News Column

Bridging Cultures

April 2004, HISPANIC BUSINESS Magazine

Joel Russell

Kimberly Casiano
Kimberly Casiano

As president of Casiano Communications, Kimberly Casiano has taken bicultural business skills to a new level of influence, managing the production of 11 magazines in both English and Spanish that reach thousands of readers, and establishing a broad network of clients and contacts that stretches from New York to Texas to San Juan.

Ms. Casiano's business skills and acumen led to her recent appointment to Ford Motor Co.'s board of directors, putting her at the table of one of the most powerful boards in North America and highlighting the success she has achieved in blending her culture of Puerto Rico with her business interests on the mainland.

"Being Hispanic bicultural has helped me to be more sensitive and responsive to different cultures, different mentalities, different ways of doing business," Ms. Casiano says. "In today's world, where globalization touches our everyday lives with increasing frequency, being able to function effectively in different cultures is a tremendous asset."

That has helped Ms. Casiano position and advance the company founded in the 1970s by her father, Manuel Casiano Jr. Casiano Communications publishes Caribbean Business, a 45,000-circulation English-language weekly covering economic news; Imagen , the 70,000-circulation leading woman's magazine on the island; Puerto Rico Travel & Tourism, a bilingual trade publication; Vida Actual, a 96,000-circulation weekly Spanish-language newspaper; and specialized publications for the bridal, health, parenting, and home decoration markets.
In recent years, Ms. Casiano's ventures have had a technological as well as marketing slant. The company owns, an Internet portal with more than 7 million hits per month. The call-center subsidiary Direct ResponSource handles bilingual direct marketing projects targeting the Caribbean and U.S. Hispanic markets for large corporations.

"I love the variety of businesses that I have the privilege of serving," says Ms. Casiano. "In the two main areas of my business the publications side and the call center and contact center side our clients include businesses from virtually every sector you can think of, from banking to telecommunications, and of all sizes, from small family-owned to Fortune 500."

Ms. Casiano's education and entrepreneurial experience have helped hone her skills. She attended Princeton University and obtained an MBA from Harvard. In 1981, she founded Caribbean Marketing Overseas Corp., an import/export firm, with offices in San Juan and Washington, D.C. In 1988, she returned to Puerto Rico and Casiano Communications.

"She's a Harvard graduate, so we have the best of both worlds," says Olga Jimenez, vice-president in charge of Casiano Communications' bilingual call center. "She has that Ivy League background, but she hasn't let go of her Hispanic culture."

Ms. Casiano says that while her management style predominantly reflects the American way of doing business, it also incorporates other elements. "The area where my management style reflects Hispanic culture is that I like to combine business with a more personal, warm touch for example, doing business while sharing a meal [and] taking the time to learn about a person and their family before jumping directly into business," she says.

Those who know Ms. Casiano say this trait has served the entrepreneur well. "Before getting involved in any business venture, Kim does her homework," says Elizabeth Lisboa-Farrow, CEO of public relations firm Lisboa Inc. and former chair of the United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce (USHCC). "She will not take anything on unless she can devote the time and energy needed to be successful. She challenges, deliberates, and when she decides on closure she goes for it."

In addition to her business interests, Ms. Casiano has found time and energy to devote to philanthropic organizations. She currently sits on the board of the Hispanic College Fund and for eight years has organized an annual fund-raiser for the American Cancer Society of Puerto Rico. "When you need a champion for a community cause, people look to her," says Milton Cruz, CEO of San Pablo Health System. "She has a lot of energy, which is the one thing I most admire in a leader. … When she has an objective, she has an instinct of how to lift people to that objective."

Ms. Casiano says the model for her charity and board involvement has been her family. Her father was a founder of ASPIRA, a social service organization that ranks second among U.S. Hispanic-focused nonprofit groups (see May 2003, "The Hispanic Business Nonprofit 25"). Her mother Nora Jimenez de Casiano was the first Hispanic to serve on the national board for the Girl Scouts of America. And her husband Juan Woodroffe was a founder of the USHCC and currently sits on the board of the U.S.-Mexico Chamber of Commerce.

Ms. Casiano's own board seats include the influential Ford Motor Co. post, to which she was named last December and which propelled her into an elite group. Hispanics hold about 1.6 percent of the approximately 5,900 seats of Fortune 500 corporations. In making the announcement, CEO Bill Ford called her "a respected leader and entrepreneur in the world of magazine publishing and in the U.S. Hispanic business community."

"Corporate America will successfully penetrate the Hispanic market when we are represented in the boardroom, at the executive level, and in procurement opportunities. Ford Motor Company is to be commended for her appointment," says Ms. Lisboa.

Looking back, Ms. Casiano cites her biggest challenge as developing the mindset to push forward without excuses. "I never approached any situation believing that because I was a woman or a Hispanic, I was at a disadvantage," she says. "I never allowed being a woman or a Hispanic to be a crutch or an excuse for not succeeding. My parents taught me to focus entirely on merit. Merit is the great equalizer."

That focus has proved its value throughout her competitive life. "In the 1970s, when I entered Princeton University and then Harvard Business School, very few students were women. Even fewer were Hispanic women," Ms. Casiano recalls. "Sometimes people insinuated that I was at these schools because of affirmative action. But I was confident of my academic merits and never allowed myself to have a chip on my shoulder and react irrationally and emotionally to these insinuations."

Now, Ms. Casiano counsels other Hispanic professional women to adopt a merit-based approach. "Do not approach a situation with the mentality that because you are a Hispanic woman it will be tougher for you because, I guarantee you, your mentality will become a self-fulfilling prophecy," she cautions. "Rely on your merits. Focus on being an exceptional and capable professional who just happens to be a Hispanic woman."


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