senior builds business empire during college career
Monday, November 28, 2022
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You would be hard pressed to find an Oklahoma State University student that isn’t busy, but Friday, Sept. 30, was an especially hectic day for Spears School of Business senior Elian Trujillo.
Trujillo, who will graduate from Oklahoma State University in December, had a packed school schedule, including a tough test in Dr. Alexis Smith Washington’s managing diversity in the workplace class. He also had to close on a house for his growing real estate and construction businesses, and the other party was pushing him to sign the paperwork and present a cashier’s check that day.
He normally conducts business in his hometown of Oklahoma City, but the courtyard of the Business Building was going to have to do. Trujillo and the other party coordinated with a closing company that was able to meet him on campus. He got the deal done and then he passed the test.
“I did pretty good,” Trujillo said with a smile. “I prioritize my school above everything. I still love my businesses, but I have to prioritize school.”
It’s all in a day’s work for Trujillo, 22, who has owned RT&E Construction since 2019. While carrying a full load at OSU, he also expanded into real estate and has managed to start painting and remodeling companies as well.
Many Spears Business students discover their entrepreneurial spirit in class or at a Riata Center event, but it emerged early and instinctively for Trujillo. He was 12 when he started mowing lawns around his neighborhood, and he ended up with so many clients that he had to attach a trailer to his bike to get all his equipment to the 20-plus lawns he mowed each week.
“I was making pretty decent money for a 12-year-old,” Trujillo said. “At that time, I didn’t realize I was being an entrepreneur. I didn’t realize that I was developing sales skills and building a product and a business. It all came naturally to me, and it was really easy to get yards.”
With nothing to spend his earnings on, Trujillo invested the money back into his business. He bought new and better equipment and was able to expand his lawn empire to around 80 yards over the next six years.
Business was booming for Trujillo, but his family had always emphasized education. He heeded their advice, and at 18 he sold his lawn business to a friend and moved 70 miles north to Stillwater. He would become the first member of his family to attend college, but the entrepreneurial itch stayed with him.
Trujillo picked up shifts at O’Reilly Auto Parts in Stillwater to pay the bills, but one day an older friend and mentor took him to a real estate event that sparked an idea. One of the sessions was about working with contractors, and the speaker mentioned how tough it was to find reliable workers in his area.
A lightbulb went off in Trujllio’s head. He knew the labor side of home construction and he know how to run a business. He could be the reliable contractor that local real estate agents needed. Within two months he started RT&E Construction.
“I have a fire in me,” he said. “When I get motivation there’s no stopping me.”
Things started slowly at RT&E, but he trusted the business model he developed mowing lawns in OKC. To find work, Trujillo would get up early and drive around to construction sites or the local hardware stores to advertise his services and network with the crews. Next thing you know, his phone started ringing with job opportunities.
While the returns were small at first, Trujillo once again invested heavily back into his business and his employees. He started advertising on social media and bought better equipment, but he also invested in things like higher-end insurance that appealed to his workers and helped them remain loyal in a crowded job market.
Slowly but surely, RT&E’s jobs went from remodeling rental houses and getting apartments ready for new tenants to new home construction and extensive gigs in high-end neighborhoods. Work at RT&E got so steady that he had to quit his job at O’Reilly. Still, education was his priority, only now he was able to pay cash when the bursar bill came due.
“If I were to mentor anyone looking to start a business, I would say that you have to learn to break out of your shell,” Trujillo said. “We all have a lot of insecurities, but you have to dive in and not think twice. These types of things will really help you grow. They did for me.”
Traction in the construction world meant extra money in his bank account, and he once again decided to invest back into his business in the form of a real estate company. Now he could afford to purchase homes with the real estate company, use RT&E to fix them up, and then put them back on the market. As of November 2022, Trujillo had just wrapped up his 15th home purchase.
“I have a really big vision,” Trujillo said. “I live life in the present. I try not to think too much about the past, but I consider my future when I’m thinking in the present.”
Most people go to college in order to learn a craft, but Trujillo came to master his. He will walk across the graduation stage in Gallagher-Iba Arena on Dec. 17 with bachelor’s degree in management with a minor in entrepreneurship. Unlike most of his fellow graduates, he’ll also have a résumé full of successful businesses.
A master’s degree is on his bucket list, but Trujillo is not sure what is up next for him. Regardless, he knows that his story is far from over even if this chapter is ending.
“It’s been hard to balance everything going on, but I love school,” Trujillo said. “I don’t come from a high-end neighborhood. Not a lot of people go to college. So, I love inspiring people to make a change, and showing them that the only thing limiting them is their own mind. I never thought getting to this point was possible for me, but here I am.”