"At AMA, we're practically zealots when it comes to serving families," she adds. "We turn down opportunities that may be a little more lucrative or more profitable so that we can focus on families. When we find others who believe in that vision, they join [AMA] and we're able to make things happen."
Her aptitude test and her job at Citigroup in 1997 ignited Ms. Lagomasino's passion for helping families. She helped Citigroup clients from countries such as Chile, Ecuador, and Bolivia execute transactions, such as setting up wills or trusts. She also earned her MBA by attending Fordham University at night.
In 1983, she was hired to run Chase Manhattan Corp.'s Latin America private banking practice in New York. She advised high-net-worth families living in South America who had assets in the United States. It was her job to help these families prepare for situations – up to such traumas as a coup or a revolution – that might require them to start over in the United States.
Ms. Lagomasino saw the job as her mandate to help families avoid the pitfalls that her own family encountered. "My parents didn't have any money when we came and we took a huge drop in the quality of life," she says. Those memories helped Ms. Lagomasino work 18-hour days, six days a week, for several years.
She understood that families would need a certain amount of capital if they were ever forced to migrate. With such capital, the families could send their children to school, start a business, or buy a house in the United States.
In 1997, she became head of Chase's private bank, where she oversaw 1,500 people, a workforce that doubled to about 3,000 people once Chase merged with J.P. Morgan & Co. in 2001.
"She is the consummate relationship manager," says Art Ryan, the current CEO of Prudential Financial Inc., who ran Chase's International bank at the time. "She was a role model for her people in the sales and marketing side because of her dedication."
With all she has achieved, Ms. Lagomasino never viewed being Hispanic as an obstacle. She believes it has helped. Many people, she says, grow up in a one-dimensional world and view things from a narrow perspective. "We already understand two cultures," she says. "We know there is more than one way to do things. It's this ability to bridge, by just being Latina, that is much greater."
Starting out on Wall Street in the late 1970s, Ms. Lagomasino said she played her "Latina-ness" to her advantage. Then a 20-something female, she would travel overseas to meet with clients – often men in their 50s. Her co-workers, also men, would appear at these meetings in navy blue pinstriped suits. "Then I would show up," she says with a laugh. "I was totally memorable."
Many of her clients connected with her because she spoke their language and grasped their cultural differences. Her savviness became apparent during a dinner in Santiago. Ms. Lagomasino and a co-worker were dining with a client and about 10 members of the client's family. "They were all talking at the same time," Ms. Lagomasino says. Throughout the dinner, the family members would often raise their voices, argue, laugh, and shout. Ms. Lagomasino's colleague didn't know what to do, she says. He didn't understand the dynamics of a Hispanic family and how loud conversations can get.
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