Ismael Cala: A Natural Motivator Who Stays Humble Despite Success

He defines himself as “life and human development strategist,” an unusual title that very accurately describes Ismael Cala today.

RSM Hall of Fame

RSM Hall of Fame

One of the traits that makes Ismael Cala unique is that he is constantly evolving. This journalist, interviewer, best-selling author, international lecturer, globe-trotter and born inspirer goes through life defining and strengthening his purpose. Helping others find theirs. Since we met him in the interviewer’s chair on his TV show “Cala” on CNN, the Cuban-Canadian has had an amazing journey.

Since leaving his successful program in July 2016, he focused all his energy on aligning himself with his essence. It was with Ismael Cala’s support that the Red Shoe Movement arrived in Latin America. His was the first interview broadcasted to the region that Mariela Dabbah gave when her book “Poder de Mujer” came out. That was the book that kicked off our movement and leadership development company. His support from that first moment and his continued advocacy for female self empowerment have made him a true inclusion leader. Today we honor him in the 2018 Hall of Fame. Here’s an insightful interview where you will get to know our charismatic godfather.

Ismael Cala in the Hall of Fame 2018

Ismael Cala in the Hall of Fame 2018

RSM— In the last two years since you left CNN your life has taken a big turn. Tell us, what have been the greatest satisfactions of taking this leap?

Ismael Cala— First of all, the greatest satisfaction for me is the ability to have self-respect. Because I was obviously feeling in my soul a call to take a break from the cameras, of my work so excessively exposed to the public, of an international media. And my ego said “how are you going to leave so much success, so much applause, so much recognition, such a good salary and such a good contract. ”

Following the dictates of the soul took a period of analysis, of introspection and the truth is that the greatest satisfaction is to realize that what you do is coherent and congruent with your essence, with your being, with your truth. Not with the symbols of the false power that society imposes on us, not wanting to have status, a reputation, recognition, prestige.

I took this for a need to continue growing, to leave my comfort zone, to reinvent myself a bit in my intentions and in my “whys” and “what fors.” I believe that the human being is a being of transformation and that the day you think you are finished as a product, that you are already a genius and that you have reached the top, that day your whole life gets complicated and you start to become someone obsolete.

The comfort zone is slowly making you meet people of mediocre influence and your ideas begin to freeze. Then, jumping and leaving that area (that was already a zone of security for me, and an area where my ego was totally handcuffed by recognition and success,) gave me a new beginning. The Ismael Cala Foundation, Cala Enterprises, Cala Speakers and all the other projects that we are carrying out with my team, all give me a huge satisfaction every day. Everything we sell, promote or the social help we provide is to turn this world into a place where we raise awareness. We provide agile solutions and tools to people and organizations to make this a more productive, more harmonious, more tolerant and happier world.

Ismael Cala Inspirational Quote

Ismael Cala Inspirational Quote

RSM— How did you face the initial stress of launching yourself as an entrepreneur? For many it is a period of great anxiety.

IC— I’m not going to deny it, I think I’ve had an entrepreneur’s mind since childhood. I always tried to think bigger. Even the geography of my small hometown El Caney, fell short of my vision of life when I was only 8 years old. Back when I told my mother: “Change me to a different school. I want to go to the city that is only 8 km away, to Santiago de Cuba,” since El Caney was a very small town and my whole family had lived there for generations and generations.

Then my spirit of adventure, exploration, expansion and entrepreneurship comes from childhood. Now, when we are talking about rolling up my shirt sleeves and taking on a project with the level of Cala Enterprises, obviously that there is anxiety. Especially because my venture has not had up until a few months ago, any type of investment that has not been my own personal investment. My own funds.

I was an entrepreneur at 20% 30%. I didn’t my salary from CNN. I invested part of that salary in what is now Cala Enterprises. There is a very interesting book by Patrick McGinnis (one of our Cala Speaker) that is called the 10% Entrepreneur and I recommend that you read it.

In the book McGinnis recommends good practices for everyone who has a job but at the same time has an idea for a business. In my case, I manage anxiety with mindfulness, emotional intelligence, positive psychology and everything I have learned. I have become, a sort of facilitator for others in the subject of mindfulness and it has helped me deal with my own fears, my own ghosts and my own anxiety.

