Bigger Boards, Bigger Responsibilities

Running two companies and sitting on a couple of corporate boards, Arcilia Acosta keeps her focus on the business at hand while fostering the inclusion of women and minorities

The day before Hispanic Executive spoke with Arcilia Acosta, she was elected to the holding company board for Legacy Texas Group, a large and growing Texas bank. Acosta, founder and CEO of two prominent Dallas companies and the mother of two teenage boys, has worked corporate board service into her busy life for close to 10 years, and this marks the third bank board on which she has served. But if you think such involvement would lessen the energy Acosta brings to the enterprise, think again. “It’s an honor to serve on the holding company,” she says about her newest responsibility. “It’s an outstanding board, and I’m proud to be a part of it.” Acosta shares with Hispanic Executive her experiences on board service and how she deals with the inherent pressures that come with them.

Arcilia C. Acosta is the founder and CEO of CARCON Industries and STL Engineers in Dallas, TX

What gives a businessperson corporate board appeal?

You really have to understand what your connection is to the industry of the boards you serve on. You start there. I believe that what makes me attractive to corporations is my background in finance and that I am an entrepreneur who started two companies from the ground up. Nothing was handed to me; it was “figure it out, get your capital, get your lending, hire the right people, create a leadership structure, and create a foundation on which you can build.”

How does your involvement in these current boards affect your leadership and influence in the corporate world?

Both of the boards I serve on are companies in powerful and influential industries. One is in finance and banking, and the other is in energy and power generation. And because I’m involved in two of the top industries in the US economy, the decisions that I help influence are critical. The issues presented are vast and various: nuclear power, gas prices, coal mining, unions, the EPA, et cetera. We address interest rates, oil prices, risk assessments, and many issues around corporate strategy and growth. So it is absolutely necessary to understand that the repercussions of these decisions go far beyond the borders of our states and our country. It is a ‘must’ to be able to embrace the changes as they happen because they will all have an impact on the bottom line and the future of these companies.

As the only Latina on both corporate boards, how important is it to have your voice heard?

I’m always thinking first and foremost about my responsibility to these corporations and their thousands of employees and stockholders. It’s important to remember that many of these employees and stockholders are Latinos. It is a fact that Latinos are underrepresented on corporate boards, and I recognize that my leadership transcends into our community as a role model. I am passionate about sharing my experiences and providing guidance on key steps for board service. I’m very fortunate that both of these corporations value my opinion, and they too see value added to have a Latina and a woman on the board.

When one of these companies gets an award for diversity, I feel that award is shared with every board member. What we’re doing for women and minorities is tangible. Those are the details that make a corporation better than the rest. You can’t put a price on it, but everybody from the top down knows how important it is to be inclusive.

Is it ever overwhelming to have that much influence?

It is. It’s humbling to know that I am a part of decisions that affect thousands and even millions of people. Because these decisions are so important, I am constantly expanding my knowledge base about issues like cyber security, SEC rules, the EPA, corporate compensation, governance, and economic trends. This is something I work at every day. I read a lot and learn as much as I can. If I don’t fully understand something, I find the best experts and bring them in to visit with me. And yes, it takes a lot of effort, but I sit in my office that overlooks downtown Dallas from the 12th floor—beautiful view of the city—and I just think: Wow, this has been a busy day. And oh, I need to text my boys.

How do you manage the stress of such a crazy schedule?

For me, I get up, walk around the office, talk to employees, or, my favorite thing, put on my jeans, hard hat, and boots and go out and visit one of my job sites.

I wake up thinking about how to make sure my people stay employed, that they continue to have great benefits for their families—everything they need. The first thing I talk about when I give a speech is my gratitude to my employees for their hard work. They make it happen every single day. Their hearts are in this with me. Employees make companies.

So what’s next for you in terms of board service?

I will likely join another corporate board in the next two years. I predict that the oil and gas division of my company is going to take a significant jump in visibility and growth, as well as the construction and engineering divisions—which is why I got into this sector in the first place, to build and to grow. I see myself continuing to expand the company on a national level and serving on more corporate boards. I intend to continue speaking out and encouraging others who want to do the same kind of things I have done.