In times of economic turmoil, the importance of the success story transcends the realm of mere human interest.
As the U.S. economy struggles to regain its footing in the aftermath of a devastating recession, we look to these stories for optimism and, above all, a little insight. In its annual Corporate Elite edition, HispanicBusiness Magazine again highlights 25 highly successful Hispanic executives, whose stories remind us that, whatever the obstacles, success is within reach.
In addition to being workhorses, the 25 Elite tend to be optimistic and well educated. They're also unafraid to think differently, and to utter the unexpected.
"We're not in the business of making money," said Betty Rengifo Tucker, an executive vice president -- and the highest-ranking Latina -- at Comerica Bank. "I realize it's kind of shocking when I say that. But we're really in the people business. ... caring is our competitive advantage." This year's cream of the crop includes leaders from a diverse array of organizations, from energy giants to fast-food chains to insurance companies and the United States Postal Service. Most are optimistic about the outlook for 2010, and insist that the recession has not taken a toll on their companies' diversity initiatives.
Among them is Margita Thompson, vice president of external communications for HealthNet, whose prior positions include being not only the press secretary for California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, but also a producer for CNN's Larry King and a press secretary for former Second Lady Lynne Cheney.
And there's Mike Fernandez, vice president of public affairs at State Farm Insurance. Shortly after becoming the first member of his extended family to graduate college some 30 years ago, Fernandez became only the second Hispanic in American history to serve as a press secretary for a member of the U.S. Senate. At State Farm, he helped the company navigate the PR minefield that accompanied Hurricane Katrina.
There's also Ofelia Melendrez-Kumpf, who, despite the skepticism of her friends and family, took a job at McDonald's while studying accounting at Cal-State Fullerton 18 years ago.
"At first, they were unimpressed: 'So you're going to go flip burgers?'" she remembers. Today, her friends and family are so impressed they've been known to send resumes her way. As McDonald's vice president of quality service and cleanliness for the Greater Southwest region, Melendrez- Kumpf oversees some 720 restaurants, which bring in a total of $1.6 billion a year in revenues.
These and other executives shared with HispanicBusiness Magazine not only their life stories, but also their thoughts on how companies and individuals can best succeed in this challenging economic landscape. Hurricane Katrina was not only a tragic disaster for residents of Mississippi and Louisiana. It also proved, initially, to be a public-relations nightmare for State Farm. Though few residents of Mississippi had flood insurance, many were covered for wind damage. But the wholesale destruction wrought by the storm made it nearly impossible to decipher the source of the damage. State Farm initially decided to offer zero dollars to anyone without flood insurance.
U.S. Congressman Gene Taylor publicly compared company executives to child molesters. A hotshot lawyer named Richard F. "Dickie" Scruggs � famous for winning a landmark settlement against the tobacco industry � took up the case. Right away, he shamed State Farm with an egregious anecdote: the company had fi red an engineering firm that concluded wind had been a major factor in the destruction of many homes. Successful strategies State Farm launched a nationwide search for a good public relations executive, and found Mr. Fernandez. As the head of State Farm's public affairs division, Mr. Fernandez helped re-shape the company's approach to the case.
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