The thought of public speaking terrified Lourdes Suarez. Upon learning about this hurdle, her mentor, Josh Weinstein, Carnival Corporation’s then-treasurer, wore a Groucho Marx-style moustache and glasses and made her practice presenting to him. The combination of humor, practice, and commitment served Suarez well, and together they developed her skill of being comfortable speaking to a room full of powerful executives. Today, she regularly presents to leadership as part of her role as vice president of global treasury for Carnival.
Suarez says a good mentor “helps the mentee find and reinforce his or her strengths, while uncovering and addressing the challenges.” She credits creative and caring mentorship for her success within the world’s largest leisure travel company.
Today, her career has flourished to where she leads financing $1 billion, state-of-the-art cruise ships and manages the treasury operations for the Miami-based company with $3 billion in operating income and over 120,000 employees. To get there, she spent fifteen years in increasingly complex roles, taking on more and more responsibilities. Through every step, Suarez credits mentoring relationships as having played a major role.
“Potential mentors are everywhere you look,” Suarez says. “Great people are often willing to invest in helping you, if you just give them the time.” Informal personal mentors, including her Cuban mother, and professional mentors, like a prominent chief financial officer, have helped Suarez unlock her potential and advance in her career.
“I love being a mentor. If someone can learn a hard lesson twenty years earlier than I learned it, that’s great.”
After earning a bachelor’s degree from Florida International University and an MBA from Nova Southeastern University, Suarez started her career at Cunard in 2000, eventually shifting to its parent company, Carnival Corporation. Although she didn’t realize it at the time, Suarez’s performance impressed the organization’s CFO, David Bernstein. She found herself rising quickly through managerial roles. When he became the treasurer for Carnival Corporation, he recruited Suarez to join him first as a consultant, then as a manager, and ultimately as vice president.
Suarez recalls that she never asked the leader to enter into a formal, official mentoring relationship. Instead, Suarez focused on her performance, met with him often to solicit advice, and earned his confidence. “Mentoring was not something I sought out, but it’s something that naturally developed between us over the course of many years,” she explains. She remembers asking how to approach certain meetings, how to handle workplace conflict, and how to improve specific projects and proposals.
While the relationship taught her volumes about finance and corporate strategy, Suarez found she also wanted to learn more about issues such as women in leadership and work/life balance. That desire led her to seek the advice of her direct supervisor, Lourdes Pineda—a woman Suarez describes as “what every female executive should aspire to be.”
Suarez sought the guidance of a manager that she noted was successful at being meticulous while still exhibiting compassion. Her manager got results in the workplace, while also balancing her important duties as a mother. “I knew I could learn a lot about both my personal and professional life by seeking out the right combination of advisors,” she says.
As Suarez advanced in her career, others started coming to her seeking professional advice. Over time, the mentee has become the mentor—and she’s excited at the idea of giving back. “I love being a mentor,” she says. “If someone can learn a hard lesson twenty years earlier than I learned it, that’s great. I enjoy it, it’s great for the company, and of course it’s important in that person’s personal development.”
Suarez is especially excited to use her position and experience to help young Latinas and to promote women in STEM careers. “I can’t believe that we’re almost twenty years into the twenty-first century, and I’m still often the only woman in a business meeting,” she says.
The struggles she’s experienced as a woman in corporate America inspired Suarez to partner with Big Brothers Big Sisters of America, a charity with a longtime relationship of support from the Carnival Foundation. Suarez mentors an underprivileged teenage girl in South Florida. Like Suarez, her Little was once shy and introverted. Today, the high school senior is student government president. Suarez says she helped her Little open up by encouraging her to trust herself and take risks.
Those looking for a mentor, Suarez says, should focus on authenticity. “Forced mentoring relationships rarely work well,” she explains. It’s okay to ask someone to act as a mentor, but aspiring protégés need to ensure they have a willing partner. Other things to look for include honesty, diversity, and commitment, according to Suarez.
While formal mentoring agreements and regular appointments provide some accountability and process, Suarez favors more casual interactions. “I like to think I’m slowly mentoring each person on my team,” she says, adding that she’s always looking for teaching moments in every interaction, including project reviews and one-on-one appointments.
The thorough approach helps Suarez empower her team, and is achieving results. Her team has worked together on innovative projects such as replacing check payments with electronic transfers and creating Carnival Corporation’s first centralized function for data processing. Their current focus includes automation and continuing to implement best practices with partners across the entire enterprise.
“I love tackling big projects, because we can look at what we do and find little ways to make improvements and drive results,” Suarez says. “We’re never just looking at data; we’re asking probing questions. I’m mentoring my staff along the way to be as good as they can be.”
In doing so, Suarez is building the twenty-first century treasury department that will help Carnival Corporation, and its next generation of leaders, continue to succeed.