In late 2021, Rudy Juarez was having dinner with some fellow professionals, and they asked him a question. After over twenty-five years in key leadership positions at Fortune 500 corporations managing hundreds of millions in revenues, was it finally time for him to seek out a board seat with a Fortune 500 company?
Somehow, Juarez hasn’t taken on that challenge yet. He’s run countless P&Ls, balance sheets, and various types of teams, as well as moving himself across different industries domestically and internationally to build out his experience. He purposely came to the industrial supply company Grainger to prove to himself he could succeed beyond his previous accomplishments with heavy hitters in the food and beverage arena. Names like Kraft Heinz, Coca-Cola, Campbell, and Sara Lee. Today, his official title reads group vice president, LATAM and specialty businesses.
While having proven his value and inherent need to evolve his own skill set throughout his career, the transformation leader hadn’t considered a corporate boardroom. Until now.
“My friend said that there was a great opportunity for Fortune 500 companies to really tap into the executive Latino leadership that’s out in the market, and he wasn’t sure why they didn’t seem to be doing it,” Juarez explains. “I guess this is typical of me, but after giving it some thought, I decided I wanted to be part of the solution.”
The “great opportunity” to which Juarez’s friend referred remains a major problem within industry at large. A 2020 study by Deloitte and the Alliance for Board Diversity showed that Latinos make up just 4.1 percent of all board seats of Fortune 500 companies. When adjusted for population demographics, that makes Latinos the least represented visible minorities. By far.
The numbers got Juarez doing the math. Hispanics account for about $978 billion of household spending and comprise 19 percent of the population. A number experts predict will be closer to 26 percent by 2050. Moreover, the median age of Latinos in the US (29.8) is almost a decade younger than the general population (38.5)—meaning Latinos could account for a disproportionate part of the workforce by 2050.
“That means the workplace, and the boards of these organizations, have to change,” Juarez explains. “This is a chance for companies to mirror the marketplace, and to have their boardrooms more in line with the markets they’re serving.”
While Juarez hasn’t actively sought corporate board experience, his dance card has been full of nonprofit work for the betterment of his community. The VP sits on the executive board of the Ravinia Festival and has served on the boards of the Georgia Susan Komen Foundation, the Howard Brown Health Center of Chicago, the National Latino Education Institute, and the Highland Park Library.
“I feel like a lot of that not-for-profit board work, coupled with all my corporate business experience, has really prepared me for this next phase of corporate board work,” Juarez says. “I think there are a lot of people like me who have unique experience that can be put to good use.”
He grew up in West Phoenix in a predominantly Latino neighborhood, bilingual because many in his community only spoke Spanish. His father wasn’t around much, but the VP jokes he was raised by “an incredible group of Mexican women.” His mother, grandmother, and great grandmother taught him a great deal about respect and dignity.
The VP grew up in a big family in a tough part of town and recognizes resilience as an essential life skill he had to develop early. But with that strength also came a deep desire to make the world around him a better place.
“I have always believed that things can be better, and in business that means being able to assess the business and understand its potential. Then being able to execute on a vision and strategic roadmap, aligning all the right resources along the way,” he explains.
The same curiosity driving Juarez also will make him a valuable contributor to an executive board. When he felt like he’d accomplished all he could in one role, he sought out new challenges, which culminated in opportunities at the highest levels of business.
In his latest triumph, the VP oversees a handful of Grainger-owned standalone companies, a portfolio which accounts for several hundred million dollars in revenue. If you track Juarez’s résumé, anywhere he goes, his businesses perform.
While Juarez hadn’t been thinking about corporate board service until recently, he’s now working toward being on the front lines of change in the boardroom. Because if there’s one thing Rudy Juarez knows how to do, it’s making the world around him a better place.