You see Nely Galán, producer behind TV hits such as Fox’s The Swan, and think: confident, successful, unflappable … cubana americana media maven. And she is, undoubtedly, all of those things. But, as founder of the newly created Adelante Movement—a nonprofit that empowers Latinas to create financial independence—she prefers to plug what she is not: infallible.
“The thing people tend to focus on is that I’ve been president of Telemundo or had my own business (Galán Entertainment) for 15 years, because it sounds great,” says Galán, who worked her way up from New York City’s legendary Channel 47 television station to become the first Latina president of a US television network (Telemundo), before going independent in 1994.
“What I tend to think is my greatest accomplishment is how much I have failed,” says Galán, who was once tagged as the “Tropical Tycoon” by The New York Times Magazine. “Because I’ve failed way, way more than I’ve succeeded. I’ve failed in my personal life, in my business life. In order to have all the shows I’ve had succeed, I’ve had way more shows not happen. And I’ve lost a ton of money,” Galán says.
How has the image of latinos changed in your industry? Do you see it evolving?
Latinos [have] yet to hit it big in the mainstream in the way African Americans have. It is because we are still marginalized in the Latino media. The Latino media is important to us, but we have to be part of the national voice.
Are latinos accurately portrayed in the media? How do you see it changing?
We need to put the pressure on to be part of all things mainstream. Every show should have a Latino character. Every news program should have a Latino representative. Every show that requires experts should have a Latino doctor, lawyer, [or] politician. We have the power, numbers, buying power, voting power to demand that type of representation—we demand it on social media.
Spotlighting only Galán’s greatest hits would sensationalize the story. It feeds the characterization of US Latinas as “maid vs. mogul”—the myth that only some sort of super woman can succeed. And that myth can hamstring up-and-coming Latinas from realizing their full potential. That’s why Galán touts the metaphorical “dud tracks” on her life’s album: the missteps, the naïve decisions, the passion projects that never came to life.
“So many women are afraid to fail and afraid to succeed,” she says. “I am also very afraid. I’m not fearless. I am really scared, every day. What is admirable about me is that because even though I am afraid, I do it anyway. I’m so scared—but I jump anyway. In fact, when I’m scared, I jump quicker—because I know I’m supposed to jump.”
Born in Cuba, Galán moved to New Jersey at five years old. She was based for years in Latin America (from Argentina to Mexico) as an independent producer helping launch channels for HBO and other networks. Today, she resides in one of the most prolifically Latino cities: Venice, California.
As a result of her cross-border experience, she perceives that Latino cultures can often instill a fear of making mistakes and a stigma around seeking help. “I think we have to reframe failure as something we have to admire in people. It’s my greatest gift—dealing with failure,” she says.
When Galán deals, it’s real and gut-wrenching. “I really mourn the failure—I have to cry about it and get upset about it. It is a big deal. I write about it in my diary. I’m not just going to fail and not learn from the failure. What happened here? What’s the lesson?”
Galán tries to avoid the self-blame route, even in stinging cases, such as when the plug got pulled on The New You (a daytime health and wellness makeover show she produced). “The economy tanked, and we postponed it. That was not my fault, not NBC’s fault,” says Galán, adding that the show will resurface soon.
As for those who criticize any of Galán’s products, such as The Swan, which profiles people undergoing plastic surgery, she rebuttals: the desire to feel beautiful is an inevitable part of life—a reality that she feels Latinas are more comfortable owning up to. “Being a woman, it’s the hardest thing on the planet,” she adds.
Galán’s self-awareness, candor, and therapeutic approach to life’s ups and downs are part instinct, part investment. In December of 2012, she culminated a four-year sabbatical, during which she earned a master’s degree and Psy.D. in clinical psychology. This was at a pivotal moment, after having endured a traumatic break up and becoming a single mom at 37.
Of the 48 students who started the grad program with Galán, she is one of six students who finished the master’s program—and the one and only who earned a doctorate. (She doesn’t judge others’ circumstances, though, noting that people might leave school for a variety of factors, including financial.)
