News Column

Achievement, Prestige, Power


Scott Williams


Every year, the 100 Most Influential Hispanics become even more influential. Since 1983, when Hispanic Business first published the Influentials directory, the numbers of titles such as "CEO," "elected official," and even "U.S. Senator," as well as academic leaders, renowned athletes, entertainers, and important board and committee chairpersons, have grown as Hispanics have successfully realized expanded opportunities in the U.S. economy and society.

In addition to their leadership roles in their professions, companies, or political jurisdictions, the 100 Influentials also lead opinions in the expanding U.S. Hispanic demographic space. They frame questions and provide points of view, thus directing the discussion of economic and public policy issues.

A confidential survey of Influentials demonstrates some clear leanings in Hispanic opinion leaders' thinking on issues of the day. Results of the survey appear in the accompanying tables.

Education as Overriding Priority

Education perennially ranks as the top issue among Influentials. This year, when asked "What should be the top priority of a national Hispanic agenda?" an overwhelming majority (83.3 percent of respondents) chose "Access to Education" from the nine options listed. Education enjoys the greatest consensus among Influentials as a policy concern.

Most of the Influentials themselves are highly educated: 90.5 percent have earned a college degree and nearly three quarters (73.8 percent) have earned a graduate degree. This partly explains why 83.3 percent report an annual household income of $100,000 or more, and why the importance of education crops up repeatedly in the survey results.

Gloria G. Rodriguez, CEO of AVANCE, a nonprofit organization based in San Antonio that focuses on advancing education for children in the first three years of life, says she chose education as a profession because she understood the importance of improving the quality of the Hispanic education experience. "I entered the field because I found out that the whole pipeline needs to begin in early childhood," she says.
On other questions, survey respondents selected educators (33.3 percent) as the group that "can do the best job of further empowering the U.S. Hispanic community," and a slightly higher percentage (35.7 percent) selected Pell Grants need-based federal aid to students that does not have to be repaid as the federal initiative "most critical to the future of the Hispanic community." But a majority (52.4 percent) find fault with the current administration's education policies, despite the "No Child Left Behind" program. (See 2005 for the detailed results of the Influentials' survey responses on this and other key policy issues, broken out by party affiliation.)

Antonio Villaraigosa, recently elected mayor of Los Angeles, believes the main problem of "No Child Left Behind" is its $27 billion shortfall in funding. "One of the most important responsibilities of the federal government should be helping to revitalize schools and committing itself to making America a world leader in education and move us from our place at the bottom in terms of world industrialized nations," he says.

Economic and Business Growth

After education, the top priorities for a Hispanic agenda should be "Economic Development" at 73.8 percent and "Access to Capital" at 38.1 percent, according to the Influentials survey. Exactly 50 percent of the Influentials disapprove of current economic policies, while 33.3 percent approve of them. But an overwhelming majority of Influentials (88.1 percent) report strong growth in Hispanic-owned companies in their own community. Nearly two thirds (64.3 percent) have seen growth in the number of Hispanic-owned companies, 38.1 percent have seen an increase in number of jobs, and 33.3 percent have observed increased business affluence.

Asked what they see as the biggest obstacle to Hispanic-owned business growth today, most Influentials (61.9 percent) see lack of access to capital. "It's always a challenge getting some capital for the little guys," says Victor Lopez, senior vice-president of field operations for Hyatt Hotels Corp. in Coral Gables, Florida. "But I think the little guys have a better chance of raising some capital to start a business [in Miami] than they may have in maybe Milwaukee, as an example, or Indianapolis."

Amador Bustos, CEO of Bustos Media in Sacramento, California, says he did not have a hard time raising money for his two major business ventures. Mr. Bustos borrowed $3 million in 1992 to build three Spanish-language radio stations in Northern California. That company eventually owned 32 stations before Mr. Bustos sold it. He later raised $100 million in private equity to fund Bustos Media, which owns 23 radio stations and provides programming to 46 affiliates.

Mr. Bustos advises that, in order to raise capital, Hispanic professionals must be willing to give up a portion of ownership, something he says many Hispanics have a hard time doing because they think that means they don't own the company. "It is your business because you manage it, you control it," he says. "One has to be prepared to give up equity in order to have your business funded and in many cases substantial equity."

When the Influentials were asked which type of funding they believe Hispanic companies most commonly use, a near majority (47.6 percent) named family and friends while only 19 percent listed equity funding. An equal 19 percent listed federal funding, 9.5 percent listed home equity, and another 7.1 percent named credit cards. And as the quest for capital becomes more important, the percentage of Influentials citing a lack of management/financial education as an obstacle to business growth zoomed from just 2.5 percent of responses in 2004 to 52.4 percent in 2005.

Politics and Parties

The percentage of Influentials identifying with the two major political parties declined this year, despite the obvious progress of Hispanics in government. For example, in Southern California, Los Angeles Mayor Villaraigosa, Los Angeles County Board Chair Gloria Molina, and California Assembly Speaker Fabian Nez form a triumvirate of Hispanic Influentials. In New York, 23-year-old City Councilman Joel Rivera points toward the city's Hispanic future.

In response to the question "Which party best represents the interests of Hispanic Americans?" 45.2 percent of the responding Influentials chose the Democratic Party, up insignificantly from 42.5 percent in 2004. Votes for the Republican Party dropped from 30.0 percent to 9.5 percent while votes for "none" more than tripled, from 7.5 percent in 2004 to 23.8 percent, and votes for "other" increased from 2.5 percent to 9.5 percent. Overall, affiliation with the two major parties dropped sharply from 72.5 percent of respondents in 2004 to 54.8 percent in 2005.

