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Be A Great Leader: Recognize Women in Your Network & See them Flourish

When I heard my name being called back to the stage after my presentation “Be A Great Leader,” I was confused. “Is she talking about me?” I asked one of the organizers sitting at my table. To my surprise, she was!

The “Be A Great Leader” event

I had just finished doing the keynote at the “Be A Great Leader” event organized by the Latino Networks Coalition (LNC,) a professional association that groups the Latino Business Resource Groups of most major global corporations based in the New York City area. A couple of LNC leaders went on stage right after me to recap the event and do the closing remarks. The final presenter talked about an award they were giving to a woman for her leadership in business and diversity and inclusion.  And then she called my name.

After her keynote at the Be A Great Leader event, the LNC team gave Mariela Dabbah an award recognizing her leadership

After her keynote at the Be A Great Leader event, LNC honored Mariela Dabbah for her leadership. From L to R: Jessica Asencio, Claudia Vazquez, Christian Narvaez, Roberto Peralta, Alicia García, Lisa Concepción, Jaime Fuertes, Hedda Bonaparte.

It’s not out of false modesty that I tell you I was completely surprised and moved. This was not like any other award and it made me think about the value of being seen by your colleagues. Let me explain.

I’ve known and collaborated with LNC members and the global companies they work for, for years. They’ve witnessed my career trajectory and have been impacted by my work as I’ve been impacted by theirs. And although it’s not the first time I received an award, I found it particularly inspiring that my peers would appreciate the value of what I do. In addition, I had been hired to do this presentation and the fact that they felt I still deserved an award on top of my speaker’s fee, made it much more valuable to me.

Receiving public recognition always reminds us that what we do affects others, and it motivates us to continue working hard. It says, “we see you, we see your effort.” And I hardly doubt that I’m the only one who feels this way.

The theme of the event was based on this post.
The leadership event took place at the Prudential Tower in Newark, NJ.

The leadership event took place at the Prudential Tower in Newark, NJ.

Some great leaders lead from behind

So, if I can get so emotional about being recognized by my peers, imagine how the great number of women who lead from behind and are seldom recognized feel? Those who don’t have access to public stages from which to showcase their efforts. Or those who impact their local community. Or the women who have been making things happen for so long that their work has become invisible and it’s being taken for granted. Are you giving them the recognition they deserve? Most likely the answer is no.

Part of being a great leader is to help develop and inspire others to be great leaders themselves. And advocating for women who deserve recognition to actually get it, is a sure way to encourage them to continue on their leadership journey.

The issue here is not building up people’s egos. It’s about the benefits public recognition brings with it. Specifically, exposure, validation, credibility, brand, and reputation building.

The more of all these things you have, the better the opportunities that come your way. So very concretely, when we don’t offer women the recognition they deserve, we negatively impact their careers. Not only because we deny them the chance to gain more exposure and validation but also because lack of recognition of one’s contributions eventually leads to frustration and disengagement. And I talk about women here, and particularly women of color, because they are frequently absent from top lists and awards.

Now, through the course of the year, businesses and professional organizations have many chances to recognize people in their ecosystems: their employees, partners, suppliers, clients, etc. Think about how much more committed and energized all your female (and male) stakeholders would be if they were recognized for their efforts, their influence, and their leadership?

Read about how powerful women lead in many different ways.
As great leaders its our job to recognize women.

As great leaders its our job to recognize women.

Be a great leader by recognizing women

Here is how you can play a pivotal role in increasing the inclusiveness of awards and recognitions being doled out:

  • Nominate women in your network for all sorts of leadership and professional awards and lists
  • Advocate for women’s nominations when you notice an uneven number of women applicants to any award or recognition opportunity
  • Be the first one to give women credit in public when credit is due
  • Elevate women’s achievements by providing larger platforms to showcase them
  • Question editors and creators of “Best” and “Top” lists that are disproportionately male
  • Offer to help editors or creators of such lists to diversify their networks in order to identify deserving women they’ve missed in the past

Most of all look closely at the people in your network who do amazing work and generally go unrecognized. A heartfelt “thank you” goes a long way to making them feel valued.

Powerful women lead in many ways: Adrienne Arsht proves it!