But in the end all business is destined to die unless its owner prevents its death. I have always had that phrase very present in my mind, and I wonder all the time what I have to do to prevent this business from dying. It cannot die.

With regard to anxiety, I manage it through mindfulness. I have converted anxiety into a mindful anticipation, I believe that when you manage your fears, then anxiety is no longer anxiety but it becomes a relaxed and serene anticipation of the uncertainty. Because the path of the entrepreneur is uncertainty, volatility, ambiguity and complexity. After all we live in a world VUCA, the acronym of volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous.

Ismael Cala with Cala Enterprises team

Ismael Cala with Cala Enterprises team

RSM— You have spent the last couple of years taking your conferences around the world. How do you see female leadership in Latin America compared to female leadership in Europe and the United States? What are the strengths of women in Latin America and what could they strengthen?

IC— The truth is that I am very proud of Latin America in terms of female inclusion. There have already been several women presidents, some even being elected twice, as was the case of Michelle Bachelet, whom I had the opportunity to interview.

There are women representing us at the UN, globally, internationally and not only in politics where many of our congresses already have a significant female representation.

If you look at Venezuela, for example, you can see how the Venezuelan opposition movement has had Maria Corina Machado among its strongest leaders as well as Lilian Tintori defending the rights of her husband, and not only as his wife but also as the great social activist she has become. I believe that female leadership in Latin America is a leadership of resilience, it is leadership without resentment.

I think the Latin American woman doesn’t compete with the man. She realizes that she’s earning her place and respect with her femininity, the energy of the motherhood of nonviolence, tolerance and love (because that is a mother.) It gives me a lot of pleasure to see that.

What could be reinforced? I would say that the issue of self-confidence in women should be reinforced in Latin America. And that when they become mothers, women themselves should not reinforce those inherited patterns they have received through education over hundreds of years. Things like the differences in norms and roles that are acceptable in boys and girls that we see from childhood: that boys don’t cry, that girls can cry.

These differences then put women at a competitive disadvantage, because the mother herself is telling the man that he must be emotionally illiterate and that the girl can kick and scream and it does not matter why. I believe that we should be more aware of the education we give children so that they suffer less from the consequences of this macabre differentiation of the social roles and norms of men and women.

Ismael Cala an inspirational leader at heart

Ismael Cala an inspirational leader at heart

RSM— What makes women great leaders?

IC—I believe that women have an emotional intelligence allowed from childhood that enabled them to explore the horizon of their emotions and better understand themselves. When you know yourself better, you can more easily be the voice and soul of a group. It is harder for men to know themselves so they cannot connect emotionally with others and can not communicate their vision. I believe that there are many women who have that passion and connection and who express it and use it in a very good way.

RSM— What recommendations do you have for a leader to effectively communicate her personal brand?

IC— This is why we created Cala Speaking Academy, which starts in March 2018, and there is already a second session planned for May. All the information is on the website.

This program was born because I feel that creating a personal brand and above all your communication style that you use to tell your story and your message, is very important. More than 85% of leaders’ success depends on their skills and abilities to communicate. So I really suggest that a leader studies his/her history in order to take ownership of it and purge any traumas, prejudices or stigmas. Once you are free of them, your story will empower you rather than enslave you.

Then, my recommendation is to build a differentiating message. What are the topics on which you will focus? We cannot talk about everything and we cannot please everyone. We have to be “bamboo leaders.” This means having principles and values ​​as our roots that are cast deep down into the ground. That nothing can break us, neither events nor circumstances. Like bamboo. Bad weather can bend us but not break us or split us into two pieces. But you also need flexibility, adaptability and above all an incredible ability to learn quickly.

Today more than ever we must learn and unlearn at a great speed.

RSM— What gives you hope?

IC—It gives me a lot of hope to know that young people are living a more abundant world than the one I grew up in. When I was a child, there was no global interconnectivity or exponential technologies. The moment of reaching singularity, that is the possibility of artificial intelligence to have the capacity of the human brain or of all the brains in the planet, for example.

The fact that we’ll be able to digitize the human brain in the near future is very encouraging. In the coming years we will experience some momentous changes that will leave us perplexed. It is the most abundant time and the time that as humanity when we have the largest amount of information, so that is a privilege.

