PHOENIX – Xavier Gutierrez, president and CEO of the Arizona Coyotes, had no plans for a career path that would involve ice, sticks and pucks. He was going to become a football star.
“My first dream was to be a striker for Chivas de Guadalajara,” said Gutierrez.
CD Guadalajara is a Mexican professional football club, but many fans know the team by its nickname, Chivas. Born in Guadalajara, Mexico, Gutierrez grew up as a fan of Chivas, as many do in the state.
After his family moved to San Jose, Calif. While Gutierrez was in kindergarten, he remained a fan of Chivas but grew up to enjoy other sports. After watching legendary Mexican pitcher Fernando Valenzuela, Gutierrez became a lifelong Dodgers fan. He also admired Oakland football coach Tom Flores, the first NFL minority head coach to win a Super Bowl, and became a fan of the Raiders.
But when did hockey become a part of his life?
“I’ll be the first to admit that I never imagined I would be in sport, in hockey,” said Gutierrez.
Life has a funny way of introducing opportunity. Hockey entered Gutierrez’s world as a freshman at Harvard studying government. During a visit to the campus bookstore, Gutierrez met Steve Martins, a Harvard hockey player, who invited him to watch a game.
Eventually, Gutierrez and Martins would both end up working in the NHL. Martins played for a series of NHL teams for over a decade. Gutierrez got involved in the league more recently, after more than 20 years as a business executive and investor. When Coyotes owner Alex Meruelo offered him the role, the hockey club made historic strides as Gutierrez became the first Latino CEO in NHL history.
Although this is his first job with hockey in any way, the sport’s untapped influence has intrigued him for decades. After Gutierrez returned to San Jose from college, hockey had an impact again with the arrival of the San Jose Sharks in 1991.
“I saw them take over San Jose and really become my hometown team,” Gutierrez said.
The Sharks were the first NHL franchise to be based in the San Francisco Bay Area since the California Golden Seals moved to Cleveland in 1976.
“I have Latino friends who when the Sharks came to town probably couldn’t have told you what a puck was,” said Gutierrez. “And who are now delighted with Sharks fans.”
Hockey continued to play a role in Gutierrez’s life as the sport captivated some of his extended family. Gutierrez saw hockey influence three of his nephews in the predominantly Hispanic region of eastern Los Angeles.
While it wasn’t the most popular sport in East LA, things changed when the Los Angeles Kings hosted various youth camps. Because of these camps, Gutierrez’s three nephews played hockey as their first sport.
“I saw it,” he said. “I have seen what can happen when a club comes in and really makes intentional efforts to step into the Latino community and embrace them.”
As his hockey sense grew and as he witnessed the sport’s impact on specific communities, Gutierrez unknowingly prepared for the role he occupies today.
“These experiences are at the heart of who I am,” said Gutierrez.
According to the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Hispanics make up 30% of Arizona’s population and 40% of metro Phoenix. Hispanics make up a significant portion of the state’s population, which Gutierrez understands.
“It’s about doing things differently, doing things intentionally and doing things authentically,” said Gutierrez, who also graduated from Stanford Law School.
Gutierrez was the mastermind behind adding a unique addition to the Coyotes, the Latino Advisory Board. The group is chaired by Gary Trujillo of the Be a Leader Foundation and is co-chaired by David Adame, President and CEO of Chicanos Por La Causa David Adame, and Monica Villalobos, President and CEO of the Arizona Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.
“From a strategic standpoint, the Arizona Coyotes weren’t restricted to things that were just ice hockey or sports,” Villalobos said. “They go out there in the community and work with health care groups, work with education groups, work with business groups and really become a unifier for business in the Latino community.”
The mission of the Latino Advisory Council is to “foster relationships and provide advice and guidance as committed ambassadors to corporate, civic and non-profit entities”.
“It’s really important to be a part of that board for the Arizona Coyotes,” Villalobos said. “Because it’s not the norm.”