Powerful women are not only the CEO’s of their organizations but also philanthropists and deal-makers who exercise their influence behind the scenes. Adrienne Arsht has led both from the front and from the back throughout her career, depending on what the situation called for. Discover how she became a great influencer!

The making of a powerful woman

Powerful women like Adrienne Arsht use their influence in local and national issues

Powerful women like Adrienne Arsht use their influence in local and national issues

Adrienne Arsht is the daughter of the Honorable Roxana Cannon Arsht, the first female judge in the State of Delaware, and Samuel Arsht, a prominent Wilmington attorney. Upon graduation from Villanova Law School in 1966, Arsht was the 11th woman admitted to the Delaware bar – her mother having been the 5th. She began her Delaware law career with Morris, Nichols, Arsht & Tunnel.

In 1969, she moved to New York City and joined the legal department of Trans World Airlines (TWA). She then became the first woman in the company’s property, cargo and government relations departments.

She moved to Washington, DC in 1979 where she initially worked with a law firm, then started her own title company before moving to Miami in 1996 to run her family-owned bank, TotalBank. From 1996 to 2007, Adrienne served as Chairman of the Board of TotalBank. Under her leadership, the company grew from four locations to 14 with over $1.4 billion in assets. In November 2007, she sold the bank to Banco Popular Español and was named Chairman Emerita of TotalBank.

Powerful women take leading roles in civic and artistic organizations

Adrienne Arsht has been a generous patron of the arts for a long time. Here with Kevin Spacey.

Adrienne Arsht has been a generous patron of the arts for a long time. Here with Kevin Spacey.

But business has not been her only passion. As it’s often the case with powerful women (and men,) over the years she has taken a leading role promoting artistic, business and civic growth in the three cities she calls home: Washington, D.C., Miami and New York.

She is Founding Chairman of the Adrienne Arsht Center Foundation in Miami, Florida where her $30 million contribution to Miami’s Performing Arts Center in 2008 secured its financial footing and ensured quality cultural programming. In her honor, the Center was renamed the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts of Miami-Dade County.

Her support of the transformation of Lincoln Center’s facilities and public spaces was recognized with the dedication of the Adrienne Arsht Stage in Alice Tully Hall. Adrienne has recently spearhead the creation of the Adrienne Arsht Center for Resilience at The Atlantic Council where she also endowed the Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center in 2013 to focus on the role of South America in the trans-Atlantic world.

Over the years, Adrienne has generously donated funds and resources to numerous organizations. In 2008 she became the first, and still is, the only woman to join the Five Million Dollar Roundtable of United Way of Miami-Dade.

Adrienne Arsht, lawyer, businesswoman, philanthropist

Adrienne Arsht, lawyer, businesswoman, philanthropist

RSM: You’re a widely recognized patron of the arts. How did art enter your life and what makes it so important?

Adrienne Arsht: My passion for art comes from my parents. There was always music in the house. My mother played the piano.  I took piano and ballet lessons.  Every Saturday we would listen on the radio to the Texaco live broadcast of the Metropolitan Opera. I was fortunate to go to theater in Wilmington, Delaware and New York City to experience Broadway. I cannot imagine a world without the arts. When giving to the arts, you are preserving the essence of civilization for now and for hundreds of years to come. It is thrilling to know that a gift to the arts will be shared by people in a future we can’t even imagine. Art is part of who we are and helps define us. It has been treasured for centuries and will continue indefinitely.

RSM: Could you share the role philanthropy plays in your life?

AA: Philanthropy is not just about giving money – it is about giving one’s time as well. It is the footprint that we leave.

RSM: Many of your signature gifts have been to large performing arts complexes. Why have you chosen those as a focus of your philanthropy?

AA: A performing arts complex offers an extraordinary value to a city. It brings the arts in their many forms  to everyone of every generation and every interest. The Arsht Center has played a key role in the resurgence and transformation of the immediate area, the city of Miami and beyond.

Another powerful woman you should read about: Lisa Lutoff-Perlo!
Adrienne Arsht, one of the most powerful women in America, meets with Mexican president Peña Nieto in the context of her work with the Atlantic Council.

Adrienne Arsht, one of the most powerful women in America, meets with Mexican president Peña Nieto in the context of her work with the Atlantic Council.

