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“The firm didn’t have very many young people, and the president was this huge tennis fan,” recalls Cueva. “He would ask me to play tennis with him for an hour or two, usually at lunch. The company even hired a tennis coach from Scarsdale to instruct employees.
“The job had almost a college vibe to it. It was a fun place to work.”
A lawsuit brought by an associated military contractor ultimately crippled the company in 1989, prompting Cueva and another Farrand employee to launch Holographic Optics. The pair initially set up shop in the basement beneath Farrand, pursuing small-bore work before landing a Navy contract for a laser eye protection (LEP) visor.
Though it hardly seemed momentous at the time, the contract would prove to be a game-changer for Cueva and the young company.
“The first step in landing such a contract is a detailed description of the concept so the military can evaluate the idea or proposal,” he says. “In most cases it’s almost like a science fair in that you’re competing against other very bright people with innovative ideas in leading-edge technologies.”
Despite multiple technological challenges, Cueva and his colleague were quick to show significant progress on the LEP visor concept. The Navy responded by increasing its commitment to the project to the tune of $2 million, enabling Holographic Optics to abandon its modest 2,000-square-foot digs in Valhalla for a new, 10,000-square-foot facility in Millwood, N.Y.
Sharing a building with large corporate neighbors that discarded useable equipment was instrumental to the facility’s growth. “They’d put stuff in the dumpster and we’d go get it at night, like a special ops crew,” says Cueva. “We built the company that way – with resourcefulness and second- and third-hand equipment.”
Through a successful contract relationship with the Naval Air Warfare Center, Holographic Optics moved on to advanced engineering and development, demonstrating that a LEP visor could be manufactured, before winning a low-rate initial production contract from the U.S. Navy.
Holographic Optics would subsequently partner with Gentex and manufacture the most complex laser polycarbonate LEP visor ever produced in volume.
After Cueva positioned Holographic Optics for sale, the two companies permanently merged. Today he oversees a staff of 12 at Gentex, a global provider of personal protection and situation awareness products, overseeing all business related to advanced laser eye protection.
Though he’s unable to discuss the LEP visor in any detail due to its status as classified technology, Cueva says his work has development applications beyond tactical military needs, including uses in commercial aviation and civilian law enforcement.
Looking back over his career, it’s clear Cueva’s resolve has been every bit as important as his technological vision. When the time came to wade into government contracting, for instance, he pored through the massive and sometimes mind-numbing procurement procedures manual Federal Acquisition Regulations to get a leg up in his market segment.
“We didn’t have the resources to seek out and hire specialists,” he explains. “Instead we took the old-fashioned route, and just did it ourselves.”
He has a similar attitude with respect to being a Latino entrepreneur and his ethnicity. “I guess you could say I’m a typical second-generation Latino,” he says. “But frankly, I’ve never really thought of myself as being Latino. I view myself as a hard-working American, nothing more, nothing less.”