“Our community needed a program that would bring senior corporate executives together.”
Nurturing the personal and professional growth of Hispanics in corporate America while developing leadership and growing an inclusive talent pipeline, was the vision former HACR President & CEO Carlos Orta, had when he envisioned the HACR Corporate Executives Forum™ (CEF). This spring, thanks to the consistently generous financial contributions made by numerous CEF Visionary and Legacy Member Companies, the program is celebrating its 10-year anniversary. In 2006, Orta had just arrived at HACR and he went straight to work on his vision. As he shopped the new idea to a small group of Hispanic executives at various HACR Corporate Member companies, he took note of the feedback and mapped out his next steps. “Our community needed a program that would bring senior corporate executives together,” says Orta, who currently serves as vice president of Corporate Affairs for Carnival Corporation. Before joining HACR, Orta worked for three Fortune 500 companies: Waste Management, Ford Motor Company, and Anheuser-Busch. It was at Ford where his African American mentors first clued him in to the highly successful and influential Executive Leadership Council (ELC). Founded in 1986, this program is specifically designed to support senior African-American corporate executives working for Fortune 500 companies. Programs like the ELC eventually became the blueprint for the CEF.
Expanding the Vision, Building a Coalition
While programs like the ELC existed for African Americans and similar models existed for Asian Americans and women, there was still nothing quite like those programs serving Hispanics in leadership positions. Orta knew this program had to be modeled entirely different from the other Hispanic business organizations and conferences that existed at the time.
“One of the main ideas behind the creation of CEF was recruiting Latinos in corporate America at the highest levels - but more importantly, getting their buy-in and participation.”
"One of the main ideas behind the creation of CEF was recruiting Latinos in corporate America at the highest levels - but more importantly, getting their buy-in and participation," explained Orta. From the very beginning, Orta wanted to ensure Hispanic executives looked forward to coming back year after year, but just as importantly, he wanted them to give back by sharing the program and mentoring others. Another one of the things Orta did when he first arrived at HACR was to approach then ELC President & CEO, Carl Brooks, to enroll him and the organization’s leadership in his vision for a Hispanic version of the ELC. The ELC was excited to learn of Orta’s plan to replicate the model among Hispanic executives and it pledged help getting the program off the ground. Brooks would be an essential thought partner throughout the development process of the program, through its launch, and over the years. Brooks even served as CEF’s keynote speaker at its first annual gala in Dallas. “To be successful, I knew our version needed ELC’s support because their brand was already familiar to all in corporate America,” Orta explained. Then it all came down to messaging, “If I couldn’t explain my vision in less than two sentences, I knew we were going to lose people. We had to be able to confidently say to everyone we met with from that moment on, that this program was the ‘Hispanic version’ of the ELC.” With this catching to-the-point sales pitch, companies quickly understood the vision and backed Orta’s idea, not just by committing to be corporate sponsors but, more importantly, by showing that they were wholly invested in identifying top Hispanics at their companies who met the criteria and sending them to take part in the CEF.
Making the Case and Doing Something About It
One of the main companies that stepped up to the plate in a big way was Orta’s previous employer, Ford Motor Company. At the time, Ford’s Director of Community Development was Orta’s colleague and friend Raquel “Rocky” Egusquiza. Orta quickly enlisted her support, as she offered up the program’s first $100,000 dollars; $50,000 dollars per year for a two year commitment. This was the seed money Orta needed to carry out the initial research to build a significant business case for why the CEF model would create valuable results, create a win-win for all parties, and be sustainable. The program officially launched in 2008 and with it came a first-of-its-kind convening of senior Hispanic corporate executives from numerous Fortune 500 companies where they could openly discuss business issues, challenges, solutions, and how to be their most authentic selves among their peers, in a forum designed specifically for rising leaders like them. Orta wanted the CEF to provide participants with dynamic resources and tools, as well as exceptional speakers and presenters they could not access anywhere else, while exposing participants to leadership or management trainings that perhaps were only available for their company’s CEOs and their C-suite. There had to be value for the individuals to take back to their companies and, equally as important, the program had to be valuable for the individuals from a personal development point of view.
Leaving a Lasting Legacy
Orta’s crucial goal was always to create an endowment to support the sustained growth of the program that would be able to withstand any future unprecedented economic storm. He emphasized from the very beginning, “This program will continue to be successful because of you! And soon thereafter, the CEF Endowment was born.” And it wasn’t just talk. Each of these companies stepped up big and gave $100,000 dollars to the endowment, on top of what they were already giving HACR at the time, in Orta’s words, a big “plus plus.” To date, thanks to the generous support of CEF Legacy Member Companies: AARP, The Coca-Cola Company, Dell, GE, Intel, MassMutual Financial Group, McDonald’s, Monsanto, Target, Time Warner, UPS, and Wells Fargo, along with contributions from CEF Visionary Member Companies: Walmart and the GM Foundation, the endowment has surpassed its $1 Million dollar goal set in 2011. In large part Orta acknowledges the efforts of Frank Ros, who at the time was vice president of Hispanic Strategies for the Coca-Cola Company, for taking the lead in guaranteeing that the endowment met its goal and that HACR and its other programs remained positioned to leave a rich and lasting legacy for those yet to follow.
The Power of the HACR Network
As for the future, Orta exclaims, “Things look bright! In large part because now we have a stronger network of leaders who are rising through the ranks, becoming vice presidents, senior vice presidents, and executive vice presidents. Soon we’ll get to a point where we will have 20 Latino CEOs at Fortune 500 companies.” Orta also understands that there is more work to do. In order to continue to inspire and empower young Hispanics, those seasoned Hispanic executive leaders approaching the final leg of their careers must continue to feed the pipeline by giving back. “I would constantly ask CEFers, who is your mentee? Who are you mentoring? They knew that I would always ask, and had better have an answer,” joked Orta.
“Ultimately, that’s where we want to be. The more Hispanics we can funnel through the corporate pipeline, the more they can give back to the Hispanic community. That really is what HACR and the CEF are all about.”