Hope and Opportunity

When Maruchi Azorin fled Cuba with her family, all she had was a single suitcase to her name.

Thanks to her parents, however, she had an abundance of hope.

“My parents often said, 'We came here with nothing. The only thing we can leave you is an opportunity to receive an education,’” Azorin said.

Azorin took that message to heart—and to UF—which helped lay the foundation for an inspiring entrepreneurial success story. For her business success and service to the community, Azorin was recognized with the Gran Caimán Award from UF's Association of Hispanic Alumni during its annual Gator Guayabera Guateque on May 14 in Miami Springs.

Azorin's career success is the epitome of the American dream for immigrants. Not only has her business, Villa Rosa Distinctive Linens, thrived for more than 30 years, her service to the greater Tampa community has been even more noteworthy. She chaired the City of Tampa’s Mayor's Hispanic Advisory Council for eight years, and was the first Hispanic woman to serve on the Board of Directors of the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce. In March, she was one of 21 female business leaders appointed by Governor Rick Scott to the Florida Commission on the Status of Women, a nonpartisan board created to study and make recommendations on issues affecting women.

Her good work extends beyond the business community, impacting young people as well. Azorin (BA ’75, MBA ’78) has served on the Alumni Advisory Board for Florida Blue Key and UF’s Student Affairs Alumni Advisory Board where she personally interacts with young and aspiring leaders. Azorin's community activities are her way of saying thank you.

“Someone gave me a chance,” Azorin said. “This is my way of paying it forward.”

Azorin said her academic experience at UF was impactful—her first business class was with economics professor Dr. Dave Denslow—but she said her community service activities outside the classroom were even more significant.

“UF has always meant a lot to me, not just because I got my degrees there, but the things I learned outside of the classroom through Florida Blue Key and other activities were even more valuable,” Azorin said. “Skills like how to communicate, how to interact with people in a business setting were very important.”

Azorin's first job after receiving her MBA was with Jim Walter Corporation, a construction business and the only Fortune 500 company at that time in Tampa. One of her duties was studying the city’s traffic patterns, which gave her a valuable foundation when she started Villa Rosa Distinctive Linens.

She learned that approximately 150,000 cars passed by the corner of West Bay to Bay Boulevard and South MacDill Avenue every day, and it resided only a block away from scenic Bayshore Boulevard. Azorin purchased that property in 1984, and Villa Rosa Distinctive Linens has been operating from that location ever since.

The landscape for minority female entrepreneurs has evolved since Azorin founded Villa Rosa, but stark challenges still face these aspiring businesswomen. Minority females are the fastest-growing segment of business owners in the nation, according to the National Women’s Business Council. However, their access to capital to start and grow those ventures is limited.

“The struggles [for female entrepreneurs] are the same, and they've probably gotten worse,” Azorin said. “There has to be a united front where organizations, professional women’s groups and banks need to band together to give these women opportunities.”

Azorin’s service is helping provide female entrepreneurs in Tampa a chance to realize their dreams. She reminds them to pursue those dreams with the same tenacity she did.

“Hard work pays off,” Azorin said. “Don’t ever give up.”