October 3, 2012

Staff — HispanicBusiness.com


Influentials Q&A: George Ramirez
Union Bank

George Ramirez joined Union Bank in 1986, following in his mother's banking footsteps. As executive vice president at Union Bank, Mr. Ramirez was named the company's first chief diversity executive in April. He has been in the banking industry since 1977 when he started as a teller.

In his role as chief diversity executive, Mr. Ramirez's mission is to broaden the diversity of the company’s senior management and executive ranks.

Diversity at Union Bank is a priority, according to Mr. Ramirez. The bank's workforce, which consists of about 11,000 employees, encompasses 61 percent females and 54 percent people of color, he reported.

"Diversity benefits everyone, which is why we take pride in our inclusive atmosphere," he said.

HispanicBusiness also asked Mr. Ramirez about U.S. Hispanics in the banking industry and what it takes to be successful.

HispanicBusiness: Briefly share your upbringing, and tell about your place of origin.

George Ramirez: I was born in El Paso, Texas, to immigrant parents from the state of Chihuahua in Mexico. My family was working-class, and we grew up without a lot of advantages. But one thing we were fortunate enough to have plenty of was determination, and a willingness to work very hard to achieve our goals.

Two years after I was born, my family moved to San Diego. There, my mother began working for Union Bank, where she spent 25 years. I followed her into the banking industry as a young man in 1977.

My success has been the result of someone taking a chance on me. I didn't know exactly what I wanted to accomplish, but I knew I had the drive to succeed. The fact that someone gave me the opportunity—as well as my mother and grandmother before me—has helped us achieve the American dream. My greatest accomplishment to date is the fact that my children are pursuing higher education and continuing the family tradition of working hard.

HB: What has been your proudest accomplishment?

GR: Aside from enjoying my children's success, some of the best moments in my career are those seemingly small moments when an employee has reached out to me to thank me for directly or indirectly providing sound career advice or role modeling. It is also those unsolicited client letters expressing their gratitude for how well their business has been taken care of, or when my peers have paid me a compliment for managing or handling tough situations well.

HB: Congratulations on becoming Union Bank's first chief diversity executive. What are you hoping to accomplish in this role?

GR: Union Bank's mission in appointing me as its first chief diversity executive is to broaden the diversity of the company's senior management and executive ranks. In practical terms, what that means is that I have about 450-plus senior leaders who are in my "portfolio." These are the senior leaders and executives who are the future of Union Bank. That’s the internal focus. Externally, I'm involved in broadening the ranks through recruitment. All of this is with an eye on leveraging executive diversity as a strategic advantage at Union Bank. That’s the true measure of success: building a highly skilled and diverse team that will take Union Bank to the next level.

We work hard to create a diverse workforce that reflects the populations we serve, and that we aspire to serve. In the financial services industry, people are our greatest asset, and we are continually in a fight for the best talent. We want the best in the business—no matter their ethnicity, age, gender, disability status, sexual orientation or anything else.

HB: Why is diversity important to a company?

GR: The demographics of America are changing rapidly. In 1950, 90 percent of the U.S. population was white and mainly of European descent. That proportion is predicted to fall to 50 percent by 2050. The changing demographics of America's households and workforce—particularly on the West Coast, where much of our business operates—matters a great deal to Union Bank, and should matter to everyone in the business world. A company that understands and mirrors its customer base is much better positioned to serve it, both today and in the future. A bank that reflects the richness of our broader society also develops an empathy and a cultural awareness that is absolutely invaluable. And it's not something they teach in business school. That’s one of the reasons we say diversity is a key strategic advantage for the bank. To survive in today's competitive landscape, we need to relate to our customers, and let them know we understand something about their lives.

HB: What advice do you have for young Hispanics going into the banking industry?

GR: Set your goals. The banking industry is a vast field and you need to decide what sector you really want to work in. Identify what you need to do in the next six months and create a plan. Review your plan and make sure you are on track. As the world changes, you need to stay tuned with new developments and trends in the banking area.

Know your job. Make sure you are knowledgeable about the industry and its trends. Also, be competent with the technology required in your dream job and seek out all the necessary education and certification needed. Network. Social interaction skills are critical to develop and nourish business relationships. Young professionals will stand out if they can interact with and manage people effectively. Create your own luck by networking inside and outside your company, actively pursuing what you want, and don't be afraid to reach out to a senior executive to help mentor you.

Be proactive about your future. Develop and cultivate the ability to anticipate what is next, so you can prepare for it. Be prepared to work hard, but look forward to enjoying the benefits once you get there.

HB: Is there anything else you would like to add that I may not have asked?

GR: In addition to building upon our current management and executive development programs, it is my goal to open up new pathways that expand our pipeline of diverse talent. This is the next step in strengthening Union Bank’s position as a responsible and relevant industry leader. Elevating our diversity and inclusion efforts will require commitment and follow-through, but the results will pay great dividends for the bank and for all the communities we serve.

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