Ismael Cala motivational quote

Ismael Cala motivational quote

Don't miss our interview with 2017 Hall of Fame honoree, Rosemary Rodríguez

RSM— In terms of leadership lessons, can you share some personal failures and what you have learned from them?

IC— Today, what I coined as failures when I was younger have become my great painful learning lessons, because one should not fail backwards. One must fail forward.

One of my failures was this. I took the risk of leaving everything I had in Miami, (two very important contracts in the local radio and TV market) to pursue the dream of conquering Mexico. It was going to be through the large Mexican platform Televisa, (the number one media platform in Latin America) but it was not the right time. I pushed and pushed and it happened but the moment was not right. It was the year 2008, the international financial crisis, the devaluation of the Mexican peso. But also maybe I wasn’t ready to take on a project that demanded comedy skills that I had not developed yet.

That project, which I thought would be totally successful, lasted only 2 months on the air. I took it as a professional failure at that time. Thanks to that experience in Mexico and my reflecting on what I wanted to do with my career and what I didn’t want is that the possibility of returning to CNN in Spanish appeared. To do “Cala” the talk show that Cynthia Hudson, the president of CNN en Español, put on the air. That was a big stroke of luck with a lot of hard work and effort from my production team.

What at one point could have been considered a failure, not to have triumphed in Mexico, was really my great learning curve. It enabled me to know what I wanted to do, what my skills were and what they weren’t. It enable me to develop those skills in which I wasn’t fully competent so I could succeed in the next attempt. So, bingo. There are no failures!

RSM— Who were some of the most influential men and women in your career above and beyond your family? How did they influence you exactly?

Ismael Cala is a leader in constant change

Ismael Cala is a leader in constant change

IC— I learned a lot from my father and my mother who were my life gladiators. I admired my dad’s intelligence. He was a brilliant man until schizophrenia kidnapped his mind and then at the young age of 40 he was disabled to continue working.

But I could see that my father had a mind dedicated to learning. I think I inherited his thirst for learning. And from my mother I got her intuitive intelligence, her vivacity and eloquence, her perseverance and passion. That’s why I wrote the book Un Buen Hijo de P … because I think I was born of two good children of P … children of passion, patience and perseverance to do something interesting with our lives.

Then Nilda G. Alemán, my radio teacher and at 8, instilled in me the love of reading, of children’s stories, poetry, writing, speaking, and acting. She changed my life as she planted the first seed towards me becoming a communicator. At 86 this lady still lives in Santiago de Cuba. I visited her just a year ago and very soon I will visit her again because I love her and she is a second mother to me. There are also many people who have influenced me professionally, but I would say that Oprah Winfrey is my great inspiration in terms of life story and as a communicator and philanthropist.

RSM— Can you share with us the story of a person whose life or career changed thanks to you? One of those stories that reinforce your life purpose (And of which you don’t normally speak.)

IC— Wow. The truth is that I don’t often talk about these stories, but I can tell you something, there are many. And humbly they make me think that all I do is worthwhile because one adds value to the lives of other people.

A book, a conference, an event can transform someone’s way of thinking and when you transform a person’s way of thinking, you transform their reality and transform their life.

There was a 20 year-old young lady who came to a book signing in San Jose, Costa Rica. I didn’t realize she had difficulty walking, but when she arrived in front of me she said: “Ismael you’ve changed my life.” To me that seems too broad, strong and really too shocking. I never I pay much attention to a phrase like that so that my head doesn’t get bloated and I can remain humble and with my feet on the ground.

I said “Why do you say that? What could I have done?” And she replies, “A friend of mine gave me one of your books when I was 15. Un Buen Hijo de P… (A good son of a p…) I was about to have my legs amputated, because I had a very rare bacteria in my feet that was moving up. The doctor was afraid that gangrene would reach the rest of my body so my legs were amputated. ”

Sure enough at that moment I looked down and realized that she had marks on her jeans above the knees. She was wearing prostheses that I hadn’t noticed. She says, “That book made me A Good Hija de P … a daughter of passion, perseverance and patience. From then on I knew that I would have many more reasons than my legs to stay alive, to continue to be stimulated, to continue wanting to smile, to be happy and to do something important in my life.”

