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Living our values

Jorge Estrada

Caring and perseverance come naturally to Jorge Estrada — and fuel his work with nonprofits for Wipfli.

Jorge Estrada puts others first

When Jorge Estrada graduated from college, he took the job he needed — not the job he wanted. Instead of pursuing a cause that was close to his heart, he followed the money.

Finance, software sales and management consulting seemed like “good career moves” for Jorge. He had always been the responsible kid, the oldest of three boys. He craved stability and wanted more in life than he started with — which was nothing.

“I was born on a dirt floor in Torreón, Mexico, about eight hours south of the Texas border,” he said.

His mother worked as a preschool teacher and was raising the boys alone, with barely enough to survive on. “I didn’t know we were in a disadvantaged position at the time, but I knew there was not a lot to go around. We had to make some hard choices.”

Taking a different path

When Jorge was 10, in search of a better life, his mother decided to bring the boys to the United States. He remembers carrying his youngest brother on his shoulders as they made the journey, traveling by foot and by bus.

In Texas, they shared a home with other immigrants and found work. Even though he was 10, Jorge helped whenever he could, joining crews on jobs. “You worked when you had to,” he said, “which was all the time.”

Jorge also set a goal for himself: he wanted to learn to speak English “without an accent” within six months. His mother didn’t speak English at the time, so he had to teach himself.

“The library had a rollout TV and a VHS player,” he recalled. “I would sit in a room with headphones on, watching TV.” Jorge’s TV-based language immersion program worked — with the help of his dictionary and inquisitive personality.

Eventually, Jorge found himself in a traditional classroom. Around ninth grade, he was recruited and accepted into an elite private school, known for its rigorous academics and powerful alumni. “It was the best and the worst thing that happened to me,” Jorge said.

Learning to adapt

Jorge lived in the same city as his classmates but came from a completely different world, he said. Every day, he had to navigate two very different versions of America.

“Nobody there was worried about where the next meal was coming from or who might take something from you,” he said. “It was fascinating. And eye-opening.”  

Jorge had grown up fast and was used to “fitting in to survive.” In school, that meant he was able to connect with people quickly. He was a good listener. He didn’t get paralyzed by decisions, and he jumped at opportunities. “Risk” and “struggle” had different contexts for him.

three people in the picture Jorge (center) graduated from St. Mark’s School of Texas in 2008.

Jorge said he was gifted with “book smarts” and an analytical but incessant curiosity. That, plus a tireless work ethic, helped him earn a scholarship to Davidson College in North Carolina. He studied political science and religion, competed on the wrestling team and worked full time.

Multiple people standing in the row Jorge (front row, second from right) earned a scholarship to Davidson College in North Carolina, where he was on the wrestling team.

“I wanted to be an immigration lawyer, but realized I needed to make money,” he said. “I was given gifts, and I had a responsibility to get out of the cycle of poverty and disadvantage.”

Finding valuable work

Jorge jumped into the intricacies of the corporate world, with many folks to thank along the way for their kindness and wisdom.

“The experiences I had growing up made me good at things that were valued in the workplace,” he said. He was comfortable with hard work and adversity. And he didn’t have anything to fall back on, so he was “all in.”   

He excelled in sales — but not because he was a number-cruncher. He didn’t care for metrics or quotas, or even worried too much about closing deals. He loved people and solving messy, complex problems.

“When you focus on people and their problems, the returns follow, sometimes five or tenfold what they’d have been if you only focused on the sale,” Jorge said.   

And Jorge didn’t mind putting in the time or work to solve problems. But, for the most part, he was helping people who were already well-off make more money. He participated in his companies’ corporate charity initiatives and give-back days. But they seemed surface level and never got to the root causes of inequity or other issues.

The work didn’t bring him joy.

Combining “corporate” and responsibility

Jorge knew he’d made concessions along his career path – and he didn’t want to anymore.

“I realized I cared about helping other people more than I cared about helping myself,” he said. “There are organizations out there making people’s lives better. I’m sure they would have helped my family when I was growing up.”

Jorge started doing corporate social responsibility work on the side, applying his skills to issues he cared deeply about. Then, other things started falling into place. Like a call from a Wipfli recruiter.

In January 2023, Jorge joined Wipfli’s nonprofit, grant-funded human services team as the national growth lead. Technically, he’s in a sales role again. But he’s still focused on people and solving problems with empathy and compassion.

multiple people in the picture Jorge (far right) joined Wipfli’s nonprofit, grant-funded human services team in 2023.

“In this corner of nonprofit, the people and organizations that need the most help usually have the least resources,” he said. “It’s a fight to survive. The work is hard. It doesn’t pay well. It’s no wonder people burn out. I like that we can make their work more efficient at supporting disadvantaged communities.”

At Wipfli, Jorge isn’t selling a single solution. He represents the firm and everything it can offer, from audit support to technology. He sees his role as bringing people together and pushing for initiatives that are necessary.

“I really care about the social equality and poverty-fighting nonprofits we work with and the families they serve, and I want to help. I don’t need anything in return,” he said.

Being at the right time, at the right place

Right out of college, Jorge said he was a little embarrassed about his career choice, even envious of people who had the financial freedom to follow their passions. Now he realizes, “This path was better for me. I’m fortunate that I had the experiences I did, that I lived in different worlds and that I made mistakes.”

Outside of work, Jorge volunteers with like-minded organizations in his new hometown of Boston. He also mentors college students “like him” — first-generation immigrants who are trying to create new and better opportunities for themselves and their loved ones.

In his own family, Jorge is making sure his four-year-old daughter has something he didn’t: a father figure. “I’m breaking the cycle,” he said. “Even if it looks like we’re eating candy or jumping around on the couch.”

He’s making sure his daughter knows she’s a smart, great, amazing kid and “the best thing that ever happened.”