Going Green

Jumping at the opportunity to be “part of green-energy history,” Mexico native Marco Castellanos finds his stride in the finance industry and builds on his natural leadership skills as director of finance for Philips’ Lumileds Lighting division

Marco Castellanos on being a leader: “If you let people focus on their objectives while you focus on yours, it’s easy to be successful.”

While growing up in Mexico, Marco Castellanos was the youngest child in his family, even among his many cousins. As proud family members are apt to do, there was often a great deal of bragging among Castellanos’s aunts, who were in a friendly competition with his mother regarding whose children were the brightest and most successful. What often won bragging rights was having a child move to the United States on assignment, which happened to a few of Castellanos’s cousins when he was growing up.

Marco’s Aha Moment

Tell us about the moment when you had a clear realization of what your direction should be (either personal or professional).

After completing my assignment at Philips’ newly acquired Healthcare company in Florida, I was offered to join to different projects within Philips’ Healthcare headquarters in Andover, Massachusetts. I knew making the right decision regarding my career was critical during this time. As I was writing the e-mail confirming my acceptance to one of the offers, my phone rang and it was a call from Philips Lumileds in the Silicon Valley offering me the position of director of finance … the idea of becoming part of green-energy history was too good to pass up and I accepted on the spot, reworking the e-mail I was writing before the call. This experience helped me understand how quickly things move in the world of finance. You have to be ready for curveballs and prepared to trust your instincts.

“Getting a transfer to the US was very impressive in our family,” Castellanos says. “It was a difficult thing to do and it meant you were very bright and very talented. So I can remember being around 10 years old and hearing my aunt tell my mom about how one of my cousins got transferred and in that moment, I promised myself I would make my mom and dad proud by making it to the US.”

Castellanos made good on that promise in 2001, just two years after he joined the multinational health, well-being, and electronics company Philips, which transferred him to sunny California’s famous Silicon Valley to take on the role of senior financial analyst. Joining Philips in 1999 after an eight year stint with Arthur Andersen, Castellanos worked his way up through Philips, taking on roles in the United States with more and more responsibility until he was named director of finance of Philips’ 10-year-old Lumileds Lighting division in 2009.

Though Castellanos is thrilled to be working in the Lumileds Lighting division, a portion of Philips that focuses on cutting edge, sustainable LED lighting, the director is firm in his belief that finance is where he belongs, though there was a time in his life when this field wasn’t even on his radar. If it weren’t for a friend, there’s no telling where he would have ended up.

“When I was younger, I was interested in the arts—dancing, singing, all of it. In high school, I thought journalism was the perfect profession because I could write about show business for a living,” Castellanos says. “When I applied to Mexico City’s top university for journalism, I wasn’t accepted and what followed was a rough time. I felt lost. I didn’t know what I was going to do with my life, and then a friend talked to me about becoming a certified public accountant (CPA). He was telling me how it was those in finance who really controlled business and, when I did my own research, I thought it was something I might be good at. To study accounting, I applied at the same university that rejected me—and I got in. I was 18 years old at the time and I felt like I was finally on the right path.”

When it comes to corporate finance, Castellanos got his feet wet with Arthur Andersen, which recruited him while he was still in college and at a time when the firm was one of the top eight in the world. When it comes to his management skills, however, those have been developed over time with Philips—and they’re a unique set of skills. Castellanos refuses to micromanage people, instead building on trust and objectives. An extension of this means that Castellanos isn’t particularly concerned about when his direct reports arrive to work or leave for the day, as long as they’re making progress toward their goals.

“If someone asks me, ‘What time do I come in this week?’ My answer is simple: it’s up to you. If I assign you with a project that must be completed by Friday and I don’t see you all week, I’m going to assume that you’ll be done on Friday as planned. If you show up on Friday and aren’t done and didn’t tell me earlier you were having problems, that’s when we’ll have a big issue. Someone once told me I empower people by allowing them to work in whatever way best suits them. I guess that’s true and I assume that’s why I’ve never struggled with leadership. If you let people focus on their objectives while you focus on yours, it’s easy to be successful.”

Being largely responsible for the success of one of Philips’ largest, emerging markets is no easy task, but Castellanos thoroughly enjoys his work and finds pleasure in the little things. For example, the part of his job that he enjoys the most might sound like the most basic, but it’s actually the most difficult: providing accurate financial information to business partners. The director says there’s something about providing a person with exactly the information they required that’s incredibly satisfying. “It’s in those moments that I feel like I’m truly contributing to the organization,” Castellanos says.

Moving forward, Castellanos would like to eventually contribute to organizations such as the Pan American Round Table in a larger capacity. The nonprofit women’s organization provides scholarships to young Hispanic women interested in pursuing higher education. For now, Castellanos donates to the organization.

“It’s important to me because not everyone has the same privileges or resources in life, and that shouldn’t deter a young person from pursuing education,” Castellanos says. “The future of our country depends on whether or not we support our young people and personally, I would like to become more engaged.”