RSM: You are very involved with causes in Latin America. What’s your motivation?

AA: In 1996, I moved to Miami to run TotalBank. After selling the bank in 2007, I moved back to Washington, DC. But, it became immediately clear to me that there was a need to find a way to integrate the interests of Latin America with Europe and the United States to shape the global future and create a broad community of common values. In 2013, this became a reality with the creation of the Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center at the Atlantic Council. This Center is dedicated to forging an effective Latin America-US-Europe partnership of common values and shared interests.  I am thrilled to spearhead an initiative that will embrace Latin America as an integral part of the transatlantic world and give this vibrant region the recognition it deserves.

Two powerful women: Adrienne Arsht and Christine Lagarde, Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund

Two powerful women: Adrienne Arsht and Christine Lagarde, Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund

RSM: Negotiating is an art in itself. What were some of the key takeaways from negotiating the sale of TotalBank, your family owned-bank to Banco Popular Español in 2007?

AA: One Word – Patience!

RSM: How would you describe your leadership style?

AA:

Don’t whine.

Life is not fair.

Just deal with it.

Humor and laughter.

Raised voices and four letter words do not get you anywhere!

RSM: Would you share with us one of the worst mistakes you made in your career and what you learn from it?

AA: I decided to reinvent Casual Friday and make it more a Dressed Up Friday based on our wonderful holiday party where everyone looked simply glamorous and festive. The idea was good but I had not taken into consideration how the employees would be able to do this. Coming to work on subways and buses or dropping children off at school would not work in party clothes. So lesson learned: When wanting to implement a new idea make sure you get full buy in on the project before putting it out there!

RSM: How do you want to be remembered?

AA: I want to be remembered as a good friend and someone who had courage. Our time on earth is a gift. We pay rent for the time on earth and that rent is how we give back. Making the world a better place is the basis for all I do. I learned these values from both my parents.

My Mother was compared to Joan of Arc – someone willing to die for a cause. I hope that I would do the same.

 

Lisa Lutoff-Perlo Leads 7 Seas With Innovation & Soft Touch

She’s as comfortable navigating Twitter as she is interacting with guests from all over the world on one of her luxury ships. Lisa Lutoff-Perlo, President and CEO of Celebrity Cruises, is the kind of inclusive, forward-thinking leader needed for the 21st century.

RSM Hall of Fame

RSM Hall of Fame

We met on Twitter, Lisa Lutoff-Perlo and I. A fact that speaks volumes about today’s most effective leaders and their need to stay connected. Very naturally, our conversation about female leadership moved off line. Lisa had hired the first American woman Captain of a mega ship, Kate McCue, and we wanted to interview her, which we did.

But hiring Captain Kate was just one more way in which Lisa Lutoff-Perlo showed her role as an innovator and disruptor in the industry. At work, she’s always challenging assumptions, looking for more creative ways to open up the world through travel, to help bridge the many divides we are facing as people.

That powerful drive to break the rules of her field was behind the development and launch of next-generation cruise ships that Lisa led twice. Most recently, the just revealed Edge-Class, a completely new type of cruise ship experience.

Outside of work Lisa is constantly inspiring girls and women to dream differently. As she shares her own story of self-limiting dreams, you’ll see why she’s adamant about passing on the learnings. Lisa Lutoff-Perlo, a true role model for the Red Shoe Movement Hall of Fame.

Lisa Lutoff-Perlo talks about her job

Lisa Lutoff-Perlo, President & CEO, Celebrity Cruises

Lisa Lutoff-Perlo, President & CEO, Celebrity Cruises, is an innovative leaders who is constantly reinventing her industry.

What is the hardest part of your job and why?  

I have the best job in the world, so it is hard for me to say there is a hardest part. I think, though, it is fair to say that there are things about any job that make it particularly difficult. For me, the hardest part of my job are the things I can’t control. Geo-political events that disrupt people’s desire to vacation in the amazing parts of the world we visit and issues that can arise when something mechanical happens to one of our ships. After all, they are vessels that, like our automobiles and despite the best maintenance in the world, can have something happen. Given that I am also the head of our entire corporate Global Marine Organization as well as President and CEO of Celebrity Cruises, I do have to ensure that our $45B of assets are running smoothly, safely and efficiently. I count myself very fortunate that I work with an amazing team of professionals who make the hardest parts of my job as easy as possible.

