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Twelve Who Are Leading The Way

We celebrate a dozen top Latino executives who have reached the corporate suite

By Jens Erik Gould

STORY TOOLS

Steep and perilous is the road to the modern day C-Suite, even more so for Hispanic professionals who may lack the long-standing familial, institutional and nepotistic advantages of those whose bloodlines trace back more than three or four generations. It goes without saying that a group of individuals whose families have only recently emigrated to a country would be underrepresented in the top spots of private enterprise, populated as it is with the children of the elite and others who received a good start.

The names on this list represent just that—a good start. Considering that Hispanic influence in the CEO position nationally was all but non-existent just 30 years ago, the fact that we can point to these paragons of corporate success as beacons for the next generation is a positive. Innovative minds like that of George Paz, who worked his way from rural farm town to running the industry-leading pharmacy processing service, and hardworking dynamos like Robert Sanchez, who runs transportation giant Ryder System, have lessons to teach for ambitious Hispanics—or anyone, really—who aspires to the top rungs of the business world. Let’s hear what they have to say.

Robert Sanchez
Ryder System, Inc., Chief Executive Officer and President

Robert Sanchez's parents came to the United States from Cuba 50 years ago with just a few dollars. What his father did pass to him, Sanchez says, is a strong work ethic that helped him master nearly every facet of Ryder's operations. At first, Sanchez wasn't sure he wanted to go into transportation. But when he was offered a job at Ryder, his wife told him she thought he would learn to love trucks. "She was right," he says.

Sanchez, 47, began as an IT specialist, then moved to finance, asset management, transportation management and was CFO during the recent financial crisis. Now as CEO of the Fortune 500 company, Sanchez loves the opportunity to find new solutions to customers' challenges. "The most important thing I can do to support that goal is listen to our employees and listen to our customers."
What fascinates Sanchez most about Ryder is how it drives the economy without people even knowing. Ryder's trucks help transport other companies' products, making it a crucial component of commerce.

"The razor you use in the morning was likely distributed and transported through a distribution network fully managed and operated by Ryder," he says. "Ryder is really operating undercover in most aspects of the economy."

Paul Raines
GameStop CEO

Paul Raines, CEO of the world's largest multi-channel video game retailer, spent much of his childhood in the Barrio Cordoba area of San Jose, Costa Rica. The son of a Costa Rican mother and American father says the neighborhood with barred windows and kids playing street soccer wasn't an easy environment. "I had a funny name and wasn't as good a soccer player as everyone else," Raines says. "I had to assimilate."

That experience, coupled with growing up in a military family, motivated Raines, now 49, to accept change, a willingness that helped him on his way to running a Fortune 500 company. An industrial engineer, Raines' work history includes stints at a potato chip factory, in merchandising, home improvement and now in video games. "You get used to a lot of change and it's not that scary," he says.
Now he's applying that wisdom at GameStop. While four years ago the company was only in the console business, these days it's adapting to a transforming market due to the power of mobile gaming. The company operates websites, conducts digital sales and is in constant talks with startups in Silicon Valley about possible new acquisitions. Raines also knows that the company's success has a profound impact on its employees. "The best part of my job is seeing our team grow," Raines says.

Gerardo "Gerry" Lopez
AMC Entertainment, CEO and President

The experience of being an immigrant can be tough, and for Gerardo "Gerry" Lopez it fostered a mentality that inspires him to push through adversity and build success. The CEO of AMC Entertainment said as much in an interview with Mary Sanchez published in PODER last year. "It's a drive and, to me, gives you a mental attitude that allows you to tolerate a lot of discomfort," he said.

Lopez, 54, was born in Oriente, Cuba six months before Fidel Castro took power. Soon after, his family left for the United States. He earned his bachelor's in business from George Washington University and an MBA at Harvard. He then took on management roles at several companies, including Frito-Lay, Pepsi, Procter & Gamble and International Home Foods. Starbucks Coffee Company made him an executive vice president, and in that capacity he led the company's global growth strategy.

After taking over the CEO spot at AMC in 2009, he led talks to complete the $2.6 billion purchase of AMC by Dalian Wanda Group, China's largest entertainment company. The blockbuster deal created the world's largest cinema owner and ushered in a new era for Chinese-Hollywood relations. Not a bad destination from such humble beginnings.

Cesar Conde
Univision Networks President

Of course, it's a big deal to be president of the leading media company for Hispanic America. But it's even bigger at a time when the burgeoning population and growing political weight of Latinos has made Hispanic media more important than ever before.