“I am very much a completion person,” says Galán, who is now in a long-term relationship and feels stronger and more peaceful, thanks to her journey of academics and self-discovery. “There’s a lot to be said for saying you’re going to do something and actually completing [it]. It’s amazing how many people say they’re going to do something, and they don’t actually complete [it]. I tell my son (who is 13): commit to something small so you don’t go crazy. You can commit to one thing, and stick to it, one day at a time, and before you know it you have mastered something.”
In graduate school, Galán worked 1,500 hours offering counseling services in a free clinic, which she calls “a humbling and wonderful experience.” She adds, “I may have a clinic in the future. I will leave myself open to possibly doing that. That’s why I wanted a clinical doctorate, because I wanted to be able to actually treat clients.”
For her dissertation, Galán focused on Latinas in the United States. It was a clear connecting of the dots. She had recently been asked to join one of Coca-Cola’s boards focused on marketing and media, and Latinas were top of mind for everyone.
“Very quickly into it, I realized that Latinas are the number-one emerging market in the world—specifically women head of households. They may not necessarily be the financial head, but they are the ones making the buying decisions and the voting decisions,” she says.
As Galán listened to her fellow board members—executives from the likes of McDonald’s and Wal-Mart—she began to see the power, the opportunity, and the collective potential of the Latina community. She also clued into a well-kept secret: the plethora of government contracts, incentives, advisement, and other pro bono services specifically tagged for Latina-owned start-ups.
Now Galán has made it her personal mission to let Latinas know what the world’s top marketers know about them: that Latinas have arrived as an economic force and that there are tools to drive them even further. With this in mind, Galán devised a proposal to form the Adelante Movement, for which Coke offered her seed funding.
Adelante currently operates primarily through an educational, city-by-city US tour (from Miami to Los Angeles), targeting areas with high amounts of Hispanics. Galán takes the stage to share her story at the events, but also compiles a star panel of guest speakers—Latina leaders ranging from acclaimed author Sandra Cisneros to Nobel Peace laureate Rigoberta Menchú. The talks also include insights from non-Latinas, such as entrepreneur guru, Nell Merlino.
Today, Adelante serves as an educational tour with a growing communications base for networking and sharing. For women seeking ongoing social or financial services, Adelante directs them to connect with local nonprofits that are deeply rooted in their communities.
The research Galán conducted on Latinas in grad school helped inform Adelante’s approach to these talks: “Latinas need empowerment first; we need to talk about spirituality and emotions before we get into the nitty gritty about money,” she explains.
As a real-estate entrepreneur, finance is Galán’s forte. Her most acclaimed piece of advice to women: “Don’t buy shoes; buy buildings.”
“I did well in TV, but instead of living larger, I bought buildings and rental properties—I bought buildings, for no money, in foreclosure. I walk the walk of financial literacy. As a result, at a relatively young age, I work because I want to—not because I have to.”
Working because “we want to” is part of the Adelante Dream statement. Another key tenet: “That we ‘get our own chips,’ which means starting our own companies and owning our own media.”
Although she has some cool projects underway—including a celebrity version of The Swan—Galán now uses her platform, such as spots guest-hosting ABC’s The View, to promote her fast-growing social organization. “As someone who is an older and wiser entrepreneur, I have great ideas of how to turn this into something that is much bigger for all of us,” she says.
But for now, Adelante is in incubation. “I’m trying to let the ‘organic-ness’ drive me to where I go next. I used to be overpowered. But you know what? There’s no more rush. I’ve made money, and I’ve done a lot of things in life that are survival things. And now this is about letting the river of life take me to where I need to go, and making sure I don’t rush through it too quickly.”
The future includes growing Adelante’s digital platform, tapping into vast footage of poignant interviews Galán has conducted with celebrities, and diversifying Adelante’s corporate sponsorships. “This is my love/passion, truthfully,” Galán admits. “It’s really been life-changing for me. It’s really what I’m supposed to do.”