Maria Elena Lagomasino knows what it's like to be an ambitious outsider in a strange land, whether as a little Cuban girl in Connecticut or a woman in red on Wall Street.
As a child, she was the first Cuban many of her friends in West Hartford had ever met. And as a woman, she was the first female some of her co-workers had dealt with in a male-dominated banking world.
But Ms. Lagomasino refused to blend in. She adapted to new environments, climbed corporate ladders at Citigroup and JPMorgan, and now she sits atop Asset Management Advisors LLC as the company CEO, overseeing more than $10 billion in assets under management and 200 employees spread across 11 offices.
After helping the Bush administration in 2005 by leading an effort to secure funds for Central America disaster victims, she capped last year by accepting an appointment to serve on the Secretary of State's Advisory Committee on Transformational Diplomacy.
And she's starting 2007 as Hispanic Business magazine's Woman of the Year. Ms. Lagomasino will be honored, along with four other finalists, at the 5th annual Hispanic Business WOY Awards Gala on April 26 at Caesar's Palace Las Vegas.
Ms. Lagomasino says she always dreamed of being an executive, but she didn't start out on Wall Street. In fact, Lagomasino's first real job after graduating from Manhattanville College in 1970, with a bachelor's degree in French literature, was at the United Nations. Even though the women's liberation movement was flourishing, women were still expected to become secretaries, she recalls.
Ms. Lagomasino refused to learn to type. Instead, she spent five years working in the U.N.'s library, handling government documents and earning a master's degree in library science from Columbia University. Every year, she would negotiate with the Library of Congress over what documents they needed to send to the U.N. During these negotiations she realized she liked dealing with people more than handling documents. So in 1977 she interviewed at Citigroup's private bank and earned a spot as a management trainee.
"From the first day on that [Citibank] job, I knew I was home," she says. "I realized I wasn't having fun in my U.N. job, so I went back to Columbia, visited the placement office, and took an aptitude test. It validated for me what I had believed all along, which was, 'I belong in the business world.'"
She reflects on her 30-year journey in financial services from her spot atop AMA, where she was named CEO in 2005. A quest to help families led Ms. Lagomasino, 57, to the Palm Beach Gardens, Florida-based company, which is 70 percent owned by Sun Trust Banks Inc. AMA provides independent advice to families – "multi-generational clients" -- with a minimum net worth of $25 million.
"It's really what I've wanted to do all along: Work for a company that serves families on their side of the table," she says. "After years of working in financial services, now I feel like I really get to help families."
Ms. Lagomasino takes pride in leading a company that shares her passion. And being a leader, she says, requires one key ingredient – vision.
"A leader needs a vision of what they want to have, then they need to have the courage to make it happen," she says. "It's most important to have courage because you need to be able to communicate that vision to the people in your company. As you add others to your company and they see your vision, they will want do what needs to get done to realize that vision.
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