What aspects of the job of a CEO did you not expect as you were advancing in your career?

I didn’t expect to feel the overwhelming outpouring of support that I received when I was appointed to this position – both internally and externally. Nor did I expect to feel the immense gratitude each day for the people around me, who support the vision that we share for our guests, our crew and our brand. We live every day to open the world for those who want to join us as we explore each of the seven continents in modern luxury. We open the world so that people can experience different cultures and places. We also live every day to break down barriers that divide us. When I am on our ships and either meet our guests or watch our crew from over 60 countries taking care of each other and our guests I am filled with an unspeakable pride and grateful to know that I have the ability to create experiences that truly change people’s lives. I had not anticipated the magnitude of that. The other thing I did not expect is the opportunity and platform I have as a woman in this role to “pay it forward” and give back. That is another thing I wake up every day determined to do as I take that responsibility very seriously.

Lisa Lutoff-Perlo with Captain Kate McCue and the crew take a selfie

Lisa Lutoff-Perlo with Captain Kate McCue and the crew take a selfie

What Was Lisa Lutoff-Perlo Major Career Mistake?

Tell us about one major screw up in your career and what you learned from it?     

My one major screw up in my career was in limiting my aspirations. See, my professional goal was always to be the head of sales. It’s what I dreamed of and I campaigned for each day. Then my world and dreams came crashing down when the SVP of Sales & Marketing at the time decided to move me into a marketing role. I was absolutely devastated and he knew it. I felt crushed. That I would never achieve my dream of being head of sales. But he also knew what I didn’t know. That it would be one of the best career moves of my life. He saw more in me than I saw in myself. And that’s something very hard to accept at the time when it’s happening. That perhaps this other person sees more potential in you than you see in yourself or that they can see your career trajectory much farther out than you can imagine. The rest is history as I moved from one position to another and finally as the President & CEO of Celebrity. I learned that you have to go where your career takes you, be flexible, be open for change, and never ever limit what you think you can achieve. All of the experience and knowledge I gained along the way gave me the foundation I needed for my current role and has made me a better CEO.

Lisa Lutoff Perlo inspirational quote RSM Hall of Fame

Lisa Lutoff Perlo inspirational quote RSM Hall of Fame

What is the best way to engage the executive men in an organization to support their female colleagues’ growth opportunities?

I happen to work in an organization that values diversity of all kinds. Being the only woman on the Executive Committee gives me a unique opportunity to ensure that we are always thinking about and promoting diversity. I have always said that having a woman at the table enriches and changes the conversation in a way that is powerful. I am fortunate that my male colleagues agree. And I have a VP of Marine Operations who has increased the percentage of women on our nautical team from 5% 18 months ago to almost 20% today. I am fortunate to work with people who share a common vision. And you need to hire for that.

Launching a new ship class- Lisa Lutoff-Perlo does it again!

Lisa Lutoff-Perlo led the development of the Edge Class, a ship that completely changes de travel experience.

Lisa Lutoff-Perlo led the development of the Edge Class, a ship that completely changes de travel experience.

Ten years ago you launched the Solstice Class. This March you launched the Edge Class. What does it take to bring a project like that to fruition?

Launching ANYTHING new has its own unique challenges. For the Edge launch, I had a few key objectives. This new Class of ships had to transform Celebrity and the industry. And it had to transform the financial performance of my Brand. All of the feedback and booking activity has validated that mission was accomplished. From the design to the engineering and technology, we threw away the rulebook and took away every barrier for the sake of creating the most refined ship ever built. It took vision, determination, resilience and a village of outstanding people on my team and across our organization to make Edge happen. And a Chairman (my boss) who supported us every step of the way. We did it, I can’t wait for guests to be able to enjoy the fruits of our labor, and I can’t tell you how.

Follow Lisa Lutoff-Perlo on Twitter.

 

In Historically Male Occupation, Ilya Marotta Leads Panama Canal Expansion

Her pink safety helmet and vest have become iconic in a a historically male occupation. Ilya Espino de Marotta is the Panamanian engineer who led the execution of the Panama Canal Expansion Program. Get inspired!