Cesar Conde told PODER in a 2009 interview that Univision could become the country's number one network in any language. It's possible. Univision's ratings have been strong since Conde took over as CEO, while its Engilsh-language counterparts are struggling.

Conde's experience can help him get there. The son of a Peruvian-born father and Cuban mother, Conde, 39, has worn many hats at the company, from interim president of Univision Interactive Media to vice president of Galavision Network, from vice president of corporate development to vice president of sales and business development. ABC and Univision are now launching a joint venture news and lifestyle network for U.S. Hispanics called Fusion.

Conde doesn't only focus on the success of his company, recognizing that helping Latino youth is key for local communities and the nation as a whole. He's chairman and co-founder of the Futuro Program, a non-profit providing workshops for Latino high school students.

Gloria Santona
McDonald's Executive Vice President, General Counsel and Secretary

It's no small feat to be the chief legal officer of the world's leading global food service retailer with restaurants in 118 countries. Gloria Santona is in charge of the company's worldwide legal, regulatory, compliance and corporate governance issues. As part of the company's senior leadership team, Gloria Santona also contributes to McDonald's strategies for growth.

To get there, Santona, 63,  drew upon the qualities of persistence and curiosity that she developed growing up in Indiana with a mother who came of age in Cuba. "Growing up as I did in a very multicultural environment was great for me," Santona says. "The idea that I could learn how to be an effective negotiator with people who were very different from me was big when I was starting out."

After graduating from law school, she interviewed for a job at McDonald's. She was offered the position within 24 hours and has been with the company ever since. Now, Santona's challenges include making sure the company is complying with laws all around the world amid seemingly-constant regulatory change, and figuring out how to navigate the legal impact of social media.

Oscar Muñoz
CSX Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer

Oscar Muñoz, 54, grew up in a working class family in Southern California where education as a vehicle for upward mobility wasn't a huge priority. "My Dad was a meat cutter," says Muñoz, whose family is originally from the Ciudad Juarez area of Mexico. "He had no education past high school. The expectation was that I would graduate high school, get a job, get married and live happily ever after." That changed when a high school counselor asked Muñoz where he was going to college. Muñoz wasn't even sure what college entailed. But he applied, got a full-ride and was on his way. That experience has motivated Muñoz to help young Latino students now that he’s successful. He has set up his own foundation that has helped 67 kids go to junior college, trade school and even Juilliard.

At work, he has been just as motivated. As COO, Muñoz has helped boost transportation supplier CSX's market cap from $6 billion in 2003 to almost $24 billion today. "It's one of the more significant turnarounds of not just a company, but an entire industry," Muñoz says. "It was a strategic focus on making railroad stocks sexy again. We have an incredible ability to really support the American economy."

Josue Roxbles
USAA CEO

Banking and insurance giant USAA has been ranked tops in the country for customer loyalty by many groups. Owning or managing assets of $182 billion, the company, founded in San Antonio in 1922, has served military families for nearly a century and is best known for its excellent service. In fact, its motto is "Service to the Services." It has 9.4 million members, which includes 96 percent of active duty officers. Josue Robles was one of those officers.

He was born in Puerto Rico, was the eldest of nine children and served in the U.S. Army for 28 years, in active duty posts in Germany, Korea, Vietnam and in Operation Desert Storm. He has received numerous medals and honors, including the Christian Science Monitor’s “No. 1 Veteran in Business.” Robles, 66, wears several hats as well: he’s chairman of the Christus Santa Rose Health System, and serves on the boards of the American Red Cross and the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, San Antonio branch. And he did all this without the family precedent of higher education. His father quit school in the 4th grade to help support his family, while his mother stopped after the 9th grade.

George Paz
Express Scripts CEO

George Paz leads Express Scripts, a company that manages the pharmacy benefits for health plans for more than 100 million Americans and helps keep down the cost of prescription drugs.
Paz, 57, is a presence to those in the sector. Ranked number 24 in the Fortune 500 in 2013, Express Scripts became the largest company in its industry measured by retail prescription claims when it bought Medco Health Solutions last year.

Express Scripts stock rose 21 percent in 2012, and Paz’s compensation rose 50 percent in value that year, according to the Wall Street Journal. Paz comes from humble beginnings: he grew up in a rural, farming community and was attracted to business because it seemed to offer a different kind of life. “I remember seeing people like Ward Cleaver on television coming home from jobs in business and leading a different kind of life, and it looked very attractive to me,” Paz told PODER earlier this year.

