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
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
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.
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.
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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.
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?
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.