The importance of diversity runs down to the bottom line

A group of Hispanic business leaders, in various industries, gathered to discuss their professional experiences and what drives them.

The event was held at Five Labs in Tampa and was moderated by Julio Esquivel, a partner with Shumaker.

Below is a segment of that discussion, which has been edited for brevity and clarity.

The panelists

• Monica Hernandez, Founder and CEO, Mas Global Consulting

• Jorge Brea, CEO, Symphonic Distribution

• Pedro Diaz, senior vice president and chief experience officer, GTE Financial

• Yurina Rojas, chief revenue officer, LEMA Construction

• Carlos YEpes, owner, Belleair Development

Can you share with the group some Latinos that have had an influence on you? I’ll share to start this off, that for me, it’s probably my mom. She was born in a little town in Mexico. She went on to come to the United States and became a pediatrician. She ended up managing and owning her own practice for 20 years and employing a bunch of other Latinos and Latinas as nurses, receptionists, etc. So, I’ll turn it over to you all.

Jorge Brea: For me, it’s also my mom. I think everyone’s going to answer with their mom. I’ll give another one as well. I moved to the U.S. from the Dominican Republic when I was 7 years old in 1992. My father was still working in the Dominican Republic, so my mom was raising four children by herself and also providing for us by working for Polymer Shapes, a company that was then later acquired by GE. Definitely she’s one of those influences but also in terms of my profession, there’s an individual by the name of Thomas Cookman, who is a Los Angeles-based record executive and business owner that founded a pretty popular Latino-focused record label. So, he is definitely another influence for me.

Yurina Rojas: I’m going to switch it up. I’m going to say my dad. I came to the country when I was 2 years old. My parents pretty much started over. My dad was in his 30s and he left a very cushioned life in Cuba. Due to the government changing, my dad thought that it would be a good idea to uproot his family and come to the U.S., which to this day has been one of the best decisions he could have made for us. Ironic that I’m in construction now, but he got his builder’s license and he built the home that I grew up in. I’m just really proud of him and everything that he instilled in me and in my sister.

Carlos Yepes: I’m going to be on the same side. My dad, for sure. My dad only had a fourth-grade education, because my grandfather would not let him go to school. He wanted him to work with him. Therefore, he became a businessman and he learned all that he learned on his own by taking classes, learning disciplines and going to school on the side when my grandfather wasn’t looking. He developed this desire to do business. Back in 1976, it became very difficult to live in Colombia. I left when I was 17 and came to the U.S. as an exchange student, and as a seed of the family to see how we could go about moving here.

When we finally came over a year later, we had never really been in the real estate business but we started buying little properties and I was really the front of the family because, see, my dad didn’t speak English. My dad did something really interesting when we all turned 18. He gave each child $100,000 and said, “I don’t want to give you money when I die. I want to see what you do with it. In a year from now, we’ll check to see where you are.” A year goes by. and I had started playing with commercial real estate. At 19, I gave the $100,000 back to him and said, “Thank you, Dad.” That was the beginning. Going back to the question of what influences my father instilled in me, it was this sense of: You’re not entitled. You have to earn it, work for it. And if you don’t work for it,you’re not going to get it.

Monica Hernandez: Definitely my mom. For Hispanics, our families are just really important and have a very significant impact. My mom is the typical strong Latina. She’s very hardworking and I definitely took a lot from her in my career and in my professional journey. I’ll also say there is an executive at Cisco, he’s a senior vice president and CIO. Cisco is a very large, well respected corporation. And he’s the chairman of an organization that I belong to called HITEC, the Hispanic IT Executive Council. He is a leader that I admire. He’s very approachable, he’s very humble and he’s always talking about being an example. I really like that because, not only in our Hispanic community, but every one of us needs to be an example in our own business setting, making sure that we have an inclusive environment where everyone’s ideas are welcome.

I want to move the discussion to inclusion and diversity programs. I want to ask if any of you have had experiences with them. What are the pros and cons, challenges or maybe some negative consequences you weren’t anticipating?

