Maritza Diaz Is Always Adapting

How Maritza Diaz has built an HR career around adapting to new cultures

Maritza Diaz Sojitz Corporation of America
Maritza Diaz, General Manager & VP Human Resources and General Affair, Sojitz Corporation of America (Photo by Albaro Burbano)

Born to a Cuban father and a mother with roots in the Canary Islands, you could say Maritza Diaz was dealing with diverse cultures from the get-go. Throw the United States into the mix—the family immigrated to the States from Cuba when Diaz was just five years old—and her cultural map had grown exponentially before she even started elementary school.

“I was the town interpreter for everything that happened,” says Diaz, who spoke Spanish at home and English everywhere else. “So I grew up with a sense of providing some sort of service to others. And that instilled in me a need to provide service in my career.”

The Diaz family settled in Tarrytown, New York, which was about twenty-five miles north of Manhattan and a popular destination at the time for Cubans who wanted to leave the bustling boroughs of New York City. She recalls living in a boarding house, where she says the only bathroom was down the hall and her mother cooked for other Cuban men whose wives had not immigrated, before the family got a place of their own. These kinds of experiences in Diaz’s formative years gave her an unforgettable understanding of her heritage.

“From my perspective, the Cuban population that came to Tarrytown was very strong,” she says. “We kept our identity, our language, our sense of culture, but at the same time, we wanted to fit in, so we became accepting of other cultures and other peoples.”

Motivated by her father’s desire to live closer to their homeland, the family relocated to the Miami area when Diaz was sixteen. This led to her earning all three of her college degrees, including an MBA, in Florida. It’s also where she worked as a compensation consultant until she got an opportunity with Bank of America’s San Francisco office. The next two decades found her either at Bank of America, Spanish banking giant BBVA (Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentina), or working independently. “I’ve done a lot of international business travel, dealing with different cultures, people, brokers, and vendors and designing different programs,” Diaz notes. “I enjoy really feeling like I’m making a difference.”

Eventually her independent work became less challenging that Diaz preferred, and that’s when she got word of the Tokyo-based Sojitz Corporation. Made up of businesses in a wide variety of industries including automobiles, energy, chemicals, agriculture/forestry resources, and industrial parks, Sojitz has 440 affiliates and subsidiaries worldwide—including Sojitz Corporation of America. The company persuaded Diaz to join the New York offices in 2013. As general manager and VP of human resources/general affairs, her duties extend not only to Canada and Latin America but also to areas of business completely new to Diaz.

“They were looking for change,” she says of Sojitz. “It felt like a place where I could make a difference—a challenge I was ready for at this phase in my career.”

With a staff of ten—three in general affairs, seven in human resources—Diaz manages all of Sojitz’s HR disciplines, including payroll, benefits, human resource information systems, staffing, recruitment, performance management, and employee relations.

Working for a corporation that’s based in Japan presents its own challenges when dealing with cultural differences. However, Diaz is no stranger to overcoming gaps in culture. In addition to growing up in a vibrant bilingual household, Diaz worked independent consultant for about three years on projects in Turkey, Thailand, and Venezuela to help organizations transform their HR departments from traditional operational units to strategic partners. One way she has done this is by advocating for HR to have a seat at the table, so to speak, and reminding companies to be open to change.

“If companies want to be global, then they must be open to change,” she says. “I think I have been able to overcome this to a large extent because I am assertive and I have always made that clear.”

In addition to advocating for HR to have a seat at the table, Diaz has developed skills over her career that have helped her be a better a leader and problem-solver. And her ability to critically think has been one of her most important assets.

As she’s grown as an HR leader, Diaz has found that mentoring has been essential to her success. “It is critical to the success of your career to have a mentor,” she says.

After three decades in human resources, Diaz has fine-tuned her approach to HR, acting as both an advocate for employees and leadership.

“Throughout my career, my philosophy about HR’s role may be a bit different than what I hear from other colleagues,” she says. “Although HR is a management role, I feel that we must act as the liaison between employees and management. I advocate for equality in HR.”

Corporate Synergies is a national provider of employee benefits and business insurance consultation and management services. Our in-house experts drive comprehensive services that help employers manage people, compensation and benefit programs in the face of mounting costs, regulatory pressures and ongoing changes in the healthcare and insurance industries.

UBS Financial Services Inc. celebrates the achievement and success of Maritza Diaz. We are honored to work with industry leaders and forward-thinking individuals like Maritza and congratulate her on this well-deserved acknowledgment of her leadership in human resources.