Jaime Zabala Jr. faced what could have been a daunting decision several years ago: Continue with his successful career in Washington, D.C., or return home to Naples to help run the family business. Ultimately, he said, the decision was easy to make.
Zabala is now the president of Advanced Hurricane Technology, or AHT, a manufacturer of hurricane shutters and other products to protect homes. “Ultimately, there were no regrets,” he says of his decision to return home. “I gave up what I studied for and worked so hard for—and turned it into something much greater.”
The Zabala family came to Naples from Ecuador in the early ’90s. Jaime Sr. worked as a janitor for a hurricane shutter company, but stayed after hours to learn whatever he could about the business. He eventually became a subcontractor, and his family’s lives became further ingrained in the industry. His son and daughter worked alongside him. “We didn’t have the luxury of going to camp in the summer,” says Jaime Jr. “We worked and learned what we could.”
His father started AHT in 2003. However, Jaime Jr. went in a different direction: He graduated from Florida Gulf Coast University, then went to intern with NASA in Washington, D.C. He started a career in engineering, focusing on satellite technology.
His father retired in 2018 but wanted the business to stay in the family, and Zabala decided to move back home. Now, the business has a headquarters in Fort Myers and employs 76 people. AHT has expanded its reach elsewhere in the country, as well as in Puerto Rico and Ecuador. He’s been focused on modernizing the company’s behind-the-scenes operations, which won the 2022 Innovator of the Year award from the Florida Small Business Development Center at FGCU. “I took what I learned from NASA and the government bureaucracy—the good things at least—and brought them here,” he says.
After Hurricane Ian, the company quickly rebounded, even offering shutter repair services to previous clients. The company has grown and evolved since its early years, but Zabala continues a lesson he’s learned from his father: “We’ve never been the cheapest. From the beginning, we’ve always focused on customer service and quality. That’s what’s made us successful.”