At home, he got heavy doses of Hispanic culture from his father, a Cuban emigre who first fought with Castro and then fled from his dictatorship, and his mother, who was born in Colombia. He has always been proud of his Hispanic heritage. But in the early years of his career it was never what he thought about. Yet, people around and above him saw him as a universal player, someone who could adapt to multiple, global environments.
"I didn't make the connection myself, at first," he admits. He does now.
"When they see my face in the Middle East, they think I am Middle Eastern. In India, they think I am Indian. In Europe, maybe I was born in southern Spain," he explains. "People see that I am not the typical Anglo-American, and they ask me where I am from, it is like an icebreaker."
Connecting With Employees
When he arrived at GE, the company had a Hispanic forum, which had been established in the mid-1990s. It was one of a number of "affinity groups" the company sponsored but was somewhat dormant. Mr. Ramirez started working on some forum committees, stepped up eventually to become co-chair and today is an executive sponsor. "It is a great way for me to get connected with a part of our employee base I wouldn't have been connected with," he acknowledges. "My experience with diversity inside the company is that whenever we have embraced it we get more creativity, and as a result, get more success."
His own latest personal success came 10 years after joining GE from Siemens, the German company which, diplomatically put, moved into new businesses very deliberatively. In GE, Mr. Ramirez saw a company which, once it decided to pursue a new market, moved with lightning speed. He started at GE Energy in 2000 as business development and integration leader for the Energy Management Services division. Then he jumped over to Contractual Services rising to vice president in 2008. In late 2009, Dan Heintzelman, the senior vice president at the energy business segment, offered Mr. Ramirez the CEO's position at Industrial Solutions. He didn't know a lot of the details, except that Industrial Solutions was a stand-alone business, global in reach, a turnaround situation, and a growth business GE wanted to invest in again. "It was right in my sweet spot," he explains. "Part of my brand inside GE is turning around limping businesses, globalizing them and giving them solid footing. I wanted to put my thumb print on it and there are not too many opportunities you get in the corporate world to do that."
Changing the Culture
His mission, he says, is to change the culture at Industrial Solutions from one of a sustainable business to one of a growth business. An important part of that strategy is to promote green business products that are part of GE's new, emerging EcoMagination portfolio, such as the WattStation--which decreases electric-vehicle charging time from 12-18 hours to as little as four to eight hours compared to standard charging. "When economy meets ecology, it is a good thing," he says.
Mr. Ramirez also has worked to improve the local ecology--living conditions as much as the flora and fauna--in Plainville, Conn., where Industrial Solutions is headquartered and where he and his wife, Delia Garced, live. Mr. Ramirez has challenged employees to devote energy to local charities such as the Plainville Community Food Pantry and the Petit Family Foundation. "It is a great way to shape the corporate culture when you have people working together like that," he says.
As he has helped shape employees at Industrial Solutions, so, too, has Hispanic culture helped shape him. But he wouldn't be where he is today without an even broader multicultural sensibility, taking French in high school, learning a little Italian during a college stint in Italy. He speaks fluent Spanish, too, of course. Odds are he is learning some Chinese, too, at this very moment. But in whatever language the Industrial Solutions' CEO speaks on any given day, one thing is certain: 15,000 employees listen.
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