News Column

Making Inroads

Feb. 15, 2012

Richard Larsen, Deputy Managing Editor

The success and sustainability of a corporation comes from a workforce that is motivated, resourceful and proud of its accomplishments, traits that must be nurtured from the first day on the job through the last. The responsibility for such nurturing rests within the corporate offices, where key executives set not only the corporate tone of an organization, but also shape the quality of the workforce. Those executives who do this best are effective because they, too, were motivated, resourceful and proud of their accomplishments -- such as those who are listed on HispanicBusiness magazine's Corporate Elite 25.

Read brief bios of the Corporate Elite 25.

They range in position from director through president and CEO, but more importantly, they extended the reach of Hispanics into the corporate offices of some of this nation's largest companies. In such high-profile positions, they become both role models for younger Hispanics seeking careers in business and examples of the growing importance diversity plays in the marketplace, academia and the community.

Making it into the C-suite is not as an overnight journey. As James H. Gallegos, vice president and general counsel, Alliant Energy, explained in an e-mail interview with HispanicBusiness magazine: "In order for an individual to break into the executive ranks, she/he must be driven and set a high mark for performance."

Steady Advances
Consider the career of the CEO of the Florida Power & Light Co. (FLP), Armando J. Olivera, the highest ranking executive on this year's Corporate Elite 25. He joined FLP in 1972 as an engineer trainee. Thirty-one years later, he had worked his way up through the corporate ladder to become the company's top executive, a position that put him in the hot seat when the Great Recession started.

"It wasn't until early summer of 2008 that we saw the downturn," he told Leaders magazine in the October 2011 quarterly issue.

With construction slowing, FPL shut down the side of the company that handled new construction. Workforce reductions took place.

"Going forward," he said in the magazine interview, "we have been careful to manage the business for much lower level growth than we experienced in the past."

Still, FPL is the largest electric utility in Florida and one of the largest rate-regulated utilities in the United States. It serves 4.5 million customers. According to his biography, under Mr. Olivera's leadership, the utility was able to keep the typical customer bill the lowest out of the state's 55 utilities and 24 percent below the national average.

Another example of the drive it takes to work through the corporate ladder is Grace Lieblein, the president and managing director of GM do Brasil. She started her career as a co-op student at the General Motors Assembly Division in Los Angeles in 1978. She has been an industrial engineer, director of validation and test, manager of vehicle development and technical operations, as well as president and managing director of GM Mexico before her promotion to the Brazil division. You can see for yourself how amazing her career path has been by turning to an in-depth interview with her.

Read the profile of Grace Lieblein.

Gaining New Skills
The Corporate Elite 25 listing is rife with examples of another trait people must have to make it to the C-suite. As Mr. Gallegos explained: "The individual must have a 'can do' attitude, and not shy away from challenging situations that help an individual learn new skills, gain new experiences and be set apart from other employees."

Ramon Baez, vice president of information technology services and chief information officer for Kimberly-Clark, has over the course of his 25-year career, assumed increasing responsibilities for information and data management. His skills and expertise were recognized in 2009 when he was appointed by Texas Gov. Rick Perry and confirmed by the state's Senate as director for the state's Department of Information Resources.

In addition to his duties as director of government relations and business development for Raytheon Co., Edward Munoz was appointed to the California Workforce Investment Board by then California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. Mr. Munoz served from 2009 2011.

Patrick Apodaca, senior vice president and general counsel for PNM Resources, served a stint as associated counsel to the president from 1977-1981 under Jimmy Carter.

Such experience in the public sector can be invaluable for a corporate executive to understand the interactions between the corporate world and the governing world.

Looking for the CEO
Sixteen of the 25 executives on the 2012 Corporate Elite list are employed by Fortune 500 companies. Last year, 17 of the 25 on the list held positions at Fortune 500 companies. But as yet, no Fortune 500 company has a Hispanic CEO.

"I think it is difficult for anyone to be named a CEO of a major publicly traded company," Mr. Gallegos told HispanicBusiness magazine. "I do think for a variety of reasons, including a lack of visible role models, it will be difficult for a Hispanic to be named a CEO of a major publicly traded company, but I hope it will occur in the not-so-distant future."

That could be Brightstar Corp. producing the first Hispanic CEO. It fi led paperwork in April 2011 to go public and its revenues might be enough to help it slip into the top 500 when the IPO occurs. While that would be no small feat, Brightstar is a Hispanic company, started in 1977 by R. Marcelo Claure who continues as its chairman and CEO. The real breakthrough will come when a Hispanic becomes CEO of a non-Hispanic-owned corporation. The boardroom could be the best place to start.

Mr. Gallegos explains: "I also think an increase of Hispanic representation on the boards of publicly traded companies will improve the likelihood for a Hispanic to be named a CEO of a major publicly traded company."

As our annual look at Fortune 500 board of directors shows, Hispanics are making steady but slow progress in populating corporate boardrooms. In 10 years, the number of Hispanics who are directors on Fortune 500 corporate boards has grown from 69 to 92. Together, the 92 hold only 2.1 percent of the estimated 5,463 board seats for Fortune 500 companies.

Up and Coming
On the horizon, the outlook for more Hispanics moving ever higher in the corporate structure is bright. With Hispanics at 16.3 percent of the U.S. population, with their growing influence in the marketplace and with more business professionals emerging, representation of Hispanics at all corporate levels can only increase.

For those emerging professionals or for those Hispanics about to enter college with thoughts of entering the corporate world, Mr. Gallegos offers these tips: "Focus on the tasks that are immediately before you, but ensure that you are developing skills that will help you to be successful in your next position. Have a game plan, determine what is necessary to execute it, and work to achieve it. Don't be deterred by small setbacks. Your career is a journey, and small setbacks (although they can appear devastating in the moment) are really learning experiences that we all have had."

For those just starting out on their career journeys and for those whose journeys are well under way, HispanicBusiness magazine's 2012 Corporate Elite 25 on the following pages can serve as excellent role models. They provide all the proof that's needed that breaking into the corporate offices of America is eminently obtainable.

Source: (c) 2012. All rights reserved.

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