RSM Hall of Fame

RSM Hall of Fame

The new Panama Canal was inaugurated June 2016. An engineering feat that enables cargo ships with a capacity of more than double the current one, to pass between the Atlantic and the Pacific, which substantially reduces transportation costs of goods. Today we spoke with the leader of the project. An interview that will change your perspective on what you can or cannot achieve even when you enter a historically male occupation or field. This is why Ilya Marotta is in the Red Shoe Movement Hall of Fame.

The first Step towards a traditionally male career

RSM Hall of Fame 2017 honoree: Ilya Marotta, Executive Vice President, Panama Canal Authority

RSM Hall of Fame 2017 honoree: Ilya Marotta, Executive Vice President, Panama Canal Authority

What awoke in you an interest for engineering? How did you start your career?

I had won a Fulbright scholarship to study marine biology in the U.S. The ocean is a passion of mine. I loved to scuba dive and I loved Jacques Cousteau. A year and a half after returning to Panama, when I saw the work opportunities in Marine Biology weren’t the best, I decided to change careers. I gave up the scholarship because it was for that specialty at a specific university. So, I started to look for schools in the U.S. that had careers that would have something to do with the ocean and ships.. I was always very good at math and physics and I chose Marine Engineering because I was going to work with ships. My father told me he would only pay for four years of college and I wouldn’t have the three summers required for the sail practice. I chose a school that wouldn’t require me to sail in order to get my degree. So that’s how I applied and got accepted to Texas A&M University, which would give me the Marine Biology degree without the sailing requirement. So, I ended up studying Marine Engineering not because it was my passion but because it was close to the ocean. Once I graduated and came to Panama and started to work on the Repairing Dock of the Floating Equipment of the Panama Canal, however I fell in love with my career. It was very gratifying to design something in the office, go to the workshops where they built it, and then seeing the ship in operation with design I had made.

We could say then that you came into this career path from the sideways and you found the pleasure in it along the way.

Of course! 30 years ago we had a different mindset. Today we value choosing something that you are passionate about and that you enjoy doing. But at that time it was more like: “You have to get a job”. It was a more traditional system. So I started with what inspired me (Marine Biology), and I changed to a more practical career (Marine Engineering.)

And did you have the support of your parents, especially your father, to pursue what at that time (even more than today) was seen as a historically male occupation?

Yes, 100%. Both parents supported my choice at all times.

In a historically male occupation, Ilya Marotta inspires women in the workplace

In a historically male occupation, Ilya Marotta inspires women in the workplace

The role of sponsors in a historically male occupation

As you progressed in your career, what do you think was the role played by sponsors? Do you think they are an important factor to reach the highest levels in a male dominated profession?

It’s what paves the way, especially in a profession where there are no women. If I had not had the support of my various bosses at different stages, I would not have been able to get to where I am. The way I won the support of these sponsors is with dedication, work, ethics and transparency. Once your boss sees your professional skills, it opens opportunities.

All the people who have given me opportunities for promotion have been men. So sponsors are definitely needed, but their support is earned by the work one does.

Leading the Panama Canal Expansion, Ilya Marotta broke gender barriers in historically male occupation

Leading the Panama Canal Expansion, Ilya Marotta broke gender barriers in historically male occupation

Overcoming obstacles

What were the most important obstacles you had to overcome in your career?

I remember that when I was in the repair dam, a professional diver position for the Canal opened. I was a professional diver. I had done outside diving jobs, and I applied for the job but they did not fill it. Officially they told me that they were not going to fill the post at that time, but I knew they did not want to pick me because I was a woman. But you overcome those obstacles and learn from them. It has happened to me in other positions where I wasn’t chosen because of company politics. You have to make yourself known, because otherwise you do not move. In order to get to my current position I had to have the support of my direct boss, and my boss’ boss, because it was a position ratified by the board. One of the administrators at the time was very candid and told me that these positions are not reached by merit and professional ability. You also have to do a little lobbying. I was fortunate that my boss did the lobbying for me.

Ilya Marotta inspires you to take on challenges to prove yourself

Ilya Marotta inspires you to take on challenges to prove yourself

Advantages of women in a traditionally male profession

The expansion of the Panama Canal must have been one of the biggest challenges an engineer can face. In a male-dominated profession what do you think was your advantage as a woman to carry it out successfully?

