HACE Builds, Talks Relationships at Executives’ Breakfast Forum

A social panel discussion at Chicago's Palmer House Hilton

Retired consumer packaged goods executive Lou Nieto speaks at the HACE Executives' Breakfast Forum. Photo by Sheila Barabad.

On May 5, HE attended the Executives’ Breakfast Forum hosted by the Hispanic Alliance for Career Advancement (HACE) at the Palmer House Hilton in Chicago. Moderated by HACE board member Dr. Robert Rodriguez, also the president of DDR Advisors LLC and author of Latino Talent: Effective Strategies to Recruit, Retain and Develop Hispanic Professionals, the two-hour event consisted of a breakfast buffet, a networking session, a welcome address by HACE president Patricia Mota, and a 90-minute panel discussion and open Q&A.

Rounding out the panel were Chicago Executives’ Club president and CEO Ana Dutra, retired consumer packaged goods executive Lou Nieto, Reilly Company president Ernie Watts, AMLI VP Martha Arteaga, Golden Hill Foods VP and director Demetrio Garcia, Golin Harris executive director Zandra Zuno, Kraft Foods Group chief diversity officer Jorge Quezada, PNC Bank VP Dorothy Abreu, BP America senior counsel Steven Hernandez, and Northern Trust Global Investments VP Luis Amaya.

DDR Advisors LLC president Dr. Robert Rodriguez moderates the panel. Photo by Sheila Barabad.
DDR Advisors LLC president Dr. Robert Rodriguez moderates the panel. Photo by Sheila Barabad.

The discussion revolved around a five-point frame, constructed by Rodriguez, of key factors impacting Latino executive advancement: the issue of over-mentorship and under-sponsorship (“a mentor talks to you; a sponsor talks about you,” Rodriguez clarified), the ability of Latino executives to pull up the next generation of leadership, the need to establish relationships with top-tier executive search firms, the capacity to convey an executive presence, and the necessity of taking on profit-and-loss responsibility.

Nieto, an experienced member on many corporate boards, assumed a leading voice in the conversation. “Lots of people approach me and ask, ‘How do I get on a corporate board?’” he offered on the topic of proper self-establishment. “I tell them just because they need women or Latinos doesn’t mean they’re going to change the experience criteria.”

Addressing the importance of building an identity, he warned, “Don’t just join a nonprofit just to do it. You have to have a passion for it because otherwise, it’s completely transparent why you’re there.”

Hernandez echoed the notion that there is a critical difference between asserting one’s identity and attempting to ascend ladders blindly by abusing one’s heritage. “Corporations are not really altruistic—they’re not going to go out of the way to say, ‘We need more African Americans or Latinos because it’s the right thing to do.’ They’re businesses,” he said.

Photo by Sheila Barabad.
Photo by Sheila Barabad.

A major recurring theme involved earning confidence by gaining experience in a well-fitting manner. As Abreu noted, “Confidence and power go hand in hand.”

Watts wound down the conversation on a note of encouragement. “Take ownership,” he advised. “Whether retired, starting your own business, climbing up the ladder—you’re not alone. Take the time to build these relationships because as we’ve discussed, there’s power in that.”

While the panel’s bottom line landed on establishing and prioritizing relationships, Dutra wrapped up with an aviation metaphor that suggested a key footnote: “It’s like what you always hear flight attendants say: put on your own mask first, then help others’… Take responsibility in someone else.”