Monica Hernandez comes full circle in life and business
Monica Hernandez often took four buses to go to and from school in Medellín, Colombia. She comes from humble beginnings, with education always being a primary focus in her life. So receiving a full academic scholarship to one of the best private colleges in her home country, the Universidad EAFIT, not only seemed like just rewards, but it changed her life.
“I had not heard from the scholarship selection team by their deadline, so I left the house and figured I didn’t get it, but then I heard my mother yell out for me from our balcony ‘Monica! Come back!’” says Monica Hernandez.
She was one of five people selected out of 400 candidates.
Armed with her college degree, she embarked on her career and accepted an opportunity to come to the United States for her fist assignment. That too would change her life. After gaining experience, including working at Oracle, she decided to create her own company. When she founded MAS Global Consulting, it was with the intention of building a global company that would have impact in her adopted country of the U.S. and her home country of Colombia.
Now, the goal is realized. She’s come full circle, and for the first time the company is sponsoring their first full scholarship for a young woman in Colombia, who happens to live minutes from where Hernandez grew up.
“I wanted to support a woman from a low-income family in her pursuit of a career in technology. Someone who, just like me, would have a chance at a very different life because of that opportunity,” Hernandez says. In addition to awarding MAS Global’s first formal technology scholarship, the company has supported the Foundation Angeles de Amor in Colombia for four years, which provides housing and education to girls at risk, as well as the HITEC Foundation working to advance Latinx leaders in technology through mentoring and scholarships
Other charities near and dear to Hernandez’ heart include Feeding Tampa Bay, UNICEF and Doctors Without Borders.
Mas in Spanish means “more” and that’s just what Hernandez wanted to do, add more value to organizations looking to leverage technology, more opportunities to top, diverse talent and more impact to the community.
MAS Global Consulting, headquartered in Tampa with a large presence in Medellín, was established in 2013.
In 2019, the company had revenue of $10 million and Hernandez says they are on track to double that number in the next couple of years.
The company has ranked on the INC. 5000 Fastest Growing Companies List (No. 38 for Tampa companies and No. 1 as Women-Owned and Minority software firm in Florida). MAS Global also landed at No. 384 on Deloitte’s Technology Fast 500 ranking for North America.
“As a Latina, and an immigrant, I feel blessed that through MAS Global and the incredible team I am privileged to lead, I’m able to enable U.S.-based businesses to grow by helping them build modern software applications, while creating opportunities in both my home country of Colombia and my adopted country the U.S.,” she says.
Asked about the diversity focus of her company and Hernandez lights up.
“MAS Global is driven by innovation in all that we do and diversity drives innovation, and better financial performance, for companies. That is why we are not just about helping Hispanics, women or minorities, but all groups. Because when all groups thrive entire communities’ benefit, they create businesses and earn degrees, they create jobs, pay taxes and help grow the economy. It’s full circle.”
Full circle is a strong theme in Hernandez’ life and career.
She was born in Medellín, the capital of Colombia’s mountainous Antioquia province. Sometimes referred to as the “City of Eternal Spring” for its temperate weather.
Hernandez says she misses the beauty of the mountains and raves about the hard-working people she grew up around and seeing great potential in the area. It’s now considered a major technology hub in Latin America and a source of top software development talent.
In her beautiful home in Oldsmar, she says the trees that surround her house give her a little of that natural beauty in her own backyard.
She lives with her husband, mother, two young children and a new puppy called Canela, or Cinnamon, in English.
“My mom is the reason that I am an entrepreneur today. She was a small home-based business owner. While she didn’t go to college, she had plenty of determination,” Hernandez says. “I always saw her as a very driven leader with strong work ethics. Nothing was impossible for her.”
Her mother ran a garment production business that was the main economic source for the family. She also trained and provided job opportunities to other women in the neighborhood.
Her father had many jobs over the years, including a soccer referee and post office worker, but was also seen as a community leader in Medellín.
“From him I learned to be comfortable talking to people and making friends, two qualities that have served me well in the business world,” she says.
Before graduating from college, she was chosen for an internship as a software analyst with Leather Center, a manufacturing company in Dallas, Texas.
“It was my first introduction to the U.S. My first time on an international flight. I was by myself for the first time in my life,” she says. “It really opened the world of opportunities for me and for my family.”
Being a mother herself has dramatically impacted how Hernandez runs her business.
“I had this conversation with my daughter recently. I told her ‘I want to be your friend, I want you to come to me and I want to be there for you, but I also have to be the mom and be in charge. And sometimes I will make decisions you won’t agree with but I hope you trust me,’” she says. “It’s similar to being a business owner, I have to be supportive and results-driven, but being a mom has definitely made me a more empathetic, caring leader.”
