News Column

A Passion For The Work

January/February 2004, HISPANIC BUSINESS Magazine

Scott Williams

Passion isn't a word that appears often in 10-K filings, annual reports, interoffice memos, or other documents of modern corporate life. But executives on the 2004 Hispanic Business Corporate Elite directory cite passion as the most important ingredient for a successful career. These highly successful leaders at Fortune 500 and global corporations acknowledge their own passion for their work and their ability to communicate it to others as the driving force behind their achievements, and they overwhelmingly advise aspiring professionals to seek jobs that are inspiring.

"You've got to find something you can feel excited about; otherwise I think you're going to have trouble succeeding," says Robert Sanchez, senior vice-president and CIO of Ryder System. "I feel strongly about our company and where we are going, and I think that has always worked to my benefit."

Ralph de la Vega, COO for Cingular Wireless, says a key component in his success is the ability to get people to come together over a common vision and then guiding the "team" to make that vision come true. "There is nothing more exciting than watching a group of people succeed when they work together toward a common goal," says Mr. de la Vega.

The value these Corporate Elite members place on passion confirms the research of occupational psychologists and consultants that the motivation to achieve involves far more than money, status, or rewards. In his book "The Inner Game of Work" (Random House, $13.95), Timothy Gallwey describes how passion for a task leads to "an ease and excellence in performance, a self-generated interest in learning, and a natural enjoyment independent of the results of [the] work." Great artists and athletes often experience this type of motivation and, not surprisingly, so do the leaders who excel in the corporate workplace.

Mr. Gallwey correlates learning and performance with a self-aware, but nonjudgmental, state of mind. "My parents always told me that I could accomplish my dreams, that the only limits I would face in life would be those I would place upon myself," says Carmen Nava, president of SBC Communications' West consumer markets. "I grew up believing that nothing would hold me back from reaching my goals." That belief gives everyone around her optimism and a sense of confidence, says Ms. Nava, and serves as an impetus to finding creative solutions to problems.

Members of the Corporate Elite say their Hispanic heritage has contributed to their passion for work. They note the strong cultural work ethic, openness in dealing with people, and the ability to work with other cultures as attributes associated with their heritage.

"My ability to be part of two worlds helped contribute to our company's success in the marketplace," says Peter Dolara, senior vice-president for American Airlines in Miami. "Being bilingual and bicultural allowed me to better interact and interpret market conditions for the company."

James Padilla, president of Ford Americas, believes Hispanics are naturally global thinkers. "They've had to move into different economies, into some more challenging economies, for example, where business conditions can flip-flop day-to-day, and that means you have to be quick on your feet and you've got to move," he says.

Many of the Elite valued their own diversity before corporate America discovered the concept. "Don't feel that you are disadvantaged because you have an accent or might look a little different from other people," says Carlos Pascual, president of Xerox's developing markets operations. "Make that a value. The fact you can speak two languages or understand two cultures shouldn't be a negative; it should be an advantage."

Being bicultural and, in many cases, bilingual has helped the Corporate Elite climb the organizational ladder by taking charge of foreign markets, especially in Latin America. And those opportunities aren't limited to Spanish-speaking countries. "Hispanic executives who know the culture can help their companies reach out to the Hispanic market within and outside the United States," says Ms. Nava.

But special cultural skills don't mean Hispanic executives should be limited to those roles, warns Adolfo Marzol, chief credit officer for Fannie Mae. Hispanic executives must work to make sure they're not stereotyped and therefore limited in the opportunities they can fill at a company. "I see the Hispanic executive as capable of leading across the full spectrum of business opportunities that are available in the 21st century," he says.

For Robert Negrón Sr., group president for Liz Claiborne, education holds the key to empowerment. "While a few entrepreneurs can still achieve great success without an exceptional educational foundation," he says, "you cannot expect to succeed in the corporate world without going to the best schools and getting solid grades. Whatever the sacrifice, it's worth it."

View the 25 Additional Corporate Elite


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