This year's Hispanic Corporate Elite operated in a volatile economy; a year dominated by rising energy prices, growing threats of global warming, and a tsunami-size subprime mortgage crisis. Their response was to soldier on, keep producing the results that got them to their lofty posts, and adjust and execute business plans their companies set in place.
While their sheer numbers remain small, their impact is being noticed. They include such corporate leaders as Ralph de la Vega, president and CEO of AT&T Mobility, who moved into his position in October. At AT&T, Mr. de la Vega presides over the nation's dominant provider of cellular service, whose digital voice and data network is reportedly used by over 80 percent of Fortune 500 companies.
Another high-profile exec is Deirdre Connelly, president of Lilly USA, one of the nation's largest pharmaceutical companies. She started at Lilly as a sales representative in 1983 and worked her way up the ranks before she was named president in 2005.
Ralph Alvarez, president and chief operating officer of McDonald's Corp., leads one of America's most recognizable brands. His long career in the restaurant industry included jobs at Burger King and Wendy's before moving over to McDonald's in 1994.
For the high-level executives in this year's Corporate Elite Directory, some of the traits of success are readily identifiable. The overriding characteristic is that most, if not all, have advanced educational degrees coupled with a distinguished results-oriented corporate resume. And they constantly seek out learning opportunities, whether it's a management program or experiential learning.
Many have also gained international credentials in addition to their domestic assignments, reflecting the global portfolio of the Fortune 500.
Mr. de la Vega served as president of BellSouth Latin America for several years before becoming chief operating officer at Cingular Wireless, which eventually merged with AT&T.
In his current position, Mr. de la Vega's goal for his unit is "to be number one in every key metric for our industry."
His accomplishments – such as overseeing the launch of high-speed internet service while at BellSouth, leading the rollout of Cingular's third-generation wireless broadband deployment, and inaugurating an Internet protocol TV service for AT&T – put him in line for his current role.
"I think I've developed a real understanding of what it takes to roll out new technologies on a large scale," says Mr. de la Vega, who came to the United States when he was 10 years old. "I also have a real appreciation for how quickly things change in our industry."
Corporate Elite executives work in a range of industries, from high tech to telecom, from pharma to fast food. Most work in industries that offer direct consumer products. And while not prerequisites, many have engineering backgrounds and/or MBAs as part of their pedigree.
"Two thousand seven was a year of growth for Hispanic executives but with it came some challenges," says Lourdes Hassler, chief executive officer of the National Society of Hispanic MBAs (NSHMBA). "We started to hear a lot more about leadership roles given to Latinas and Latinos."
The Hispanic Association for Corporate Responsibility's research of Hispanic representation on Fortune 500 boards found about 1 percent of corporate executive officers were Latino in 2006. Hispanic representation on corporate boards was slightly better at more than 3 percent.
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