“I didn’t go to business school, but I have the ultimate degree — from the school of life,” says Adriana Gallardo from her offices in Glendora, California. It’s the perfect place to contemplate everything she has built over the past 20 years as the mastermind behind Adriana’s Insurance, an empire consisting of 50 offices in southern California, with additional offices opening soon in other states.

Beyond being a powerhouse mogul, Adriana has become an inspirational figure to all Latinos, starting with the people in this office, where there is a sense of respect and admiration.

Adriana’s Insurance started as a family business and, in many ways, still is. “The people who work with me are Latinos, they are fighters, some of them have formal education and some of them don’t, but what they all possess is an undeniable work ethic, a lot of heart and the willingness to learn,” says Adriana.

Those are the very qualities that have been the key to her ascent. It was her own mother, Rosy, who first foreshadowed Adriana’s success. “One day, you’re going to be so successful that it will be your face up on those billboards above the freeways,” she said to her daughter many years ago. 

Whether via her ad campaigns, or her philanthropic work with the Junior Foundation, or on social media, Adriana has an undeniable presence.

Recognizing her influence, Estrella TV cast her in the first season of “Rica Famosa Latina,” a reality show in the style of “Real Housewives of Beverly Hills.”

Now Adriana launches her own web series, “Despegando” (“The Take-Off”), with the purpose of inspiring and motivating Latinos to reach their personal and professional goals. Using the experience and wisdom she has accumulated over the years, Adriana will give them the necessary tools to succeed in life.

But to truly appreciate Adriana’s journey to the top, we have to travel back in time to a small residential neighborhood called Parque Residencial Coacalco near Satélite, in the state of Mexico. The daughter of a mechanic and a homemaker, Adriana confesses she grew up not seeing much beyond that neighborhood. Perhaps that’s why she once dreamed of becoming a flight attendant. Eventually her dream of traveling the world would come true; not as a flight attendant but rather as an entrepreneur.

Like most parents, Adriana’s mom and dad always wanted what was best for their three girls, and, seeing that the opportunities in Mexico were limited, decided to come to America. Their struggle during those first few months in Los Angeles was real, and something many immigrants know all too well.

“One day my mother sat my sisters and I down and said, ‘If we left our life back home and left everything behind, it was not in vain. If we’re not going to do something big here, we may as well go back.’ And that’s how she motivated us to be better,” recalls Adriana, who was 18 years old at the time.

Adriana’s first jobs were far from glamorous. She spent time at a Burger King and Jack in the Box before working at a shoe store. It was on one of those seemingly ordinary days that everything changed for her.

Having secured a job as a mechanic, Adriana’s father bought a car for the family. “My mother told me that she needed to get insurance for the car, and asked me to come with her,” Adriana recalls. “The office where we went was full of customers and there was only one girl tending to them. We waited a long time until my mother said to me, ‘Find out if they’ll give you a job.’”

It wasn’t so much a recommendation as it was an order, and despite having her doubts, Adriana ended up working there — the first step in an extraordinary career.

In ’93 Adriana launched her own insurance business, in a tiny office in Pomona that only had room for two desks — one for her, and one for mother.

From the beginning, Adriana dedicated herself to serving the Latino community with a special touch, giving them personalized attention in their language. “I’m a local face, someone who grew from within the community,” says Adriana. “I know what it is to not have papers, to not speak English.”