You have to have a lot of emotional intelligence. You can’t take things personally. It is a big project, and you have to deal with many people, many contractors, and in this type of projects problems always come up. Things are not easy and simple. So when something happens, you have to look at it from both points of view: Your own and the contractor’s. I think I had the ability not to take things personally. To think that they are just situations and everyone is defending their own interests. Throughout this process of many years that we have been at work on this project, I had the ability to negotiate and be conciliatory.

In a male dominated occupation, Ilya Espino de Marotta has shattered the glass ceiling

In a male dominated occupation, Ilya Espino de Marotta has shattered the glass ceiling

What do you think is the impact of resilience, a trait that is abundant in Latin American people and particularly in women?

It is extremely important because you cannot let failures or errors discourage you. You have to always go forward, have the ability to overcome obstacles. What I always tell people is that they shouldn’t do something to prove anything to anyone. Do it because it is what you want and because you want to prove yourself that you can do it. I did not choose this career to show anyone that women can do it. I chose this career because it was something that caught my attention and I wanted to climb its ranks because I like it.

I have seen some photos in which you wear a pink helmet and vest, which highlights what is evident: that you are woman in a male occupation. What has been the effect?

It has been fantastic! Although in the beginning I did it to prove to myself that I could reach this position. In Panama women in traditionally male professions have proliferated but reaching a high rank in a male dominated career is very hard. So when I was in NY, at one of my son’s medical checkups, I told my husband, “I feel like I should buy myself a pink helmet to show that a woman can get to this position.” I saw it in a catalog and I ordered it. Now it has become an icon and fills me with pride for what that helmet represents for many other women. I get messages from women who tell me that they have sent the photo to their 9-year-old daughters saying, “Look at how women can reach leadership positions.” It was not planned, but the result has been nice. It sets you high standards, because now people expect more from me. I have to show that it’s doable, no longer just for me, but for those who see me as hope for themselves, as an example.

Ilya Marotta supports #RedShoeTuesday

Ilya Marotta supports #RedShoeTuesday

Advice for young people and women interested in entering a historically male occupation

What advice would you give to a young woman today who is deciding on her choice of career or study?

Definitely do something that you are passionate about. I had the blessing that although Marine Engineering was not my first love, over time I found in my profession something that fulfills me and I am passionate about. When you do something that you like, it brings out the best in you. Also, do not be afraid of challenges or changes. Whenever you get a chance, never think that you cannot do it. When I applied to different positions, maybe I did not know everything that they asked for, but I knew I could learn it. Finally, be a transparent person, treat everyone equally, be the same person in all environments where you work.

Any particular advice for those women who are thinking of entering historically male dominated fields?

Don’t take offense at everything in a world of men because they have their way of managing themselves and of being with each other. You cannot expect them to change for you. You have to adapt, as long as they respect you. For example, if they joke in a certain way, don’t get scandalized, unless of course, it’s something that refers to you. I learned how to deal with that, and so I earned men’s respect. It’s not about becoming a man either. I’m happy with them giving me their seat or opening the door for me. It’s about making it so you can coexist like men and women together pleasantly. And trying to be conciliatory, rather than antagonistic, that has also helped me a lot in my professional career.

Connect with Ilya Marotta via Twitter @MarottaIlya

Alexia Keglevich: A CEO With Effective Red Shoes

Alexia Keglevich is the Global CEO of ASSIST-CARD. Today she reveals her journey from messenger at age 16 to CEO of the world’s leading travel assistance company.

RSM Hall of Fame

RSM Hall of Fame

Her offices in a smart building in Buenos Aires never keep her away from the reality of her clients. Alexia Keglevich travels all over the world visiting the 36 countries where her company operates, to evangelize a culture of help, from human being to human being, in which she deeply believes. Upon learning of my plans to go from her offices in the neighborhood of Saavedra to my next appointment in downtown Buenos Aires, Alexia Keglevich (or Alexia as she prefers to be called,) arranged for Abel, her personal assistant, to take me. “We’re here to help,” she said as if it where the most natural thing to do.

