News Column

2007 Hispanic Business Magazine Elite Women

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Sofia Adrogue

Attorney and entrepreneur
--Company: Looper Reed & McGraw
--Currently: "My story is one of intense work, passion, and, truly, a little luck," says Sofia Adrogue, a Houston-based attorney. "I have sought to return in multiples all the opportunities the United States has provided me whether through my professional or my community endeavors. As an immigrant, I feel an obligation to give back." Ms. Adrogue, who emigrated from Buenos Aires with her family at age 9, practices law in Texas [she is also licensed in the District of Columbia] as one of fewer than 5,000 Hispanic attorneys. She handles business, health care, international litigation, and is a prolific author and speaker of more than 50 publications and 90 speeches. She graduated from Rice University and received her J.D. from the University of Houston Law Center. In 2006, Ms. Adrogue was accepted to the Harvard Business School Owner/President Management Program. She's scheduled to graduate in 2008.

Alba Colon

Manager for NASCAR Nextel Cup program
--Company: General Motors Racing
--Currently: Ms. Colon is leading a crew of engineers who design cars for the GM Racing team, and she's still beaming after her squad's victory at the NASCAR Daytona 500. Ms. Colon was born in Spain and received a mechanical engineering degree from the University of Puerto Rico. GM hired her in 1994 as a data acquisition engineer for GM's Oval Track Group, which was then composed of NASCAR Winston Cup, Craftsman Truck, ASA, and Busch Grand National programs. Ms. Colon was named to her current position in 2001. She said she manages to juggle her hectic work schedule with her private life. "When I was younger, I was thinking about work 24 hours a day," she says. "But, as you get older, you learn to disconnect yourself from work and make time for your private life. I'm married, but it takes a very understanding person because my weekends are very busy."

Nina Garcia

Director of Fashion
--Company: Elle Magazine
--Currently: Landing her first job in the highly competitive fashion industry was as tough as moving up the ranks of the business, Ms. Garcia recalls. "I couldn't apply to certain companies because they weren't looking to hire people in a very junior capacity and who didn't have papers," says the Columbia-born fashion editor. "I did get sponsored, but I really had to prove myself." Her perseverance paid off when she arrived at Elle magazine, where she was named fashion director in 2000. Being bicultural, once her biggest obstacle, has turned out to be her biggest asset in an industry that thrives on individuality. "I really think it gives you a way of looking at things that is not in the expected way," Ms Garcia explains. "That's what's so wonderful about America, that you have all these inputs from other nationalities, especially in a creative business." Ms. Garcia can be seen weekly as a judge on the TV series "Project Runway."

Marisa Lago

Global Head of Compliance
--Company: Citigroup
--Currently: Ms. Lago, a physician-turned-lawyer, serves as a quasi-corporate detective making sure that the multinational firm and its clients don't get into any legal trouble. Ms. Lago says she's led a "charmed career backed up by incredibly hard work, perseverance and intelligence." Before joining Citigroup in 2001 to help create and head the company's global workforce development office, Ms. Lago worked in both the private and public sector. She previously worked at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission as director of the Office of International Affairs. A self-described workaholic, she says the keys to climbing the corporate success ladder are finding the right company and people to work with, loving what you do, and "being passionate about it." And, of course, "hard work, that's an indispensable ingredient of climbing the corporate ladder, no one should ever try and sugar coat it."

Jenny Martinez

Associate Professor of Law
--Workplace: Stanford Law School
--Currently: Before she argued her first case before the U.S. Supreme Court, concern arose that she didn't have the necessary gravitas. "As a young woman, it's harder to be taken seriously," she explains. "I don't have the same authority as a white-haired guy." But what she lacks in old-boy clout, she makes up for in toughness, intelligence, and passion. After graduating from Yale University, she studied at Harvard Law School, specializing in international criminal law, terrorism, and human rights. Today she balances motherhood and her professorship at Stanford. Her advice for those studying law is to, "Find what your are passionate about and work within that realm of the law and to seek out mentors who can help you along the way."

Christina Norman

President, MTV Networks
--Company: MTV: Music Television
--Currently: Ms. Norman, a New York City native, has made it her job to produce programming that lures throngs of young people to Times Square, screaming for the artists that populate MTV the leading multimedia youth brand. She earned a degree in film production from Boston University before starting her professional journey in the early '90s with the Viacom-owned network, which named her president in May 2005. Under her direction, she is responsible for the leadership, strategy, and management of MTV a job that requires not only business savvy, but also the ability to anticipate the fickle tastes of teens and young adults. Ms. Norman had previously been president of VH1 a position she was appointed to in January 2004. Ms. Norman is also active in a NYC program called PENCIL (Public Education Needs Civic Involvement in Learning) that is designed to improve student performance.

Maria Otero

President and CEO
--Company: ACCION International
--Currently: Bolivian-born Ms. Otero has been a leading exponent in microfinance as a weapon against poverty long before last year's Nobel Prizes drew attention to the practice. In 1986, she joined ACCION, which provides technical assistance and investment to microlenders around the globe. She was named president and CEO in 2000. For a decade until 2005, she chaired the global MicroFinance Network and spent six years chairing the Inter-American Foundation after her appointment by President Clinton. Ms. Otero says she's been greeted as a Hispanic woman with "open arms. Now I want to see more microbanks in Latin America managed by women!" On her own success, she says it helps "that I'm involved in work that I am absolutely passionate about and a really supportive family, and let's not ever forget the management skills I learned from my mom, who raised nine kids."