When that young woman told me that, the tears came to my eyes and I said to myself: Ismael, everything, even those things that seem tedious to you (because reviewing a book a thousand times becomes tedious, for example), they’re worth it. When someone gives you a testimony like that you say, it was worth the insomnia, the hard work of my team advising me, helping me to make the book as good as possible.

This is one of many examples. Another one was a 14 year old boy in Argentina who came up to me and said, “You have changed my life.” and I said incredulously:
“Oh my God!” And then his mother, who saw that I didn’t believe her son said: “What my son just said is quite true. He listens to you since he is 11 years old. He watches you, he follows your shows, buys every book you write, he listens to your podcasts and he speaks to me with your language, Ismael. This child is an old soul “.

The truth is that there are many examples like this, and I want to say the glory is from God and from my team that makes a titanic effort to execute all the ideas and ensure that I, as a spokesperson for these messages, can have the correct information, the right accessories, the best means to share them.

You can connect with Ismael Cala on Twitter.

Be a Magnet for Career Opportunities. Learn from Beth Marmolejos!

Wonder no more how to attract the best career opportunities. Beth Marmolejos is an example of how when you build a reputation of integrity and commitment, the opportunities find you.

Beth Marmolejos at the Red Shoe Movement Signature Event striking a pose with RSM Principle 2

Beth Marmolejos at the Red Shoe Movement Signature Event striking a pose with RSM Principle 2

Beth Marmolejos is an Executive Advisor in the IT Account Management area at Anthem (the largest for-profit managed care company within the Blue Cross Blue Shield association,) and she serves as the Chief of Staff for the Women’s Inspire Network Associate Resource group. But that’s just her day job. She’s also the President of the New York Chapter of Prospanica (formerly NSHBMA,) and the Vice Chair of the Passaic County Workforce Investment Board, among several other volunteer positions she holds. Beth has received many awards from local, state, federal, corporate and non-profit organizations for her leadership and community work. She has crafted a professional life that fits her style, her passions and her goals. It is through these multiple commitments that Beth Marmolejos creates career opportunities for herself and for those in her network.

As president of the NY Chapter of Prospanica (Formerly NSHMBA) Beth Marmolejos creates career opportunities for others.

As president of the NY Chapter of Prospanica (Formerly NSHMBA) Beth Marmolejos creates career opportunities for others.

RSM— You’ve had quite a career trajectory. Tell us about some of the highlights and how you tapped into the various career opportunities that presented themselves along the way.

Beth Marmolejos (BM)— I started my journey in the business world without a degree at an entry level in the Accounting Department at Express Scripts (formerly known as Medco Health Solutions.) While there, I was able to get my under graduate and graduate degrees, 80% of which were paid for by my employer —as long I got a B or better in my classes.

It took me over 10 years to obtain my education. I was able to move within the Finance area to different roles that helped me prepare for the role of “Controller/Director” of Finance for a subsidiary that my company bought. A subsidiary worth two billion dollars. That propelled me to a leadership position and it opened a world of career opportunities for me.

In 2013 I took a leap of faith and left to work in New York City for Empire Blue Cross Blue Shield under the leadership of the amazing Brian Griffin, who was a colleague of mine at Medco. The highlight of this move was that I got promoted within six months because I led a project that saved the company $1M.

Then, one of the senior leaders at Empire BCBS in NYC recommended me for an Executive Advisor role in IT as the Chief Information officer for the State of New York and Wisconsin at the Enterprise level for our Parent company Anthem.

Take note of the secret to attract great career challenges to yourself.

Take note of the secret to attract great career challenges to yourself.

How to find the most attractive career opportunities

RSM— You wear several hats. From being the CIO for NY and Wisconsin at Anthem to being the President of Prospanica NY Chapter and serving in different capacities on other non-profit boards. With all that’s already on your plate, how do you constantly find career opportunities to help you continue to grow?

BM— I don’t find career opportunities…they find me through senior leaders/mentors/sponsors who know my work, my commitment to their success and integrity.

RSM— What are some of the strategies that help you stay focused with each one of your multiple responsibilities?

