Occasionally, kids lie to their parents. But most 12-year-olds don't lie to improve the energy efficiency of their home. Juan Gijon was not like most kids.
He wasn’t into sports or music; he was into gadgets. The house Gijon grew up in had an old thermostat with a needle that moved the temperature up and down. Knowing there were better options, he lied to his mom and told her the thermostat was broken just so he could replace it with a new one.
"I spent a couple hours wiring that thermostat while my mom was at work until, eventually, the air conditioning popped back on," said Gijon. "She always said once I get an idea in my head, I can't stop until I've figured it out. That ‘flaw’ has served me well."
He has figured out plenty: programming, auto mechanics, plumbing, electrical work, real estate and speaking Spanish. None of those skills came by way of the formal education system, but through a passion for self-directed learning and process improvement. Pretty good for a guy who only has nine and half fingers, but we’ll get to that story later.
"There is a common idea that school is the only way to a great education, but that hasn't been the case for me,” he said. “I'll take knowledge from wherever I can get it."
Today, as a wealth management business process specialist at BOK Financial®, Gijon is a pro at leveraging all his resources.
"He will use his brain, attend trainings, do research online, talk with other people, whatever it takes to figure something out," said Gijon's friend and coworker Michael Morrow, a remittance processing specialist. "His curiosity and drive are really impressive."
Gijon says his motivation is a combination of stubbornness and a sense of accomplishment. He thrives on the feeling of achievement after working hard to figure something out.
"He's like a border collie," jokes Morrow. "Hyperintelligent, but you've got to keep him busy."
Moving on up
His first job with BOK Financial was temporary, or so he told himself.
"I took the job to stay busy after I was injured working construction," said Gijon. "I'm not one to sit around, so I accepted a position at the BOK Financial Express Bank helping clients at our consumer call center, and I really enjoyed it."
Since then, Gijon has moved up—fast. He has been promoted six times in the decade he's been with the company. He attributes his rapid rise to having a good attitude and finding his work fascinating. He says some people come to work and do the job, and some come to work to do more than their job.
As a business process specialist, he’s known as the "data guy.”
"Juan respects the facts above all else, and data doesn't lie," said Morrow. "Juan and I once had a heated debate on Star Wars versus Lord of Rings, and Juan put up a factual argument for why Star Wars was better."
Looking for a better way
Gijon's thirst for knowledge gives him a natural knack for process improvement. He starts by finding the thing no one wants to do but must get done. Then he figures out how to make that process better, faster and more efficient while improving the company's performance. With his self-taught coding skills, he's figured out how to automate reports. Analysis that used to take an hour now takes five minutes, meaning his team has more time to focus on other tasks.
He is also credited with moving data presentations from boring spreadsheets to interactive dashboards that present data used by leadership to guide big decisions for the company and its clients.
Gijon lives by an unspoken code: curiosity and consistency. He is up at 4:45 am to head to the gym. He says he hated it at first but knew it was essential to take care of himself so he could take care of his family.
"I love it now, but it took me over a year to enjoy the gym," he said. "It isn't always about fun. It's about being consistent and disciplined in all aspects of your life if you want to reach your full potential."
Gijon's self-starter attitude means he always has a project going.
"I'm into a little bit of everything," Gijon said.
Right now, he's working on his 1967 Chevy Impala with his 6-year-old son, Lukas. Lukas recently informed him the vintage car was actually his and his dad would probably need to find a different ride, which is fine because he just rebuilt the motor on his Jeep.
"I'm a graduate of YouTube University," says Gijon. "We live in an age when we can access any information we want, and so many people don't take advantage. I've taught myself how to rebuild engines, rewire homes, code, you name it."
Gijon's other hobby, if you want to call it that, is flipping houses. Even though he left the construction industry years ago, he is still a general contractor specializing in bathroom and kitchen remodels. He is also a licensed realtor and is returning to traditional school to earn a degree in finance.
Gijon attributes his work ethic to his mother. Both of Gijon's parents immigrated from Mexico to Los Angeles. Eventually, his mother moved him and his three siblings to Tulsa, Okla., when Gijon was 10.
"Looking back on it, that must have been a scary move for her," Gijon said. "When we arrived in Oklahoma, we didn't know anyone and had no support network. She found us an apartment and started working immediately. She was a single mom who worked a lot when I was young to provide for us. I had to grow up quickly."
It ended up being a good move for the family. Gijon loves Tulsa and calls it his forever home.
"I went back to California for a while in high school, and it wasn't for me. I missed my family and Oklahoma. Tulsa is the perfect place for my wife and me and our goals."
He married his high school sweetheart, and they have three children. However, his wife has a love/hate relationship with his constant learning. She loves that he is so handy and can figure out just about anything. On the other hand, he has so many skills that friends and family are always “borrowing” her husband. He recently drove to Texas to help his sister install blinds in an entire house—a skill he picked up in high school.
"Dedication is part of Juan's personality," said Morrow. "He even came to work the day after he cut his thumb off."
It’s only half a thumb, Gijon says with a grin. "You don't realize how much you use your thumb until you cut half of it off with a circular saw. I don't recommend it. Buttons are a particular challenge."
Nothing slows Gijon down, not even half a thumb. In 10 years, he expects to still be with BOK Financial.
"I'm not here just for a paycheck. I have an intrinsic interest in my work and a drive to teach myself the next new skill that will help the company," Gijon said.