Richard Oceguera LGBT Chamber of CommerceRichard Oceguera is a seasoned e-commerce professional and the founder of KOR Strategy Group. He’s also the muscle behind the LGBT-to-B business committee at the Manhattan Chamber of Commerce. Don’t let the bow tie fool you… he knows how to roll up his sleeves and create change as noted through his contributions with the G Suite, SAGE and HRC. I asked Richard to get personal with his answers about networking, entrepreneurship, economic growth and how this relates to money in the Big Apple.

1. Why does the Manhattan Chamber of Commerce need an LGBT Business Committee?
Business networking has powered the economic growth of New York City since it was founded more than three hundred years by the Dutch. From the securities dealers and stock brokers who assembled at the foot of Wall Street in the Tontine Coffeehouse, a venue which gave birth to the New York Stock Exchange in 1792, to the ballrooms of the city’s high society around Washington Square in the nineteenth century, the city’s leaders and movers and shakers have always trafficked their ideas and plied their trade in a central meetingplace. And yet when I arrived to New York City in the late 1990s to work in the city’s Silicon Alley, I was struck by the absence of a high-level professional arena for networking among the city’s gay and lesbian entrepreneurial and executive classes. To be sure, there were options for our community, but they were few – and those that did exist allowed the bar scene to impinge a little too closely. How can one hold forth in a meaningful business discussion over the pounding baseline of the latest circuit track?

When I sought serious opportunities to build connections beyond my current base of business contacts, I always found myself going to the Manhattan Chamber of Commerce, the city’s grande old dame of business networking. Founded by a group of local businessmen on the Upper East Side in the 1920s, the MCC’s workshops and public speaking training sessions were always well attended and informative, but there was a surprising absence of executives and business people from the gay community. Realizing there was an untapped opportunity for a greater LGBT presence at the venerable MCC, I approached MCC President Nancy Ploeger with my idea to develop a strategy to advance the business interests of the LGBT community through her organization. A few weeks later she invited me, along with four other business leaders from our community, to consider the merits of forming a committee that would specifically focus on the needs of the LGBT-owned businesses in NYC. The decision was quick and unanimous. A few weeks later, Ms. Ploeger happily announced to the entire Chamber membership the launch of a new series of programs for the city’s LGBT business community.

The group has become New York City’s fastest-growing LGBT business organization. Attendees to our events represent a deep pool of experience, wealth and influence in our community: established entrepreneurs, high-ranking ERG members, senior corporate executives and a pipeline of gay MBA students. All are looking to connect with potential clients, service providers and employers — and each other — to share ideas and help propel their businesses to the next level.

Our venerable gay chambers and business organizations are crucial arenas for interaction. But to become true agents of change and economic growth, we must also channel our talents and ideas through the broader economy. Something powerful happens when LGBT professionals collaborate with a mainstream chamber – our influence and economic clout increases exponentially. When the commercial benefits of that strategy are manifest to our straight counterparts, comprehensive political rights and other benefits for our community will be right around the corner.

2. What is your most significant memory about money?
My parents divorced when I was seven years old; it was then when I first became aware of the power of money. I will never forget the day when all we had to eat was a can of sardines, a box of crackers and mustard. To this day I do not eat fish! My mother went to work full time to earn enough to take care of us, enable me to remain in private school and stay dressed in Polo Ralph Lauren. That’s when I began to be subconsciously programmed that “hard work equals money.” I have since learned to shift that belief system to “smart work creates wealth.”

3. What is your worst habit around finances?
Generosity. Through my company, KOR Strategy Group, I come into contact with so many great organizations that are doing wonderful work (KOR helps businesses and non-profits reduce their credit card processing costs). My natural inclination is to make a donation to each one. Prioritizing is key. Learning to say no to a worthy cause without feeling badly is my life lesson. The nice thing about my business model is that my clients, which include both businesses and non-profits, gain access to low-cost credit card processing solutions that delivers bottom line savings instantly. I am especially passionate about the non-profits for which I have helped eradicate thousands of dollars of unnecessarily high credit card processing fees. I often stay in touch with them beyond my business role as their merchant services consultant and end up supporting them directly through personal philanthropy.

4. What is the G Suite and why is it important that there’s an out-of-the-closet CEO running a major Fortune 500 company?
The G Suite is both a movement and an exclusive social network that was born out of the increasing discontent among younger people at the absurdity of homophobia at the highest levels of industry, government and church hierarchies. It is being spearheaded by a circle of men and women of influence who have approached the MCC LGBT committee to help achieve the goal of placing an out-of-the-closet CEO at the helm of a Fortune 500 company by January 2009. At a time when corporate America is doing a great job at diversity at the middle management level and below, why does pressure remain on gay, lesbian or transgender C-level executives to stay closeted? The G Suite is working behind the scenes with senior executives, gay and straight, to make that change. Stay tuned.

5. You and your partner, Thomas Koveleskie, were one of the first same-sex couples to get married in Massachusetts in 2004. When two gay guys get married, is it good for the economy or just equality?
It is good for both. Our wedding on September 11, 2004 is the most special day in both of our lives. We chose that day deliberately to shed some light on what is now known as a dark day.

