When Cinthia Lopez was growing up in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, her father always told her, “If you’re going to do something, do it well or don’t do it at all.”
It’s a motto she’s followed throughout her life—with some help from her parents. Lopez and her two sisters went to an American school in Tegucigalpa, an elite private one that wasn’t easy for her parents to afford.
“I think so many of the doors that ultimately led me to where I am today started with the fact that I had the privilege of learning English from a really young age,” she says. “But the sacrifice that my parents were making always weighed heavily on me.”
Lopez was determined to go abroad for college, which she prepared for by taking the SAT and TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language). Her dad saw an ad in the newspaper for a full scholarship to schools in Arkansas offered by the Walton Family Foundation, and applied on her behalf, sending in her test results without telling her so that she wouldn’t get her hopes up. Lopez got an interview, then the scholarship, and ended up at University of the Ozarks for college. She went on to get a master’s degree in foreign services with a focus on Latin America from Georgetown, again with the help of a scholarship (this one from the Organization of American States).
“I always thought I was going to move back to Honduras after school, but I thought I should try to apply for a job in the States and then go back home,” Lopez says.
Her job hunt, though, was complicated by the fact that her employer had to be willing to sponsor her work visa. “The moment you put in that filter for jobs, that list gets very small,” she says. “Capital One was one of the few.” This was in 2000, when the company was barely known, but the more she learned about it, the more excited she was to work there.
“We set out to change banking, to give people a sense of empowerment when it comes to their finances. I believe and trust that we are changing banking for good.”
Lopez began her career as a product manager, but during the eighteen years that she’s worked for Capital One she’s had a variety of titles. Moving to a new role was never a problem, she says, because senior leaders in the company have always been willing to help advocate for her. The biggest leap she made was from risk management to HR—which she was drawn to because she’s always been involved in diversity and inclusion initiatives and realized she wanted to do that full-time. “I had never been an HR professional, but I had passion, and someone was willing to say, ‘that’s plenty’ and you can learn the other things. That was a massive bet on me that I’m super grateful for,” she says.
Today, Lopez is a senior director of human resources and head of campus recruiting and programs for Capital One. Close to 30 percent of nonhourly hires come from these programs, and each student is hired into a two-year rotational program. “We not only hire them, but we curate their experience in their first two years at Capital One,” she says.
Now that she’s able to support people in the way she was supported early in her career, Lopez has a few lessons she’d like to pass on to her team and to new hires. “One of the things that is very important is finding something you love to do,” she says. “Don’t lose sight of having a strong connection to the work that you do because that’s where the best version of yourself comes to light.” Lopez also advocates for taking risks and not being afraid to fail because even if you do fail, you’ll have learned something along the way. “The last one, and it’s actually one of our values at Capital One, is elevate others,” she says. “Nobody gets to where they are without support from others.”
“Don’t lose sight of having a strong connection to the work that you do, because that’s where the best version of yourself comes to light.”
Part of that mission is promoting diversity at her company, which Lopez sees as essential. “I think visible representation matters,” she says. “I don’t think we can win from a business perspective, a customer perspective, or even bringing in the talent that we want if the diversity isn’t here.” One initiative she’s particularly excited about is partnering with Howard University (a historically black college) and the University of Puerto Rico-Mayagüez. It involves not just recruiting talent (something they do at more than forty schools), but also working with freshmen and sophomores early in their journey to prepare them for the workforce.
Getting a work visa was a major factor for Lopez in joining the team at Capital One. “There’s something about the company, as the years went by, that I really believed in our mission,” she says. “We set out to change banking, to give people a sense of empowerment when it comes to their finances. I believe and trust that we are changing banking for good.”