BM— I have three main strategies:

  • Remain calm and focus on what you are trying to achieve
  • Surround yourself with positive people that help you stay on course
  • Don’t get distracted with things that steal your peace, keep your eyes on the price

RSM— Do you find that creating career opportunities for others is a natural way of opening doors for yourself?

BM— Absolutely! When you lift others up and help them by opening doors it creates an advantage for you. What goes around, comes around!

Make sure that you spread tons of positive energy around as you build your own career.

Make sure that you spread tons of positive energy around as you build your own career.

Learning how to network strategically is another way to open up career opportunities.

RSM— What are three top pieces of advice you’d give people looking for greater career opportunities within their organizations?

BM— Here you go:

  • Treat people with respect, be kind and a team player. That builds your good reputation which you can leverage to obtain better career opportunities within your organization
  • Be a can-do type of person – that is key to getting opportunities for senior roles
  • Be happy, positive and knowledgeable – that is a magnet that attracts people who want to work with you

RSM— Any different advice for those looking for career opportunities in a different company or who are currently out of a job?

BM— Yes, get involved in organizations such as Prospanica, of which I am the NY Chapter President, and you will have access to tons of career opportunities.

RSM— What’s the next big project you’re working on right now? 

BM— I’m focused on a couple of upcoming events we are organizing with Prospanica. Celebration of Achievements – where we will give out scholarships on 11/27/17 at Oppenheimer Funds.

And in honor of the International Day of People with Disabilities we have an event with the UN Nations at S&P Global on 12/14/17

At a personal level, my next big project is to obtain my Agile SAFe Training certification.

You can connect with Beth Marmolejos on Twitter and Linkedin

 

Latina Entrepreneurs: This Organization Is Made For You! @LIBizus

For Latina entrepreneurs interested in growing their business, there are few people as focused on their challenges as Susana Baumann. Inspiring, generous and connected, her organization is making a difference for small women-owned businesses and the communities they serve. Get to know her!

A multicultural expert, award-winning business writer, public speaker and published author, Susana Baumann is the Founder and Director of LCSWorldwide, a Multicultural Marketing Communications consulting firm located in New Jersey. Susana is the Editor-in-Chief of her company’s new initiative, LatinasinBusiness.us, an online platform dedicated to the economic empowerment of the Latina working woman. The platform has received the attention and support of Latina leaders around the country including the United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce Foundation, the New America Alliance (NAA), and the National Latina Business Women Association (NLBWA). She has received the Latina Excellence Award, the TECLA Award for Best Business Blog at Hispanicize 2015, and was invited to become a media member of the NAA American Latina Leadership Caucus. In 2017, Susana Baumann was named a 2017 Latina of Influence by Hispanic Lifestyle Magazine.

Most importantly, Susana Baumann is a constant presence in initiatives that matter to Latina entrepreneurs, always ready to provide insights, support and visibility to those who need it most.

Susana Baumann supporting Latina entrepreneurs

Susana Baumann supporting Latina entrepreneurs

RSM— How does someone with your background in architecture and marketing communications decide to focus on Latina entrepreneurs?

Susana G Bauman (SB) — The beauty of moving to another country is the opportunity to find who you really are and what your purpose is. I studied Architecture in Argentina because my father chose that career for me. I had some inclination for the arts but he considered Architecture a more profitable career. I only worked as an architect for a few years and then I became a college professor.

When I had the opportunity to move to the US, I decided a professional accreditation would allow me to work here in something that I always loved, writing and publishing. So I went back to the student’s seat and finished a second Masters degree. My knowledge of English was also an advantage to find work as a bridge between Americans and a burgeoning Latino market that was still growing. I immediately recognized the opportunity to become the voice of many Latinos who didn’t or couldn’t speak for themselves.

After several jobs in corporate and public service, in 1996 I started a home-based, side business. I started as a small translation company but many of my clients had little understanding of the Latino market cultural nuances. A simple translation would not deliver their message. The business took a life of its own and we became a Multicultural Marketing Communications agency.

The focus on Latina entrepreneurs came later, only three years ago, as a result of my experience as a Latina small business owner, and the need to “pay it forward.” I launched LatinasinBusiness.us as my legacy to those young Latinas starting their own struggle as entrepreneurs, to help them overcome the obstacles I had to conquer on my own. Nobody needs to do this alone; there are many resources out there to help Latina entrepreneurs and small businesses if they reach out and show up.