"The only thing I can think of is a trust issue, that no one is really watching out for the Latino community," says Ms. Nieves-Powell, CEO of Latino Flavored Productions, an English-language multimedia entertainment company in New York. She admits she doesn't have much interest in politics, and "I guess what would make me more interested in knowing more about politics is if I heard, or if I felt, someone was speaking to me, to my needs," she says. "And I never, ever, ever hear that."

Assembly Speaker Nez says that even though a significant portion of the Influentials said neither party best represents the interests of Hispanic Americans, he believes the issues Hispanics care about most education, healthcare, jobs are better addressed by the Democratic Party. Like a majority of Influentials, he is critical of the current administration's immigration policy, especially as it pertains to Mexico. Mr. Nez recently traveled to Mexico to meet with President Vicente Fox and other Mexican leaders because of Mexico's importance as a trade partner with California.

He notes that Mexico is now California's leading trade partner, with the Golden State selling $17.24 billion worth of goods to Mexico in 2004, according to Census data. "Our two economies are joined at the hip and there is an inter-economic dependence that we have developed over the years," says Assembly Speaker Nez. "The Mexican people need to feel that we welcome the relationship, that we want to continue to foster the relationship with them, and that they are important to us. When you ignore the relationship it doesn't help."

More than half of the responding Hispanic Influentials (54.8 percent) said they did not approve of the administration's immigration policies. A larger percentage (57.1 percent) said they did not approve of its international policy, and 57.1 percent said they did not approve of its foreign policy.

Victor Lopez, senior vice-president of field operations for Hyatt Hotels Corp. in Coral Gables, Florida, says the current administration's policies with regard to other countries have dampened economic relations.

"This country has turned off a lot of other folks," says Mr. Lopez, a Costa Rican native who travels internationally for his work. "A lot of people don't like us out there. When you talk to people, I think you hear a lot of that. If we had better relations, they think our economy would be much better than it is today."
The administration scored best among the Influentials on its policies regarding homeland security and Hispanic appointments. Almost half (47.6 percent) said they approved of the homeland security policies, while 59.5 percent approved of the policy of appointing Hispanics to federal positions.

Discrimination at the Top

A clear majority (66.7 percent) of Influentials say they have experienced discrimination during their career. In the critical area of education, nearly a quarter of the Influentials report discrimination. (For more information about education policy for Hispanics, see "Affirmative Action on Trial," September 2003.) Worse, in promotions and hiring, exactly a third have experienced unfair treatment.

In rating the effectiveness of government diversity programs to help Hispanics participate in the economy, 54.8 percent of Influentials called them "not very effective." In contrast, 45.2 percent called corporate diversity programs effective in helping Hispanic workers.

In the related issue of economic development programs, Mayor Villaraigosa wants to use public pension funds to invest in minority businesses to relieve the access to capital gap. The money issue appears the best way for government to help the U.S. Hispanic economy, as Influentials generally dismiss "lack of developmental assistance" as an obstacle to business growth (cited by 9.5 percent).

Media and News Coverage

Compared with last year, the Influentials have moved more toward English-language media usage. The largest shift from 2004 is an increase of 16 percentage points for use of English-language radio, from 15 percent to 31 percent. This corresponds with a 15.6-point drop in use of Spanish radio to follow community news, and a drop in the number using both English and Spanish radio from 20 percent to 11.9 percent. Similarly, there is an 8.8-point increase in use of English-language TV, from 25 percent to 33.3 percent, and an 8.1-point increase in use of English-language newspapers, from 30 percent to 38.1 percent.

But Hyatt's Mr. Lopez offers an international perspective. "I think Spanish media will continue to increase because of the large Spanish[-speaking] population in our country," he says. In Miami, many people who don't speak Spanish are learning the language. "It's a smart thing to do in the business world today."

Healthcare Needs

One economic issue where the Influentials feel the federal government should do more is healthcare. Some 66.7 percent of respondents don't approve of the current administration's policies regarding this complex and costly service.

"Hispanics are disproportionately represented in diabetes, heart conditions, high blood pressure, and yet we're disproportionately underrepresented in health insurance," says AVANCE's Ms. Rodriguez. "I just, historically, have not seen the [Republican Party] taking stands on these issues."

Assembly Speaker Nez says the federal government should do something to reform the managed care system. He says the current system is falling apart, with emergency departments and entire hospitals closing and employers unable to pay for health insurance premiums for their employees.

Looking Forward

More than 90 percent of survey respondents find the political participation of Hispanics lacking. But a number of Influentials especially those in elected office hope to change that and in turn affect public policy.

"I think we need to do a much better job of creating new citizens," says Mayor Villaraigosa, who won the mayor's office thanks to support from Hispanic voters. "Oftentimes new immigrants aren't familiar with our democracy, and it's important to nurture that democratic participation that's so critical to elections."

With respect to the Influentials as opinion leaders, Ms. Nieves-Powell says it's crucial for them not to lose touch with the people they seek to influence, remembering that the majority of Hispanics don't enjoy the same level of education, income, and opportunities that they do. "It's the responsibility of each business owner, each person, each president of a company to reach out to that segment of the population," she says.


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