Victoria E. Rodriguez

Vice Provost, Dean of Graduate Studies, and Ashbel Smith Professor of Public Affairs
--Employer: University of Texas at Austin, Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs
--Currently: As a scholar, researcher, and instructor, Dr. Rodriguez is passionate about politics. While her work focuses on governance, democratization, and political change in Mexico, most recently she has concentrated her studies on women's roles in Mexican politics. She has written numerous books, articles and book chapters, and has earned her the prestigious Ohtli Medal, the highest honor granted by the Mexican government outside Mexico. Her latest book is "Women in Contemporary Mexican Politics." Education, she explains, has been integral to her success in the male-dominated realm of higher education. She is greatly optimistic about the growing number of Hispanic women in her field and encourages them to, "Go to school, go to college and go to graduate school!"

Gisel Ruiz

Vice-President and Regional GM
--Company: Wal-Mart Stores, Inc.
--Currently: Ms. Ruiz's 14 years of dedication recently culminated in her 2006 promotion to regional general manager, responsible for store operations and personnel within region, including 109 Wal-Mart Stores in West Texas, as well as more than $7.4 billion in sales. She says that Wal-Mart played no small part in her accomplishments, providing many opportunities for advancement for both Hispanics and women. However, she offered a bit of personal insight into her success: "With every challenge you have an opportunity to show others what you can do for the organization. I viewed those opportunities as a way of showing others my skills and my commitment to contributing to the department's success." A graduate of Santa Clara University, Ms. Ruiz is a founding member and two-time chair of the Hispanic Latino Associate Resource Group for Wal-Mart Stores, Inc.

Frances Aldrich Sevilla Sacasa

President, U.S. Trust Corporation
--Company: Charles Schwab
--Currently: Ms. Sevilla-Sacasa moves into her third year as the overseer of the wealth management business of U.S. Trust, a subsidiary of Charles Schwab. She's also the only Hispanic to serve on Schwab's executive committee. Ms. Sevilla-Sacasa was a corporate lending officer to Latin America for several years until she joined Bankers Trust's private bank in 1983. From there, she went on to compile 24 years of experience in global wealth management with high-ranking positions with Citibank, Deutsche Bank's Latin American Private Banking group, and Bankers Trust. Her stint in the securities business with Lehman Brothers gives her 29 years of experience in financial services.

Hilda Solis

U.S. Representative, 32nd District of California
--Employer: U.S. Congress
--Currently: The Los Angeles-born Democrat is serving her third term in the House since being elected in November 2000 after stints in both houses of California's Legislature. Her most recent honor came from the League of United Latin American Citizens, which gave her the National Profile in Courage Award for her efforts to eliminate racial and ethnic health disparities, and for her role in pushing for women's rights. Representative Solis became the first Hispanic woman appointed to the House Committee on Energy and Commerce in 2003. She's the ranking member on the Environment and Hazardous Materials Subcommittee and is a member of the Energy and Air Quality Subcommittee. Representative Solis was elected co-chair of the bipartisan Congressional Caucus for Women's Issues and named chair of the Democratic Women's Working Group.

Nina Tassler

--Company: CBS Entertainment
--Currently: CBS boasts that it "remains America's most-watched network for the fourth consecutive year" under Ms. Tassler's leadership. The Boston University alumna joined the network in 1997 as vice-president [drama] of CBS Productions. She then moved to senior vice-president [drama development] of CBS Entertainment from 1998-2003 before assuming her current position in 2004. She oversees the network's entertainment programming for prime time, late night, and daytime, as well as program development for all genres, including comedy, drama, reality, specials, movies and mini-series. In her first development season as head of entertainment, CBS had the 2005-06 season's top-rated freshman class of series. She received a 2005 Imagen Award, which recognizes individuals for their extraordinary contributions to the entertainment industry and celebrates the advancements of Hispanics.

Colonel Norma Tovar

Director, Training Operations Management Activity
--Employer: U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command
--Currently: Since 2004, Colonel Tovar has been coordinating the training operations of 32 Army schools and five Army training centers a responsibility that encompasses 450,000 "seats" and 1,700 courses from basic training on up. In the Army since enlisting in 1981, she has served in postings as diverse as commander of a postal company in Korea to a research fellowship with the RAND Corporation to a professorship in Military Science. Colonel Tovar reports that legal bars to women serving in combat arms has slowed her career, but abundant mentors and peers have inspired her to stay in. "Being a female colonel in the Army is rare; being Hispanic on top of that is even rarer. Yet acceptance has never been an issue. I have been evaluated and valued for my performance and contributions rather than my gender or ethnicity."

Linda Valdez Thompson

Vice-President, Administration and Diversity
--Company: Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport
--Currently: Strong family values and a solid work ethics instilled in Ms. Thompson have played a key role in shaping her into a leader. "As a leader it is important to demonstrate that you can be trusted and that you are committed to the organization's goals," she says. "I have a very strong work ethic that I learned from my parents and our early days of working in the fields. I believe that working is not a chore but a privilege and an honor." The Texas native oversees a staff of 90 and a $20.5 million budget at one of the nation's largest airports. Ms. Thompson's division grew its workforce diversity to 40 percent and introduced a woman's mentoring program as well as cultural diversity and employee relations training. Ms. Thompson joined DFW in February 2001 following 15 years as a human resources executive at Fruit of the Loom and Hasbro.

Ruth Zambrana

Professor in the Women's Studies Department and Director of the Consortium on Race, Gender and Ethnicity, College Park
--Employer: The University of Maryland
--Currently: Dr. Zambrana is an expert in the field of racial and ethnic health, women's health, and institutional barriers to health care. She has researched health care disparities for more than 25 years and has authored two books and more than 90 peer-reviewed articles, book chapters, and monographs. She has focused her study on the intersections of quality and access to health care, class, stress, and chronic conditions. She attributes her success to support from mentors and family members. "We have few role models in the academy, or in any educational institution, to help and encourage Latinas." She hopes to write more about inequality in the public systems that serve Hispanics and other under-represented groups.

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