News Column

The Final Say: George Muñoz

October 2006, HISPANIC BUSINESS Magazine

Michael Todd

George Muñoz
George Muñoz

George Muņoz has been hailed as a new style of corporate director who left his rubber stamp at home but keeps a magnifying glass in his back pocket as he prowls the small print at Altria, Marriott, and even the National Geographic Society. But the Texas-bred and Harvard-educated tax lawyer, certified public accountant, investment banker, and former Clinton administration official isn't some colorless Beltway bureaucrat. He maintains a lively interest, professional and otherwise, in the Hispanic community in this country and Latin America to the south. And he's shown an abiding interest in education, dating back to his tenure as president of the Chicago Board of Education in the 1980s.

What are you doing now?
I have my own investment banking business and law firm with offices in Washington, D.C. and in Chicago. I help companies raise capital for ventures in the United States, Mexico and Central America. I also provide insight into the Hispanic community and international affairs to the corporate boards and nonprofit boards I sit on.

Has having your own company, the Muņoz Group, been satisfying?
I am very satisfied because, like everyone, I like to influence outcomes. I enjoy helping businesses grow internationally.

What obstacle did you least expect?
It is not as easy as I thought to operate offices in Washington, D.C. and Chicago at the same time. It has been quite consuming, especially since I have 4-year-old twin boys at home wanting more of my time.

How well represented are Hispanics in investment banking?
Hispanics are just now becoming more visible in the financial services area. I got into investment banking because of my desire to help create wealth in our community. Investment bankers, as well as accountants, lawyers, bankers, and financial planners play a critical role in creating wealth in our community.

Any advice for those seeking to enter the field?
To be more marketable and influential in the financial service field, you should have a degree in business, finance, or accounting and thoroughly understand the demographics of our community.

Why is it taking so long to get a reasonable number of Hispanics in the boardroom?
We first needed to become a force in the marketplace and politically. We are just now getting there. Companies are recognizing Hispanics as a dominant market of consumers, workers, and business partners. And, because of globalization, companies are more desirous of expanding internationally, especially throughout Latin America where the Hispanic perspective can be quite valuable.

Do you get any flak for sitting on the board of Altria Group, which includes the nation's biggest tobacco company?
I do not, and I am proud of the fact that Altria is a leader in smoke prevention for youth. And, it provides assistance for those who want to quit smoking. Also, Altria is very supportive of Hispanic leadership organizations like the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute.

Why did you leave government?
As a presidential appointee, I am required to step down at the end of the president's term. I served in both terms of the Clinton administration. In the first term, I was the chief financial officer of the U.S. Treasury Department, and in the second term served as president and CEO of the Overseas Private Investment Corporation.

Given your role with OPIC, what emerging markets do you think U.S. investors should be examining more closely?
Mexico, and after years of trying, we were successful in getting OPIC to finance small business projects in Mexico. Hispanics are better off focusing where we have a competitive advantage. The U.S. market is still the most attractive market for Hispanic businesses followed by Mexico and Latin America. Investments can only be made if you bring relationships and expertise to the table.

Do we focus too much on China?
China deserves even more attention. It is on a steady path to being a world power. The diversity of the world is not scary to Hispanics, we thrive on it.

What have been your most rewarding experience and most dreadful experience?
Being the president of the Chicago Board of Education in the mid-1980s was the most rewarding experience. The most dreadful experience was seeing Hispanics discriminated against in South Texas where I grew up.

What is currently going on that you think deserves the attention of our Hispanic leaders?
I believe that the problems of poverty, discrimination, lack of health care, and access to a good education deserves more attention from our Latino leaders. The media is more focused on "crossover hits" of a few Hispanics, and our growing influence in business and politics. But the reality is that the civil rights struggle is not over for most of our community. We need to recruit the passion of our youth for this struggle.

Source: HISPANIC BUSINESS Magazine and, Copyright (c) 2006 All Rights Reserved.

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