Korn/Ferry International’s Victor Arias works to change the face of the corporate boardroom
The executive recruiting business isn’t one you aspire to get into when you’re entering the business world,” says Victor Arias, a senior client partner with executive recruiting firm Korn/Ferry International. “The most successful consultants are those that have established careers elsewhere first.”
That’s because good recruiters are experts in their fields, Arias says. “They know the sector and the people and the trends, and that allows them to be effective at finding the right talent,” he adds.
Arias—a second-generation Mexican who worked in banking and real estate for almost two decades before joining Korn/Ferry—followed that career path. “Amorphously, I wanted to go into business, because I saw my father, who didn’t finish high school, and my mother, who had only a high school degree, work really hard,” he says. “But I didn’t know where a business career would take me.”
Mentor for a Minute
“You absolutely need to have the highest level of integrity. Be truthful to yourself and to others, and be the best at what you are good at. Don’t try to be something you’re not.”
What catapulted Arias into a successful executive recruiting career, he says, was his skill at developing and maintaining personal relationships. Today, he places executives in positions at mid- to large-size global entities, with a focus on boards of director searches for Korn/Ferry, a global giant in executive talent solutions, with 3,000 employees in 80 offices. It’s an area Arias knows well, given his own extensive involvement with boards. In fact, his 1996 appointment to the Stanford University board of trustees, a who’s who of 34 nationally recognized business leaders, was the inflection point that drove him into recruiting. “I thought, this is an incredibly humbling opportunity to serve with lots of people that I really admire,” he says.
That appointment would also connect him with another board member, a partner at a private-equity firm seeking independent directors for a portfolio company, AFC Enterprises, the parent company for Popeye’s Chicken. Arias’s experience there solidified his knowledge of the boardroom. “I’ve sat in those boardroom seats, so I know exactly what clients are looking for, and I know what to convey to potential candidates in terms of the rigor of being a board member and the speed bumps to watch for along the way,” he says.
Much of Arias’s work today is dedicated to seeking diversity in the business world. Although Arias’s parents were born in the United States, he grew up in a traditional Mexican neighborhood of El Paso, Texas, and his first languages were both Spanish and English. “I have strong ties to my culture, and feel strongly that Latinos are very relevant to the continued success of this country, and if the rest of the country doesn’t see it that way, we’re doomed as nation,” Arias says, who was recently named global leader of diversity and inclusion for Korn/Ferry.
To increase the number of Latinos in the business world, Arias is starting in a place he knows well: the top. “In the professional world, I see a lot of opportunities for companies to become better at attracting the Hispanic consumer, and the only way they can do that is by starting at the top and putting in Latino directors. We have to start with the corporate boardroom,” he says.
In addition to recruiting Latinos for Korn/Ferry whenever possible, Arias has worked closely with the Hispanic Association for Corporate Responsibility (HACR), one of the largest Hispanic advocacy organizations in the country, to create exposure around the topic. Over the past few years, the association has convened thirty-some corporate directors and asked them to develop plans to change the face of boardroom by increasing the number of Latinos on boards. That process was broken down in the documentary feature The Insider Game, which won the Fall 2011 CINE Golden Eagle Award in the professional nontelecast, nonfiction division, and motivational category. “It’s a wonderful documentation of our attempt to reach this goal in that it shows not only the frustrations many of us have experienced, but also the processes we’re using to succeed,” Arias says. “It entails the right business case, both as an outsider game where others can put pressure on boards, as well as an insider game—how those of us on boards can influence the folks we interact with.”