Rings, catering, music, flowers, cakes and everything else you have to purchase for such a celebration – not to mention the great gifts from our family and friends – were akin to found money for the establishments that gladly sold us goods and services. Had the law not changed in Massachusetts, those dollars would simply not have flowed into the coffers of local businesses. Anyone who has studied economics understands the multiplier effect when dollars course through a regional economy. If a recession is in fact looming, let’s hope a few more states do the right thing from a human rights perspective and enable trade and commerce to flow freely. The great thing about capitalism and gay rights is that they go hand in hand. Let freedom ring!

6. If earning money wasn’t essential, would the two of you do something else with your lives?
Probably not. We both enjoy working with successful people who need help making their business – or, in Thomas’ case (he is a money manager with a Swiss bank), wealth – work more effectively. Of course doing this from Monaco would be fine with me.

7. What did your mother teach you about money?
I have several entrepreneurs in my family, including my amazingly talented and beautiful mother Yolanda Saenz. The lesson I learned from her example was the importance of taking my financial destiny into my own hands. She taught me “that which I can conceive I can achieve.” With her inspiration I am now focused on creating business models that are scalable and ultimately do not depend on my long-term involvement to survive. That is the key to not just making money but generating wealth.

8. I understand you are a co-chair of HRC’s upcoming Greater New York Gala. What role does money play in politics and advancement of queer causes?
Without money, you don’t have politics. Now is such an absolutely crucial time in LGBT history. If you walk down Eighth Avenue in Chelsea, Halsted in Chicago or Santa Monica in West Hollywood and stop ten gay people on the street, eight out of 10 will not know the current legislative issues affecting their lives. It is more likely they will know the latest dance hit.

HRC, Empire State Pride Agenda, The Gill Foundation and National Stonewall Democrats and hundreds of other social and political advocacy groups across the country are doing amazing work to create an America in which we ALL have a place at the table. What’s missing is concern, money and involvement from the queer community. Someone recently told me he did not care about gay marriage rights so that is why he is not involved in politics. Fine, and what about protecting your rights in the workplace or military? What about tax-free benefits for domestic partners? What about Federal and State protection from hate crimes? And immigration and HIV issues? One of these issues affects you or someone you know.

Those few of us who are engaged cannot do it all. We need every one of you to pitch in. One dollar, one hour or one phone call to your elected official will make a profound difference! I’ve seen it happen first hand. You can start by finding out who your local officials are and then contact your city and state political orgs to find out what you can do to change and create laws that are for you instead of against you. Watch this movie trailer to see how important your voice is.

9. I read that you and Thomas intend to have children some day. How might parenthood restrict your finances? Your career?
Restrict? I think having children will open up the flood gates of new experiences for us. We talk about it every day. We have come to terms with the fact that we have no idea who our kids will grow up to be but we are clear that we will give them the tools and foundation to create lives they will love. We cannot wait to enter into parenthood. For now we have Ina, our sassy Shiba Inu, who keeps us busy.

10. Brooklyn is being touted as the new Manhattan but you moved there long before it became cool. How has money changed the neighborhood?
Thomas and I first moved to Brooklyn Heights back in 1999. We absolutely love it there and plan to move back one day when the kids are ready for school. We purchased our first condo in 2003 in burgeoning Williamsburg. It was a smart investment decision. We have since sold it and purchased a new duplex on McCarren Park in the Williamsburg/Greenpoint neighborhood. Even in the slower market, prices are galloping higher.

We were the first building to open here: now there at least 12 new developments surrounding the park in every direction. It is amazing to see the influx of people and energy. A neighborhood community has sprung up almost over night in an area that just three years ago was desolate and nothing more than one story warehouses. My favorite day is Saturday when we walk across the street to the farmer’s market in the park.

A year ago it was a sleepy experience and now it is jam-packed with locals, young families and their dogs and live music. The vendors are happy to collect our money and the buyers are smiling as they fill their green-friendly canvas bags with the fresh bounty of New York State. And did I mention how great it is to have trees, grass, birds and squirrels a stone’s throw away? The sweeping views of the City from our apartment aren’t bad either! Brooklyn is not about cool for us; it is our home.

More about Richard Oceguera
Richard Oceguera is a New York City-based e-commerce entrepreneur and community leader. As president and founder of KOR Strategy Group, Richard provides electronic payment processing services and other e-commerce-related solutions to leading non-profit institutions, governmental agencies and businesses across the United States. Richard is also an active contributor to, and fundraiser for, various state- and national-level political and charitable causes.

Richard’s passion to combine philanthropy, community and commerce is reflected in his work to establish the rapidly growing LGBT-to-B committee at the Manhattan Chamber of Commerce, which, since its launch in January 2007, has become New York City’s premier networking and educational series for LGBT professionals. Building on the momentum of the Manhattan Chamber of Commerce, Richard is also a founder of an international peer-network of LGBT CEOs and other C-suite executives called the G Suite. A member of the Board of Directors of SAGE, Richard serves as co-chair of the 2008 HRC Greater NY Gala and on the HRC steering committee.

Richard’s professional career spans almost two decades developing sales, marketing and business development strategies for start-up and established firms in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago and New York City. He graduated with honors from Columbia College. Richard and his partner Thomas were married in May 2004 in Provincetown, Massachusetts.

Read other Queercents interviews in the Ten Money Questions archive.