Hernandez: I’m very familiar with diversity and inclusion. Mas Global Consulting is a certified women- and minority-owned business. When I started my business, I had left Oracle Consulting.

I had built my network and my credibility. And when I Oracle and decided to become an entrepreneur, someone at Oracle helped me get my first customer. That was the result of good work ethics and seeing what I was able, and capable, of doing. It was someone taking that chance on you and basically telling someone else, a large corporation: “You can trust her. She’s going to do a good job for you.” So, let’s all try to do more of that for each other.

When I was already working with one of the Fortune 500 customers that we still have. We were growing and we were doing really well, but when we got to scalability, to really earn those multimillion-dollar projects that we all really wanted, it was a challenge in procurement because we were not an approved partner and they were like, we can’t work with small companies, we have the Accentures of the world and so forth. One of the directors of this company asked me, “Have you thought about being a women-owned certified company?” I didn’t even know what it was.

This didn’t even come from the Hispanic community. It was just someone that was thoughtful enough to bring that up. I started the journey and I became certified. Fast forward to this week, I just came from Atlanta and I was part of the National Minority Supplier Development Council conference, where thousands of minority-owned businesses meet large corporations. So, Apple, Microsoft, Oracle, automotive companies are all there. And it’s a great opportunity for companies like ours to meet executives of supplier diversity and have a chance to have a conversation. Because we need to get out there and talk about the value that we bring to the table.

Brea: In our company we haven’t implemented a program but what’s been interesting is because I founded it and I’m of Hispanic descent, also, we have many team members that are African-American and of various different cultures. That’s actually brought a lot more clients into the company just because in music, and in the arts, there is definitely a lot of inclusion. So just because we’ve marketed ourselves as a very diverse company, it has really helped.

When I left my full time job in 2008, right in the middle of a really positive time of the financial crisis, it was just had myself and a few team members at the time, and we honestly supported each other and I was able to be a mentor to them. But what’s been really interesting is that my employees have been great mentors to me and they’ve actually helped me implement a very positive culture in the workplace.

Diaz: What I’ve witnessed at GTE Financial is our chief talent officer has made it a goal to make sure that we hire more Latinos for the right reason. First of all, we have to be able to represent and serve our client base, which we call members since we’re a cooperative nonprofit. I say that because it starts there, right? First you have to be able to be willing to recruit those people, based on their talent, of course. Just being open to the fact that in order to be able to serve your current membership or your current clients, you have to be cognizant of the fact that you want to not only seek top talent, but also think about top talent that maybe can communicate well with those that you’re willing and wanting to serve.

Hernandez: Right now, we’re going into this fourth industrial revolution, right? And every single business needs to be innovative, otherwise you’re going to die. Because it’s all using digital technologies so, being innovative, not just with technology, but with how to improve processes, how to save costs, all of that requires not only diverse backgrounds, but also diversity of thought, right?

It is a business imperative really, for companies to think about the teams that are creating the next generation of technology. If there’s going to be machine learning and artificial intelligence, don’t you want that technology to reach an entire market? Your market, all of a sudden, becomes not only larger but your product has to be more appealing to them. The inclusion part is really important to get to that innovation that every company wants to get to.

Let’s talk about minority contracting programs and opportunities. The question for the group is, have you been involved with any of these? I’m talking about voluntary programs where corporations have decided to set diversity goals. There’s also government programs that are mandated. I would like you to share your thoughts on that experience.

Yepes: Even if you’re going to take bids from different contractors, whether they’re a minority-owned company or not, always look at the qualifications, obviously. In some government contracts, they give them an edge for being a minority. [GTE Financial] treats everybody the same. We look at each company and see, well, what is the track record with this guy because we’re putting a lot of money at risk with a contract that goes belly up on us? It has happened, and we ended up paying for the bills twice. Looking at the integrity of the person is very, very important to us. ♦

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