Last October William D. Perez, 59, broke 115 years of tradition when he was elected president and CEO of Wm. Wrigley & Company. Mr. Perez is the first non-family member ever to head the public but closely held $4 billion company that makes popular brands such as Altoids, Doublemint, Life Savers, and Big Red.
The promotion is a fine accomplishment for Mr. Perez and Wrigley, which ranks number 482 on the Fortune 500, but it could be expected. Mr. Perez earned it.
In this issue, Hispanic Business celebrates its Corporate Elite, and leading the charge are these five men, all CEOs of Fortune 500 companies or the dominant arm of a Fortune 500 company. The members of this quintet are winners in the ultimate reality series, The Battle for the Corner Office, and some are not only CEOs but also stand at the pinnacle of their industries.
These officers may differ in age, sector, background, and country of origin, but they have several traits in common. In general, they are aware of the disconnect between Corporate America's desire to diversify and the demographic and educational issues in the Hispanic community that slow advancement.
More specifically, each leader is grappling with how to respond to formidable change in his company, industry, or both.
Big shoes to fill
The original power trio of Hispanic CEOs left big footprints, but only three sets of them. The pioneers were current U.S. Secretary of Commerce Carlos Gutierrez, who ran Kellogg's; Sol Trujillo, who leads Australia's Telstra now and was the chief of U.S. West; and the late Roberto Goizueta, the former chief of global giant Coca-Cola.
Now, Dr. Harry Pachon, president of the Tomas Rivera Policy Institute, says, "The representation of Hispanics at these high levels in Corporate America parallels their rise in the political sphere. Quietly, and without much fanfare, Hispanics are penetrating all aspects of U.S. society and making history."
Such as our Corporate Elite. The head of a medical services company ramps up for a demographic wave of patients to crash at his doors. A CEO with a scientific background must successfully restructure a century-old company into a modern marvel or face dire consequences. The chief of the domestic division of the nation's second-largest company has to polish its image and bolster its stock. And the leader of a once public company finds out that his private equity owners are more demanding than the shareholders were.
When it comes to turning a corporate trifecta as a CEO, Wrigley's new chief, Mr. Perez, sets the standard.
Prior to his new post, he was Nike's CEO for a tumultuous 13 months. Mr. Perez, who was born in Ohio but grew up in Colombia, fits Wrigley's global vision. Before selling athletic wear, he spent 34 years with SC Johnson, running divisions in Spain, Latin America, and North America while working his way up to CEO.
Last December, when Mr. Perez was told that analysts are cheering Wrigley's sales, income, and stock price, he responded quickly. That, he said, "is a nice problem to have. I am still learning about the confectionery business, but I know great brands and great people when I see them – and Wrigley has lots of both."
He is also confident that corporations are focusing on the burgeoning Hispanic marketplace and foresees an "increased investment against that demographic segment, increased need for people who possess Spanish-language skills to help manage it, and additional job opportunities."
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