Carlos M. Gutierrez's life story is the kind that President Bush admires: The son of a Cuban political refugee, he worked his way from delivering Frosted Flakes in the toughest sections of Mexico City to running Kellogg Co., the U.S.'s largest packaged-food manufacturer.
But it is a more recent tale that sheds light on why the 51-year-old has become Bush's nominee to be commerce secretary: In five years, Gutierrez turned Michigan-based Kellogg from a fading force into a food industry powerhouse and established himself as perhaps the top Hispanic-American executive in the country.
"He changed the mind-set of the company," said David J. Adelman, who analyzes Kellogg for Morgan Stanley. "Seven years ago, Kellogg was waffling. It had lost all momentum as a business. . . . Now, it has industry-leading sales growth."
In Washington, Gutierrez's nomination to be Bush's second secretary of commerce was a surprise. Neither a confidant of the president's nor a prominent political operative or fundraiser, the Kellogg chief executive breaks the mold of recent commerce heads.
Former Michigan governor John M. Engler, president of the National Association of Manufacturers, said that since the 2000 campaign Gutierrez has been working quietly in that battleground state to recruit Latino voters to the Republican Party. He participated in an economic summit during the first Bush campaign.
Despite his corporate clout, however, Gutierrez has cut a low profile, according to lobbyists and observers of the Bush economic team.
"For all I know, this man could be a policy wonk who's going to be a great, persuasive salesman for the president's program," said Daniel J. Mitchell, an economist at the Heritage Foundation. "I just don't know."
To those who have watched his company, Gutierrez has been a marvel.
"He has this ability to focus in on the key issues, to talk to people about their concerns, weigh out the options and make the right decisions," said Ronald B. Larson, a professor of marketing at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo, Mich., and a former Kellogg marketing researcher.
In September, Fortune magazine waxed on about Gutierrez's "disarming charisma, steely resolve, and . . . utter lack of pretension," hailing him as "arguably the most powerful Hispanic American in business today."