Dan Martinez already knows what it's like to be a part of a regional university, one that is spread across a wide geographic area like the new University of Texas Rio Grande Valley soon will be.
After graduating from San Benito High School in 1974 and spending two years at Texas Southmost College, Martinez pursued his dream of a college degree by traveling the Valley on his Bicentennial model Harley Davidson motorcycle to classes at both the Edinburg and Brownsville campuses of what was then Pan American University.
Today, he has parlayed his BBA degree in accounting and a lot of hard work into his role as president and CEO of Martinez & Associates, L.P., a successful sales tax consulting group in Houston that represents such high-profile clients as ExxonMobil and Shell Oil Company. In recognition of his professional achievements and his contributions to his alma mater, Martinez has been selected as one of five alumni from The University of Texas-Pan American as a 2014 Pillar of Success. The Pillars will be honored on March 29 during the Alumni Ball.
The son of Daniel S. Martinez, who was originally from Corpus Christi, and Guadalupe P. Martinez, a native of Reynosa, Mexico, Dan Martinez grew up in San Benito, where his father owned a shoe store for some 40 years.
"I worked in the store from the ninth grade through my senior year, and also played sports in high school," he said. "I belonged to one of the best football teams ever at San Benito High School. The 1973-74 team, which came in tied for second in district, still has one of the best records."
Though the first string corner back and second string quarterback would be named to the all-district honorable mention team his senior year, Martinez's football career would end in high school. "I was too small for college ball," but that was no problem for the talented athlete, who said with a smile, "I was more interested in making money."
After a false start in pre-pharmacy and medical technology - "I couldn't pass the second part of physics" - Martinez took the advice of some friends who were studying in Pan American's College of Business Administration and switched his own major "because there was more money in accounting."
He would leave the university in December 1978 with a BBA degree and a new bride, Terry, who he had met through her brother, one of Martinez's college roommates, and married at the beginning of his senior year.
"Terry went to Pan American her freshman year, then transferred to Texas Southmost College after we got married." (Following Dan's career path, Terry would later study at The University of Texas at Austin and complete her degree at what is now Texas A&M Corpus Christi.)
After a short stint with the Department of Labor in Brownsville, Martinez was hired by the State Comptroller's Office in Austin and then transferred to Corpus Christi, where he spent a decade as a sales tax auditor before leaving in 1989 to become the controller of a construction company. Then, after a couple of years, he leveraged the expertise he had built during his time with the State Comptroller's Office and opened his own sales tax consulting firm in Corpus Christi.
"And I've been doing that for 22 years now," he said.
By 1997, Martinez was doing a lot of work in the Houston area, so he decided to move his family, which by then included daughter Monica, and his business there.
"We've never had a lot of employees," he said of Martinez & Associates. "We were kind of like a boutique firm and were the only sales and use tax consulting group working for both Shell Oil Company and ExxonMobil."
Expanding from a couple of employees initially to 13 in recent years, Martinez moved his company in 2012 from a 5,600-square-foot building in Houston to an 11,000-square-foot facility in nearby Sugar Land.
"We have nine accountants, five of whom are CPAs, three clerks and one salesperson/engineer," he says of his current staff. "One of the CPAs is also a lawyer and one of the accountants is also an engineer. We have a small professional group."
Making it clear that his is not a CPA firm, he said, "What we do is defend taxpayers who are being audited by the state of Texas for sales tax purposes. Our clients include all types of businesses, from oil and gas to refineries to convenience stores to manufacturing companies to construction companies."
As he had built his business and focused on his family, Martinez had become disconnected from his alma mater over the years like many other university alumni, so it was serendipitous when he and Terry happened onto a UT Pan American information table several years ago while at a shopping mall in Sugar Land.
Volunteering that day to help the UTPA recruiting staff at the mall's college day event were alumni David and Cris Garza of Pearland.
"I went up to them and told them I would like to be a little bit more involved and to give back to the university," Martinez said, recalling that he got a very enthusiastic response.
His first involvement with UTPA after many years was with the Houston Area Alumni Chapter, which the Garzas were working hard to get off the ground.
"They were having quarterly meetings wherever they could find a place, and I went to this meeting at a public library," said Martinez, who would soon volunteer his own building for chapter gatherings. "David began getting more people involved, and we started having monthly meetings and growing the group."
Now president of the chapter, Martinez takes pride in the thousands of dollars in scholarships the Houston Alumni raise each year for UTPA students from their area and for the group's service to the community.
"We've started a golf tournament to raise scholarship funds, and just recently we went to the Ronald McDonald House at M.D. Anderson and cooked spaghetti for about 100 moms, dads and kids. We do that every year, and it makes our group strong," he said.
Despite his extensive work with the local alumni chapter, it took a visit from President Robert S. Nelsen and Athletic Director Chris King several years ago to really reignite Martinez's interest in his alma mater.
"If they hadn't come to Houston to visit with our alumni here, I wouldn't have gone back to visit the campus. I would still just be working with the Houston alumni chapter, trying to grow it, and working with scholarships here. I don't think Terry and I would have started giving money to the Athletic Department, to the President's Circle and so forth," he said.
Today, Martinez is a founding member of UTPA's first Development Board, which was organized by President Nelsen in 2012, serves on the Bronc Athletic Fund board and the College of Business Administration Advisory Council and is also a member of the UT Chancellor's Council. He also is a past member of the Alumni Association Board of Directors.
After pledging a future gift that they hope to be at least $1 million, Dan and Terry also have been inducted into the University's prestigious Heritage Society, which honors alumni and friends who have included UTPA in their estate plans.
Today, Martinez returns to campus as often as possible and has become a real champion for Bronc Athletics. "Chris (King) is a great salesperson," Martinez said. "If everyone were like him, we'd get so much more done."
And the admiration is mutual. "The Department of Intercollegiate Athletics is extremely grateful for Dan's commitment to the long-term success of our athletic programs," King said. "He serves on the Bronc Athletic Fund board and has been a key individual in securing or personally donating close to $100,000 over the past four years to seed important projects and address new opportunities."
While committed to continuing his support of his alma mater, Martinez also has a new passion - politics. As a state board member of the Hispanic Republicans of Texas, which has as a founder George P. Bush, the UTPA alumnus is helping individual Hispanic candidates get elected to public office while also growing the organization in the Houston area.
"I formed the first HRT chapter in Fort Bend County. We now have some 50 members, and I have just started another chapter in Galveston," he said. "Terry and I have also hosted three fundraisers in our home in the last three months - one for George P. Bush, who is running for Land Commissioner; one for Glenn Hegar, a candidate for State Comptroller; and another just to raise money for the HRT group. I don't want to run for anything myself, but I knew I could help with fundraising."
For Dan Martinez, it's all about making money - then making the most of that money by helping others. And one of the most appreciative beneficiaries of that altruism has been his alma mater.