Latina entrepreneurs are impacted by LIBizus

Latina entrepreneurs are impacted by LIBizus

The Role of Latina Entrepreneurs in the U.S. Economy

RSM— Why are Latina entrepreneurs a key segment of the U.S. economy?

SB— Latinas are, as everybody knows by now, the fastest growing demographic opening businesses in the U.S. Not everybody knows, however, that they have a high rate of failure as well. And their revenue growth is not as relevant as their white female counterparts –that extends to Latino male-owned businesses as well.

By helping them grow and sustain their businesses, not only we help them. We also help close a gap in the US economy (a gap that runs in the billions of collars,) of missed revenue and job creation opportunities. This could help the communities that Latina entrepreneurs serve, grow. Latina small businesses are American businesses. They represent almost 20% of 4.3M Latino-owned business across the country and these are big numbers!

Another successful Latina entrepreneur: Mariebelle!

RSM— What do you think are some advantages that Latina entrepreneurs have in this VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity) business environment?

SB— The same advantages small business owners always have to hone! I will bring you another acronym, SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats). As a small business owner, you have to be constantly vigilant about everything that is happening around you, locally, nationally and internationally, so you can make the best decisions for your business. This principle allowed me to survive for over 20 years and constantly reinvent myself according to the circumstances and opportunities that presented themselves. An entrepreneur is a person who is constantly looking for innovation, improvement and to size up new opportunities!

Susana G Baumann, Editor-in-Chief LIBizus

Susana G Baumann, Editor-in-Chief LIBizus

Learning From Failure and What Can Latina Entrepreneurs Do Better

RSM— Understanding we are generalizing here, are there any particular areas where Latina entrepreneurs could make some adjustments to better reach their business goals?

SB— I speak about this all the time: Break out of your isolation and support each other. We work hard but tend to stay isolated, make our own decisions without bouncing off ideas of other entrepreneurs or business people. And sometimes, being your own advisor might not be the best advice!

Another important issue is that women need to support each other, something men do very well. Women tend to be more judgmental with each other –again, generalizing- and decide in the first three minutes of meeting someone if they like them or not. This judgment is usually made as a response to the other person’s appearance. We need to stop those behaviors, become more socially adept and find good in every person we meet. They might have qualities we don’t have that can help us grow as a person and as a business!

RSM— What have you learned from your own failures as a Latina entrepreneur?

SB— Looking back, when I started my business I had the idea that I was invincible and I was never going to fail. HA! I was hit hard many times. Some situations were of my own making –such as when we had to fold our beautiful bilingual newspaper Periódico Latino, because we couldn’t sustain it. Others were circumstances out of my control –such as the Great Recession of 2008-2010. In both instances, I stayed in the pity-pot for a while, and then I picked up myself and reinvented my business. Once at the bottom, I didn’t feel I had a choice other than going up. I just had to work smarter and even harder, be very persistent. Having a business involves a lot of sacrifices, long hours, lost vacation opportunities, little social life, plus being constantly on the look out for opportunities and for those who can provide them.

Learning from a famous woman entrepreneur: Randi Zuckerberg
Latina entrepreneurs with Susana Baumann

Latina entrepreneurs with Susana Baumann

RSM— You offer a wonderful opportunity for Latina entrepreneurs to pitch their business and learn a ton of insights from leaders in the field. Tell us about the Latina Small Business Expo.

SB— After two successful years of conducting our “Pitch Your Business to the Media” competition, we have added the Latina SmallBiz Expo to this annual event. We want to celebrate and showcase the power of Latina entrepreneurs in the region, the driving force of many markets such as beauty, retail, clothing, telephone services, food and beverage, financial services and many more.

As I said before, Latina entrepreneurs and small businesses work in isolation. We need to get them out of that isolation and help them find the resources they need to succeed. This is another reason we have the Latina SmallBiz Expo: To bring resources such as IFundWomen, a national organization that runs crowfunding campaigns only for women’s businesses, and the Union County Economic Development Corporation (UCEDC), which is offering a discounted rate business loan through the Tory Burch Foundation. Both organizations will take applications at our event so I encourage those who are looking for funding not to miss this unique opportunity.