From the various positions she has held in the company, Alexia Keglevich has played a transcendental role for the consolidation and expansion of the business. At 16 she joined ASSIST-CARD, the company founded by her father, as a messenger. Her ability and desire for improvement led her to launch and develop the Marketing and Advertising area of the company. For 10 years she held different positions within the organization, specializing in new product development and in the design of commercial strategies. She also led the expansion of the business to Southeast Asia.

RSM Hall of Fame Alexia Keglevich Poster

RSM Hall of Fame Alexia Keglevich Poster

After leaving the company for a few years and continuing her professional development at Banco Río (now Santander Río) as credit cards leader, in 2000 Alexia returned to ASSIST-CARD as Executive Director. In 2006 she was appointed CEO for all global operations. Since her return, the company has multiplied its sales eight times, diversified its lines of business, and developed new sales channels, products and services.

In 2014 she was recognized by the Latin Business Chronicle magazine (LBC) in their annual ranking of “The Top 50 Executive Women of Latin America.” And today she’s in the Red Shoe Movement Hall of Fame!

Alexia Keglevich holds a degree from the Universidad Argentina de la Empresa (UADE) and an MBA in Business Management from the IAE Business School.

Getting to know Alexia Keglevich

What personal characteristics make you an effective leader?

Perseverance and intensity. I am an eternal dreamer. I am convinced that anything is possible. Also, I think I have a contagious energy, which makes people follow me because they see me in continuous movement. The key to success is listening and talking to everyone in the company and approaching the “other” in a way that you are a peer side to side. That way, it’s easier and more rewarding to understand the situation or the ask of the other person. The ability to empathize, and to be sensitive also forge the type of leadership personality with which I identify. Leading by example is critical. Being consistent in what you do and what you say is basic.

Alexia Keglevich partners with TECHO organization to build homes for the less fortunate

Alexia Keglevich partners with TECHO organization to build homes for the less fortunate

What were some of the hard and soft skills you had to learn to become a CEO?

Hard: I had to learn all the financials of the company and the P&L, which bores me. But for this position I have to understand that since it’s a necessary aspect that I must master to make informed decisions (aside from the advice given by my collaborators, and specialists in this area.) Soft: I cultivated these skills as I went. I don’t know if a leader is born or made. I think it’s a combination of what your life and your experiences. Maybe you could be a leader as a kid and maybe something happened that prevented you from having the capacity to lead.

Personally, I was marked by the period of 1994 -1995 when I went to open ASSIST- CARD in Asia where the majority of the population was Muslim. That opened my mind early on and gave me the ability to adapt, which I don’t think I would have without these experiences. Just imagine, at that time I had to organize the entire trip and meetings via fax, without knowing before arriving at the scheduled meeting if it would come to pass or if it was canceled. Technology without a doubt is certainly a great ally for these issues (and many others.)

That made me grow a lot and have a ton of experiences. It taught me to be humble. I was 25 years old, and arrived to an unknown country where I would try to get customers, sell my services, etc. In addition, I was also a very young mom and that in itself gave me the ability to understand certain situations early on in life. Things were not easy. Coordinating family and my career… I learned in the school of hard knocks.

Alexia Keglevich has an open door policy. "I believe in been a peer. Standing side by side with every one"

Alexia Keglevich has an open door policy. “I believe in been a peer. Standing side by side with every one”

Successful negotiation according to Alexia Keglevich

How did you learn to negotiate?

One of the greatest negotiators I met in my life was my father. He taught me a lot! Now, when I see myself in the very moment of a negotiation, I see in myself many aspects of my dad when he was in those situations. With the great distinction that I am a woman, which has allowed me and continues to allow me to use my femininity as an advantage, and not a disadvantage. For me, entering as the only woman in a meeting is an advantage. I think I’m an excellent negotiator. I am clear on what I want to achieve, what I am willing to concede, and what I’m not.

What are some of the negotiation strategies that have worked for you the best at the highest levels?

Alexia Keglevich, CEO, ASSIST-CARD in her office at a green-building in Buenos Aires.

Alexia Keglevich, CEO, ASSIST-CARD in her office at a green-building in Buenos Aires.

Knowing perfectly where I want to go, what I’m willing to give up and what I’m not. Having a plan of action. Imagining myself in the negotiation. Doing a little role-playing in my head. It’s something very personal. What happens if you tell me something, how will I react and what will my offer be.