Paz has been with the company since 1998 and was named CEO in 2005 after serving as senior vice president and chief financial officer. He’s also on the board of directors for Honeywell and has a bachelor’s in business from the University of Missouri—St. Louis.

Darren Rebelez
7-Eleven Executive Vice President & CoO

As COO of the world's largest convenience store chain, Darren Rebelez is a crucial component of 7-Eleven's aggressive growth plan. He oversees the company's strategy to add new stores to the around 7,600 it already had in 2011 in the U.S. and Canada. He also manages the company's facilities, construction and maintenance programs, as well as being responsible for the company's gasoline business, asset protection and business transformation projects. He's also in charge of a plan to franchise the some 1,000 U.S. stores that are still company-operated.

Previously, Rebelez, 47, was in charge of ExxonMobil's distributor fuels pricing program and franchising for its convenience operation called On the Run. He was also vice president of merchandising for Thornton Oil Corp., leading the company's strategic planning, marketing and category management. Rebelez is a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, has an MBA from the University of Houston and a bachelor's degree in engineering. Most recently, Rebelez has called on thousands of franchises to review their hiring practices after nine 7-Eleven franchise owners and managers were indicted by federal authorities for alleged identity theft and immigrant exploitation.

Ralph de la Vega
AT&T Mobility President & CEO

Many people shy away from facing obstacles. Not Ralph de la Vega. The Cuban-born CEO of AT&T Mobility relishes challenges because they’ve been his keys to success. When de la Vega was little and his family decided to leave Cuba after Castro took power, the authorities would only let Ralph depart, making his parents remain. He spent four years in the United States without his parents or much money. “Going through that ordeal was one of the most challenging things I had to overcome,” he says.

He learned persistence. In high school he wanted to become an engineer, but a  counselor told him he should instead become a mechanic. His grandmother inspired him to stick to his guns. “Don’t let anybody put limitations on what you can achieve,” de la Vega says. That philosophy translated to his job. It was a challenge to be president of Bell South Latin America during upheavals such as the Argentine economic crisis, guerrilla warfare in Colombia and a coup in Venezuela. But de la Vega saw it as an opportunity. And as COO of Cingular Wireless, many people thought his company’s purchase of AT&T Wireless would be a losing bet. They said it again when AT&T lost exclusivity of the iPhone. But they were wrong. De la Vega, 61, faced the challenges and won. It’s no surprise that he wrote a book titled Obstacles Welcome.

Joe Echevarria
Deloitte LLP CEO

For Joe Echevarria, 56, nothing came easy in life. Echevarria grew up without many resources in a single-parent home in the South Bronx. Fast-forward to the present and he’s responsible for some 60,000 professionals in 90 U.S. cities and India, he often speaks to top media outlets like CNBC and the Wall Street Journal, and is an active panelist in Washington.

To find out how he got there, one can look at the advice he wrote his daughter Nicole one Father’s Day, later posted on the Lean In blog, the site run in conjunction with Facebook executive Sherly Sandberg's book of the same name.

“Regardless of what profession you choose or how you spend your life—do it with a sense of purpose and design, or risk cheating yourself,” he writes. Second, he advised his daughter to be flexible amid life’s many twists and turns. “When you see something that you know is right, pursue it too,” he said. “Even if it means a change in direction.” And lastly, Echevarria told her it was important not to compare her life with those of others, but rather to recognize she controls her own life. One of his favorite sayings says it all: “The best way to predict the future is to create it.”

Henry Cisneros
CityView, Founder & Chairman

When Henry Cisneros, 64, was mayor of San Antonio in the 80s, he realized that what he enjoyed more than anything was "watching progress for the city come out of the ground in the form of physical development." It's no surprise that Cisneros later became Bill Clinton's Secretary of Housing and Urban Development where his work on public housing issues drew wide acclaim. In 2000 he founded a company called American City Vista, now called CityView. With main offices in Los Angeles,  CityView describes itself as one of the nation's top institutional investment firms focused on urban real estate. It is responsible for billions of dollars in urban investment in 60 communities across 12 states. Targeting housing that middle-class families can afford, the company provides homes for firefighters, teachers, civil service workers and artists. Investors include banks, private corporations and funds.

Cisneros, who lives in San Antonio, doesn't expect to retire.

"I concluded that this is what I wanted to do for the rest of my life," he says. "The highlight of my life these days are those Saturday mornings when we open a new development and I'm able to see families get housing they'd never imagine they would."

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