That leadership style is a balance Hernandez works hard to maintain, both at home and at the office.
“To be good in business you need heart but you also need to be a visionary and very pragmatic. To me the best way to support your team is being a responsible leader building a culture that everyone can feel proud of,” Hernandez says.
Hernandez’ husband, Walter Morales, was a chemist and research scientist when he made the decision to support his wives’ vision and stay home to support the family, while Hernandez launched MAS Global.
“When the time came to make the decision to start MAS Global we got together and analyzed all possibilities. How could we work together to make the dream a reality while making sure our family was taken care of? I knew how important this was for her, and at that moment, it was about encouraging and supporting each other,” Morales says. “Marriage was our first business together, and I learned that teamwork requires you to adapt, and sometimes transform, yourself for the greater good of the team. Now it makes me happy to see that the leadership, energy, determination and drive that captivated me 22 years ago when I met my wife, is the same force everybody sees and recognizes now behind the MAS movement.”
Morales now plays an instrumental role in the growth at MAS Global leading international operations for the company.
“Working with family is not always easy, but having someone you trust by your side when you are growing a business is extremely valuable, and I wish every woman was as fortunate as I am.”
Every company and every business is now a technology company, and with that comes unique challenges with navigating a global, ever changing, digital landscape.
“In the digital economy that we are in, technology is integral to business strategy. When I talk to CIOs, CEOs and leaders across multiple industries, they all recognize the importance of becoming a technology driven business, and being agile to respond to evolving needs and threats. If they don’t, they will easily be disrupted by their competition,” Hernandez says.
During the interview, Hernandez has to pause to talk to her Alexa device, raising another hot topic question — privacy.
“Eighty percent of the mobile applications we use know our location. And that sounds scary but it’s also convenient,” she says. “I think a lot of us are willing to sacrifice some privacy for technology to make life easier for us. And that’s also why companies, large and small, are really betting on technology to transform themselves and drive innovation. Users want a digital experience that is simple, personalized, efficient and flexible.”
It’s become, what some would say, a necessary evil. With so much technology engrained in nearly every part of life, privacy concerns are often met with outrage or shrugged shoulders, which could be chalked up to a generational divide.
“Things like automation, artificial intelligence and Internet of things are here to stay. Whether in business or our personal lives, we have to be comfortable with it. Our kids are super comfortable with it. They talk to Alexa all the time,” she says.
And then, as if on cue, Alexa reminds Hernandez’ daughter it’s time to feed the dog.
To see the passion in Hernandez, get her talking about women, especially minority women, in technology. She’s a fierce advocate about getting more women into the field.
“Not only am I able to represent women in technology overall, but also by being a business owner, I can be an example to other women of what’s possible,” she says. “You can’t be what you can’t see.”
A 2019 report from American Express called State of Women-owned Businesses, which tracks the growing number of women starting and growing their businesses, found that women-owned businesses represent 42 percent of all business in the U.S., employing 9.4 million people and generating $1.9 trillion in revenue.
Women of color, including Latina-Americans, African-Americans and Asian-Americans, account for 50 percent of that 42 percent.
According to the same study, Latinas accounted for creating 31 percent of new women-owned businesses in 2018. However, there is still a significant size disparity between these businesses and others, and closing that gap will help the overall economy, not just women.
Hernandez says another disparity to look at is not just the number of businesses being opened and operated by Latinx, but how much money those firms make. A 2018 State of Latino Entrepreneurship report found that only 3 percent of Latino-owned companies generated at least $1 million in revenue in 2017.
All of this gives Hernandez inspiration to see her Latino and Latina counterparts thrive.
Particularly in the technology space, the research often shows it takes extra effort to get young girls interested in pursuing careers in technology, science and mathematics.
“There’s more awareness that there’s a need. There are still a lot of challenges. Studies say that by the age of 6 or 7 years old, girls believe this unconscious bias, from the way they grow up to the toys they get, they believe that STEM fields are not for them,” she says.
Hernandez brings her children all over the world with her to attend conferences.
In 2019, Hernandez and her family traveled to Singapore for the 10th annual Dell Women’s Entrepreneur Network Summit. “We want our kids to grow up multi-cultural. We made a vacation out of it. I love that I have the opportunity to provide these experiences for my kids.
All the exposure is working. Hernandez’ 9 year-old daughter is building a technology application and says she wants to work for NASA.
“Always be learning, be comfortable with change and get out of your comfort zone so you can take smart risks,” Hernandez says. “We don’t have to be good at everything. Focus on those things you can be exceptionally good at. Also, have a shared success mindset, the journey is more rewarding the more lives you impact along the way. Just go get it!” ♦