One last comment: We encourage the general public to attend this great event and choose LSBEPuertoRico General Admission ($10) at online registration ($15 at the door). Those tickets will be donated in full to Puerto Rico Disaster Relief. To register and for information: https://latinasbizexpo.eventbrite.com/

You can connect with Susana Baumann via social media

Twitter: @LIBizus

Facebook: LatinasinBusiness.us

FB Discussion group: We are LatinasinBusiness.us

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/susanabaumann/

LinkedIn Page: LatinasinBusiness.us Discussion Group

 

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.

Sergio Kaufman of Accenture, leading the way in female leadership

For a CEO, Sergio Kaufman is as easy going as it gets. He’s an Industrial Engineer by training but he’s definitely a people person.  A champion of inclusion and diversity and a strong believer in female leadership. It’s leaders like him that move the needle faster in gender equality in large organizations. Find out why he’s so successful.

RSM Hall of Fame

RSM Hall of Fame

Leveraging 100% of the talent pool is Sergio Kaufman’s goal. And to that effect he’s been instrumental in designing and supporting policies that make it easier for everyone at his company, Accenture, to progress in their careers. And given that Accenture is a consulting firm that works with many large corporations around the world, their success serves as a model for the rest of the world.

At a recent presentation in front of a conservative audience of mostly male executives, Sergio Kaufman talked about men as the weaker sex. Needless to say his comments made more than a few people uncomfortable. But Sergio says he likes to shock. To disrupt. To get people to discuss the important issues. And today, he sits with us to talk about what it takes to promote female leadership, the advantages of gender equality, and a lot more. Meet Sergio Kaufman, one of the leaders in the Red Shoe Movement Hall of Fame.

Sergio Kaufman, Country Managing Director & Leader of Hispanic South America

Sergio Kaufman, CEO, Hispanic South America, Accenture

Sergio Kaufman, CEO, Hispanic South America, Accenture

What are the traits of an effective leader?

An effective leader has two interesting variables. The old model of leadership was based on power (I tell you what you have to do) and knowledge (even when your boss was a complicated person, you respected him/her because he/she was knowledgeable.) Today, knowledge changes every 6 months so it’s difficult for leadership to be based on knowledge. And power has been transformed into influence. The new organizations clearly have much more respect for an influential leader than for a powerful leader. And that has an interesting effect.

If I work with people based on power, the day I leave my job, everything returns to the previous situation because once the leader changes, the power changes. If I work with influence the change is much more permanent and effective. That “old knowledge” changes into “values” that are much more permanent than knowledge that changes all the time. We went from a leadership based on power and knowledge to one based on influence and values.

And why do I mention this in connection to gender issues? Because the first two attributes I mentioned are much more frequently adopted by men, while influence management is much evenly distributed between genders. I would even say that in public life, there are more examples of influential women and powerful men. It is a different leadership model that allows for a completely different dynamic in business. It encourages and it will continue to encourage the inclusion of women in decision-making positions and positions of increasing responsibility.

The second point is the issue of diversity. Very likely, many of the attributes of empathy required for an inclusive leadership are also more balanced in women.

Read more about Integrated Talent Management in this interview with Marcelo Fumasoni of Novartis.
Accelerating female leadership is one of the areas where Sergio Kaufman, Country Managing Director and Leader of Hispanic South America, Accenture, excels

Accelerating female leadership is one of the areas where Sergio Kaufman, Country Managing Director and Leader of Hispanic South America, Accenture, excels

Given that you are a man who firmly believes in gender equality, what is happening in terms of female leadership at executive levels in the region of Accenture you lead?

Diversity is an operational necessity. We operate in a large region with about 10,400 people. We interact with the world, with diversity. Trying to manage a diverse organization connected to the world with a scheme where I think I can choose people, train them, and expect for them to all fit into identical little bottles of talent, leads to a serious loss of richness. That richness is our innovation. So it’s about having diversity in all aspects. We have people who think differently to solve different problems. And definitely leveling the playing field for women is part of the success we are having in terms of talent development and innovation. When you level the playing field male and female leadership emerges equally. 

