Growing up in the suburbs of Orange, Connecticut in an affluent family gave Pedro Soto some advantages in life; however, his non-stereotypical position amongst his community presented unique challenges, prompting an individualistic outlook that has contributed, in many ways, to his current success as chief operating officer at Space-Craft Manufacturing Inc.
“It wasn’t easy being one of the few Latino kids in school,” said Soto. “It wasn’t devastating, but it wasn’t easy being in that position.”
While his parents are Puerto Rican born—his father moving to the U.S. in the ’50s and his mother in the ’70s—Soto himself doesn’t speak much Spanish, and in large part eludes the conventional idea of what it means to be a second-generation Latino child in the U.S.
“There weren’t many of ‘me’ around,” said Soto. “There was always sort of this question of: ‘What’s this kid doing here? How did this family end up here in Orange doing so well?’ It wasn’t always present, but there was sometimes what felt like a suspicion of how we got to where we were.”
Developing this kind of understanding of “how the world works,” from an early age, gave Soto a unique perspective that molded his current outlook on life.
“I wasn’t part of the Orange community to some degree, and I think this gave me a sense of independence,” said Soto. “It definitely gave me a pretty early position that there were differences in this world. But I think on the other hand it gave me some self-confidence of who I am, and I had to develop that from the inside. I realized I was able of achieving things on my own and this was something I could do for myself.”
Soto graduated from the Hopkins School in New Haven, Conn. in 1995, and went on to study political science at Amherst College, where he graduated in 1999.
He and his two younger siblings (one is currently a banker, the other a massage therapist/actor) are not the first in the family to attend college. Their mother went as well. Soto said his parents always placed an importance on education, and on “giving back in whatever way you see fit.”
“There never really was a question in my family about pursuing the highest level of education that you wanted to,” said Soto. “College was never out of the question. I went to a really good high school, and that support really helped me to realize I should be taking advantage of the opportunities.”
Becoming a Leader
After graduating from Amherst, Soto entered the IT world; working first for a dot-com start-up and then later for Yale Information Technology Services as a systems administrator.
In early 2007, Soto’s father, John Soto, began experiencing health issues and suggested Soto join the family business: Space-Craft Manufacturing Inc.
“He said, ‘Come see if you like it,’” Soto recalled. “I was ready for a new job, a career change at the time, so the timing worked out pretty well.”
Soto explained that “the first few years were pretty rocky: being the boss’s son is something that is never easy in any organization. But I established myself fairly quickly over the next few years. I realized I could be a leader. I started asserting myself a little bit better and stronger, both in the business and in my other organizations as well, where I’ve held other leadership positions.”
Becoming a business leader opened many other doors of opportunity for Soto. For instance, he has been offered a seat on volunteer boards throughout the city, and is president of the New Haven Preservation Trust, an organization he helped rise out of debt with a successful campaign during its 50th anniversary.
Soto officially started running his father’s company in 2011, a company John founded in 1970 after talking his way into a job at a machine shop and then working his way up the ladder into a management position where he developed and honed the leadership skills to establish Space-Craft Inc.—skills he passed on to his son.
“I would say my father is a role model,” said Soto. “He leads from the front and that’s something I’ve learned from him. We are very different people but he has always given me the support to let me be who I am.”
Being in the leadership position is something that is fitting to Soto’s personality, and something he has acquired quite a taste for.
“I like being in charge,” said Soto. “I think you have to like it, you have to actually like being in charge, because it isn’t easy. There are some people who don’t want to be in charge, and that’s no problem.
“I also have a family, and providing for my family is a great motivating factor to keep pushing forward; I think that’s a switch that gets switched on for some people [when you have a child], and you don’t realize it is there until you find yourself with someone who completely relies on you.”
Soto has one son who will be five-years-old come January; and while his son is a great motivation, so are the employees at Space-Craft.
“I have 45 people here at Space-Craft and they rely on me to make decisions and to lead the company. So, it’s definitely not easy, but I would rather be in this position than taking orders and have to lead from behind.”
Leading From the Front
Soto describes his motto of “leading from the front” as the most efficient way to change a system, a tough system, in order to get what you want out of life.
He explained that as “a manager and leader in organizations I need to set the agenda, I need to say: ‘This is what is important’ and bring people along with me rather than wait for them to agree with the position; which is hard, because it means you really need to well thought-out. You have to know what you want and what you believe. You can listen to people for various opinions, you can listen to people for their input, but if you really think that something is right you have to be prepared to take that leap, to take that step, and put yourself out there.”
Soto’s perspective on leadership spills over into many aspects of life, especially into the political realm where he has spent valuable time—especially during his stint as a political science major as well as a summer in 1998 when he worked for a progressive organization in Washington D.C., which is when he had the epiphany: “We can keep asking people for stuff or we can organize and field candidates and take the power.”
“The system is definitely not set up for [Latinos],” said Soto. “You have to understand that so it doesn’t really dispirit you and knock you down. But the system can be changed.
“It’s important for the Latino community to rise up, and lead from the front because no one is going to give it to you. And I’m not talking in terms of anything that is turbulent. But I think that it’s just a matter of actually establishing yourself and saying, ‘Look, here we are and this is what we want. And we are going to vote. And if we do that we can take the power.’
“I see the value of protest,” continued Soto. “I see the power of organized disobedience. I also see that really the most successful, most important things to do are to simply take the levers of power and use them. It’s a lot easier.”
Soto has no plans to slow down, as of yet. He aims to stay his course, moving forward, for the foreseeable future. He wants to continue dedicating himself to aerospace, to continue to build Space-Craft, and to seek out leadership and management opportunities in his industry.
To young Latinos who are striving for similar success, Soto advised: “It sounds cheesy, but don’t be afraid to be who you are. Find your mentors, find the people and organizations that can help you, they are out there. But generally people are going to help people who help themselves. Be relentless, and push forward—lead from the front.”