Can you project executive presence and maintain a feminine style? Tell us how.

Absolutely. It’s true that women have another sensitivity. We have an ability to multitask that is not easy to find in a man. Historically women have done the multitasking so that the ability to have your mind on several things at once is particular to women.

Sometimes women are self-limiting when they think about the family because they ask themselves: “What do I do? Do I have children now or later?” You can plan your family and grow in your work environment. One thing, though. You have to make it clear to the bosses because there is a preconception that a 30 year old woman will want to have children, and so she is not offered opportunities. They don’t even ask her if she wants it. You have to be upfront about it.

I read an interview where you commented that during the time you started working on ASSIST-CARD for your dad, his expectations for you were very high. And you said that at that time you became a perfectionist. How has perfectionism affected you in a positive and negative way?

I am an eternal perfectionist. I permanently question the status quo because I am convinced that we can always be better. It probably comes from when my father was the CEO of ASSIST-CARD. When I joined the company at age 16, he told me: “You have to be much better than the best, because you have to set the example and because you are my daughter.” If I came in a minute late, he made me lose the bonus that represented 80% of my salary.

Is it good to be a perfectionist? On the one hand it helps me because I’m in constant improvement mode. And on the other, the negative part, is that I demand of my environment as much as I demand of myself. That can cause teams to become frustrated because I ask more and more and the team that is giving their maximum feels that nothing is good enough.

Faced by bad news, the thought that helps me to get ahead and not to succumb is to think of how others have come out of worse situations. This helps me strengthen myself and come out ready to act with tactics that will allow me to get out of that bad situation. Holding on to that thought is crucial to getting out of any personal or professional crisis.

Raised to seek perfection, Alexia Keglevich is always looking for ways to improve.

Raised to seek perfection, Alexia Keglevich is always looking for ways to improve.

Alexia Keglevich on organizational culture

What are some of the most effective strategies you have implemented to accelerate the growth of women in your organization?

We are more women than men. However my direct reports, the C-level, are all men. The third line is more women than men.

Since I took lead in the company, machismo as a norm has disappeared. At the time my father was leading, there were no fathers taking their son to a school event, or to a doctor. That was what women did. Now, both men and women have a duty to care for their children, so the request to “go out for a school event” is even. For us the family is a critical support system of our people. If the family is not happy with the person working at ASSIST-CARD that employee will not be happy. I try to make sure that male collaborators are sensitive to the demands placed on women. I talk a lot from the heart. Not from the formality of a leader. I am Alexia. I hate being called CEO or when people call me by my last name.

I believe that this sensitive and from-the-heart part is what will serve us through this tough time of full-time technology, which is already here and will continue to grow. There won’t be any robot that gets excited like we do. I can no longer stand calling in to a customer service center in the U.S. and getting a robot. Something that is increasingly used because of costs. It is much more important to be “hearts tending hearts” than to be “robots tending hearts.”

Alexia Keglevich speaking at X Extreme. Always speaking up for equality and inclusion.

Alexia Keglevich speaking at X Extreme. Always speaking up for equality and inclusion.

How do you use technology to maintain the culture of the organization even when ASSIST-CARD was bought by an American company, Starr International?

The sale of ASSIST-CARD was the most important negotiation of life. And within that negotiation one of the things that I negotiated was to keep the culture of the company free of any external culture. This part of the negotiation is the one I’m most proud of. And I did it directly with Maurice R. Greenberg, Chairman and CEO of Starr International. He understood that this company was different and that its greatest asset is its culture. We love helping. We love what we do. No one can come work for us if they don’t want to help.

We handle 36 countries from Argentina. Bringing our culture to all these places is becoming increasingly difficult, but the culture is becoming ever more important. Technology is a great ally, although nothing replaces the “face to face”. Nothing replaces being in the other person’s red shoes. In every trip I make I sit down with the salesmen, the couriers who travel on motorcycles, the people who serve coffee. Each city has a different reality but the culture must be the same. I have groups in Whatsapp so I can talk to everyone of our employees. I send voice messages so they can hear my tone. Technology helps to continue to expand and evangelize the values that make the organizational culture of ASSIST-CARD.

You can follow Alexia Keglevich on Twitter.