I speak at many conferences throughout the year, and I’m often asked for two things by conference organizers (besides a copy of my presentation): a photograph of me and my bio.
The photo I send them was taken almost 15 years ago. I keep waiting for someone to send it back to me with a simple “Are you kidding me?” in the subject line, but I haven’t gotten that email yet, so as long as I can get away with it, I’ll keep sending out that photo of a younger me.
My bio is your typical bio: it contains a summary of my work history and accomplishments, including my current role and responsibilities, and where I went to school, what professional organizations I belong to, and so on. What you won’t find in my bio, however, is that I am the son of Cuban immigrants, a bodeguero and his homemaker wife. There’s nothing in there about the years I lived above the family bodega, where my father and his brothers worked 14-hour days, and where I worked in the summers. My bio mentions that I have a degree from Cornell University, but it doesn’t say that my grandfather was illiterate, or that I am the first generation in my family to attend college, or even high school. And there’s no mention in my bio of me throwing up in kindergarten the first week of school because I didn’t know how to tell the teacher that my tummy hurt in English.
The fact of the matter is that I have never thought about the possible connections between my heritage and my career. The two have always been separate in my mind. So, when the folks at the Institute for Supply Management (ISM) invited me to moderate a panel discussion at its 6th Annual Hispanic and Latino Supply Management Summit, I gladly accepted — not because I am an expert on this topic, but because I am not. I was truly interested in exploring this topic further, and listening to what others had to say about it, especially the great panelists ISM had assembled:
- Angel L. Mendez, Senior Vice President, Cisco Transformation
- Nina Vaca, Founder and CEO, Pinnacle Technical Resources, and Chairman Emeritus, United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce
- Murillo C. Xavier, MBA, CPIM, Strategic Development Manager, Hewlett-Packard
In preparation for the event, I conducted some research and came up with the following discussion questions:
- How has your heritage helped you in your career? Are there cases where your heritage has hindered your career?
- Hispanics today account for almost 16 percent of the U.S. population, but only about 1 percent of executive positions in large corporations. Why do you think this leadership gap exists and how do we close it?
- In a Pew Research study from 2010, almost 1,400 Latinos were asked to name the person they consider “the most important Latino leader in the country today.” Nearly two-thirds (64 percent) of Hispanic respondents said they did not know. An additional 10 percent said “no one.” Are there any Latino leaders who you look up to, particularly in the business world? What influence, either directly or indirectly, have they had on your career? What can you and other current Latino leaders do to inspire and mentor the next generation of leaders in our field?
- As you look at all of the trends and opportunities associated with supply chain management, what are the key attributes (skills, experience, knowledge) a supply chain executive must have to be a successful leader? What advantages or disadvantages, if any, does a Hispanic professional have relative to these attributes?
- When it comes to Latinos and Hispanics, it’s very difficult to generalize. Does a Hispanic professional who speaks Spanish have an advantage over one who doesn’t? What about a third or fourth generation Hispanic-American versus a recent immigrant? Are there common attributes that all Hispanics share that are important to the success of our careers?
- What advice would you give to Hispanic professionals to help them achieve higher levels of success in their supply chain management careers?
It is impossible to summarize in a few words the great conversation we all had that day, including the many audience members who shared their thoughts and experiences too. It was one of those “you had to be there” moments that was truly inspirational. But I’ll share with you a few of my key takeaways:
First, a common thread between the panelists and many in the room was the important role our parents and families have played in shaping us as individuals and leaders. Simply put, our families are our inspiration, our most powerful role models, the ones who provide us with the strength and courage to pursue our dreams because they had the courage and strength to pursue theirs. The importance of family is not unique to Hispanics, but it’s certainly a defining characteristic of our heritage and culture.
Second, the way to close the leadership gap is through education and mentoring, starting all the way down at the elementary school level. We need to inspire and encourage Hispanic students to embrace math and science, which are the foundation for so many career opportunities, including supply chain management. And we need to share our knowledge, experience, and advice with young professionals — and inspire them through our actions and words — to help them pave a successful career path.
And third, the ability to speak multiple languages (and Spanish in particular) is a huge asset, and it’s becoming more important in the business world. This point hits close to home for me because even though I am bilingual, my children do not speak Spanish. I was too lazy and not disciplined enough to teach them, despite my wife encouraging me to do so. It’s not too late for them to learn, or for me to teach them, but the path would have been much easier if I had viewed speaking Spanish as “the most valuable gift I could give my children” (as my wife often put it) and had started the process much sooner.
After the panel session, I conducted a short interview with Murillo Xavier, where we discussed some of the questions above, including how being Latino has affected his career; his Latino role models in business; and his advice to students and young professionals looking to pave a successful career in supply chain management. Watch the short video below for a taste of what the full panel discussion was like.
The bottom line is that I believe my bio is fine the way it is. But I also recognize that what’s not in my bio — the stories and experiences of who I am and where I came from — has also played an important role in getting me to where I am in my career, even if I can’t adequately verbalize it.
What’s not in my bio matters, and it’s still being written.