Sergio Kaufman surrounded by his diverse talent

Sergio Kaufman surrounded by his diverse talent

Sergio Kaufman’s suggestions to involve more male leaders in promoting female leadership

What is the best way to involve more male leaders on the issue of female leadership in Latin America?

It’s a virtuous circle and when you see it in others you become someone who sees the result. What the Red Shoe Movement does in disseminating this information is useful and I think it is also useful for companies that have gender equity initiatives to tell their story. My role in this is to share transparently our experience. One could say that Accenture has an advantage because it has active policies for women and diversity in general. And that if we share them openly we lose the market advantage that attracts distinct talent. I think sharing these stories helps improve society as a whole and also it helps position the organization. I think you have to compete to make things better and not hide what you think you’re doing well and that is working for you.

Sergio Kaufman, Country Managing Director and Leader of Hispanic South America, Accenture, is a strong proponent of verbalizing the inclusion and diversity priorities of an organization.

Sergio Kaufman, Country Managing Director and Leader of Hispanic South America, Accenture, is a strong proponent of verbalizing the inclusion and diversity priorities of an organization.

More on talent strategy in this interview with Arturo Poire of Erickson.

What are some practices that you think inadvertently affect women negatively?

There’s a behavior that many men see as something positive. It is looking after women, taking care of them, protecting them. So you tend to protect your female team players more than your male talent. And it seems like a good thing to do until that additional protection ends up, inadvertently, being a problem.

For example, say I have a fantastic project that can speed up a career trajectory, but is in another country. And I say, “I’m not going to offer it to this woman because I am going to complicate her life. So I give it to a man. The appropriate thing to do would be to tell the woman, “Look, I have this opportunity, you’re the right person for it. I will support you. We will figure out together how to manage the travel required. Do you want to take it?” Sometimes we don’t offer opportunities to women not out of selfishness but because we think we are offering something that is not fair to her. And actually, the best thing to do is to offer every opportunity and let women choose. In addition, when you offer the opportunity you must support the person appropriately. Sometimes one tends to give men more straightforward career advice and to be more careful with women.

Sergio Kaufman tries virtual reality technology

Sergio Kaufman tries virtual reality technology

Pursuing female leadership

What advice would you give to a woman interested in career growth who is forced to turn down opportunities due to lack of flexible policies in her organization? 

There are three choices: you can change the organization, you can sacrifice your expectations, or you can move to a different organization. But first I’d try to change the organization by being very outspoken about what’s not working. Be vocal in a positive way. I believe in saying things assertively with good manners.

But don’t give up on shedding light on any problems you notice in the organization.

Go and talk to your bosses and let them know they are not giving you the opportunities you seek. That is what helps change organizations. Because if you leave you end up contributing to the self-fulfilled prophecy. The organization is left with the idea that women have family concerns and that’s why they leave. So you as a woman end up reinforcing that stereotype.

Leaders like Sergio Kaufman are key to moving the needle in gender equity in large organizations

Leaders like Sergio Kaufman are key to moving the needle in gender equity in large organizations

In a recent conference you talked about an article in “The Economist which talked about men as the weaker sex. Why do you think future employment presents a challenge to men?

The new economy is ripe for female leadership. According to this article, we should start worrying about men's future job opportunities.

The new economy is ripe for female leadership. According to this article, we should start worrying about men’s future job opportunities.

First, the evidence is academic. You look at any university in the world except in a few careers and men are outnumbered in quantity, they take longer to graduate, and have lower grade averages than women. These are important facts to consider. And it’s true, demographic waves move slowly but the effects are already starting to be felt. In addition, in the past many jobs required physical skills, something in which men had an edge, but with technology, that becomes less important. Those are two strong trends. There is still a difference in careers like economics, engineering, and technology where there are smaller percentages of women. Our challenge is to encourage more women to enter those fields.

There is a McKinsey study that says that in itself, the fact that there is a greater proportion of women than men graduating college is not enough to move the needle at the highest positions of decision-making. That the needle moves when this becomes a top priority in an organization. Your thoughts?

I fully agree that gender diversity has to be an explicit priority. I believe in what is verbalized and that the organization has to express how important diverse talent is. When you tell the women in your company, “I hope that the future leadership of the company emerges amongst you and I will actively look at that,” it changes attitudes and expectations.

You can follow Sergio Kaufman on Twitter.