Lourdes Suarez was first introduced to finance as a part-time employee in the accounting department of a small R&D firm while still in college. Little did she know that she was soon to become the very first Latina to hold a management position at that firm.
“The manager at the time moved away,” Suarez explains. “I literally started my career, straight out of college, as an accounting manager with a team.”
With no prior experience as a people leader, Suarez had to learn how to manage her team on the fly—a position not unlike the one in which she found herself at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. By then, Suarez was working in the cruise industry for Carnival Corporation, where she currently serves as treasurer. She once again had to learn in real time how to adapt to unexpected circumstances, but this time on a global scale.
Before coming on board at Carnival Corporation in 2005, Suarez held a variety of roles across different areas of accounting at Cunard, a luxury cruise line, and the Carnival Corporation brand. Still, when Corporate CFO David Bernstein invited her to join him in treasury at Carnival Corporation, Suarez admits she had her hesitations. “I literally had to ask him what treasury even did because I had no idea,” she says. “He told me not to worry because he was going to explain it to me and I was going to do great.”
Bernstein’s prediction was spot on. Suarez climbed the ranks within Carnival Corporation, while also broadening the scope of her work. “I started off as a manager and worked my way up through director, assistant treasurer, VP, and now treasurer,” she confirms. “I also led our financial technology team for four years before coming back to treasury.”
Suarez has made critical upgrades to treasury throughout her tenure at Carnival Corporation. For instance, she converted the company’s invoicing system from paper to electronic, and back in 2007, she implemented a new way for the company to pay bills across two-thirds of its brands. “We actually eliminated checks in North America, which, in 2007, was unheard of,” she says. “We’ve been at 97 percent electronic payments for over fifteen years.”
Today, Suarez focuses on financing strategy. “I spend a lot of time speaking to banks, understanding our cash flows, ensuring we’re investing our cash wisely, and working with the teams when we need to do financing,” she says. “In a nutshell, I make sure everybody has money to pay the bills. And whatever money we’re not using to pay the bills, I invest it.”
Another top priority for Suarez is setting up her team members to reach their full potential. “I want to see people excel and grow with the organization, or grow outside the organization if that’s their career path,” she emphasizes. “I love seeing my past team members get promoted to director, even if it’s on another team or at another company.”
Suarez’s leadership style draws on the guiding principles of doing your job and doing it well, competing with yourself rather than with others, and being honest—principles that COVID-19 put to the test. “I found a challenge in keeping people motivated because the pandemic was taking a real toll on people. It added to our stress as humans, and that wove into our everyday lives and our everyday work lives,” the treasurer says.
As she and her team adapted to working from home, Suarez began to seek out ways to inject some much-needed levity into her weekly staff meetings. From experimenting with themed Zoom backgrounds to having everyone share bucket-list vacation items, she strived to foster a sense of connection and camaraderie in the virtual work environment.
Suarez encountered new challenges on the financing side as well. “Not just Carnival Corporation but the cruise industry specifically was very hard hit. The pandemic and regulatory orders effectively shut down the entire industry and would not let us sail,” she says. “Treasury becomes such a key component when you’re trying to supplement revenue shortfalls. You need to finance your way toward keeping the company running.”
Although she had been sitting in the financial technology team when COVID-19 hit, Suarez was quick to volunteer her skills to treasury as the team there scrambled to craft creative solutions amid the industry shutdown. She helped negotiate deals to see Carnival Corporation through the early days of the pandemic—and the long months that followed.
“Over time, the world has gotten back to a semblance of normalcy,” says Suarez. “The cruise industry has had to work its way through a lot of CDC [and other] requirements, but now that those restrictions are being responsibly relaxed, it provides a better opportunity for us to resume our operations and return our service to what it used to be.”
Carnival Corporation is nothing if not resilient, and Suarez feels confident as she looks to the future. “It’s about getting back to where we were and picking up things from there,” she says. “There’s a lot of work we need to do, and I want to play my part in it.”
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