Success is no secret. If you succeed at what you do, you know what it takes: perseverance, hard work, and a bit of luck. But certain individuals are five-star leaders and have taken success to a whole new level. A five-star ranking signifies top leadership abilities and an exceptional level of achievement. They clearly have something that most of us don’t. But they’re willing to share their secrets with the readers of LATINO. Let us introduce you to Nely Galan, David Segura, Sara Martinez Tucker, Ralph de la Vega and Sol Trujillo. Nely is a media entrepreneur who started her first entrepreneurial venture in high school and got into the media field in her early 20’s. David is a visionary IT entrepreneur who knew in high school that he wanted to own and operate his own IT company. Sara started at a young age serving customers in her family’s store and ended up serving as a senior executive as well as serving on the boards of directors of two Fortune 500 companies. Ralph has turned numerous obstacles into opportunities and much adversity into advantage on his way to running a $50 billion dollar business that serves 100 million wireless subscribers and serving on a Fortune 100 board. Sol, who is a Hispanic trailblazer in corporate America, has served as CEO of three multi-billion dollar market cap companies on three continents as well as serving on Fortune 1000 boards for many years.
Here we present their stories, definitions of success, and reflections on how they achieved success. Their fields of endeavor range from telecommunications to entertainment. They hail from diverse locales including New Jersey, Michigan, Texas, Florida and Wyoming. They are first, second and third generation Americans. Yet success is what they share in common, and they embody the pursuit and achievement of the American dream. We asked them all the same question: “How do you define success and how have you achieved it?” Plus, they contributed some advice, or consejos.
Chairman, Trujillo Group Investments
Innovation, performance, achievement at the highest levels are the hallmarks of Sol Trujillo’s career. His journey has been filled with a series of firsts. At 32, he was the youngest officer in the history of AT&T. Trujillo was not only the first native-born Hispanic Chairman and CEO of a Fortune 150 company, but also the first to commercially launch broadband services at home, the first to launch a Smartphone, and the first build a nationwide high-speed wireless network. Trujillo has been the CEO of three $40+ billion dollar market cap companies on three continents including U.S. West in the U.S.; Orange, SA in Europe, the Middle East and Africa; and Telstra in Australia and the Asia Pacific region. Trujillo has served on numerous boards including U.S. West, Pepsico, Bank of America, EDS, Gannett, Orange, and Telstra. He currently serves on the boards of Target Corporation and WPP. He has not only been a trailblazer for the next generation, he has served as a catalyst for advancing Latinos to top leadership positions in corporate America.
“For me, success is defined by when an individual, company, nation, or whatever entity is being discussed has set out goals and objectives and then meets or exceeds them. Success is a pretty simple concept…it’s all defined by performance. What you do to drive to get to those levels of achievement? When you are meeting or exceeding, it’s a success. When you are not meeting and exceeding, it’s not quite what you would deem a success.
“Where I have been successful, whether it be with personal objectives or career objectives, has always been with understanding first of all where you want to go and then what you want to do. Again back to the objectives and goals. [It’s about deciding] what is it you want to achieve, building plans to get there, and understanding that plans always need contingencies because life happens in many different ways. Sometimes it happens in predictable ways, and sometimes there are unpredictable events. Sometimes they are called barriers or obstacles, but in any case you need to figure out how to get to that endpoint that you have set out for yourself. Sometimes they are very tactical and sometimes they are very strategic, but the point is that [success is always achieved] by planning, thinking, preparing, and performing.
“Performance is the defining element of success. Those who key in on performance, those who essentially stay focused on how they achieve or perform, they generally get to where they want to go. In my case I generally set out a targeted goal or objective, build the plan, and then essentially perform to the plan continuously.”
First of all, everybody needs to sit down and plan what it is they would define as success, because not everybody has the same definition of what is successful in a career or in their personal lives. It is a very personal thing.
Second, everybody needs to think about what performance criteria do they need to have in order to get to the ultimate objective. In the case of business, you need to know what is the career path that you need to follow to get there and also what kind of results do you need to generate in each assignment, task force, and initiative that you are associated with in that business.
The third step is about performing. Sometimes there are obstacles, barriers, or other events that may alter that, but it’s always staying focused on what you deem a success and not letting others define it for you.
Chairman and CEO, Galan Entertainment
Nely Galan has been entrepreneurial since selling Avon in high school. She got into the media business in her early 20’s and ended up as President of Entertainment for Telemundo. After a successful stint in Spanish language media Nely went out on her own and founded Galan Entertainment. She is now a spectacularly successful media company owner and is one of the few Latina producers in Hollywood. Since 1994 her company has launched 10 television channels in Latin America and produced over 600 episodes of programming. Galan produced the hit TV show, The Swan, which averaged over ten million weekly viewers. She recently launched two websites targeting women including msmogul.com and thenewyoutv.com. And by the way, on top of it all she has gone back to school to earn a Masters degree in Psychology.
“I now know for sure that success is not as much the end result of an experience but the journey of an experience… I wish I would no longer have to share my public ‘success’ resume, I would rather share my personal success journey, maybe not so impressive, but that’s what makes me smile and feel a sense of completion. Don’t get me wrong, the pursuit and acquisition of financial success, which is not on the top of my great success journey list, is a lot like exercise. It hurts like hell while you are doing it but the results make it worthwhile, especially for a woman. Nothing makes you feel more actualized than financial freedom. Note I did not say happy but truly ‘actualized’ and proud — yes!
I have achieved success, the good and the not so good kind by showing up (if you show up maybe something may happen but if you don’t show up I can guarantee nothing will happen), working like a dog, not being entitled, saving and investing my money and never living beyond my means, making fear and failure my best friends, taking calculated risks, losing a lot of personal relationships, saving and investing my money again, having a son, finally making the time for a mate, taking care of my parents, going to therapy, going back to school, enjoying my savings and investments, keep working like a dog some more, constantly growing and reinventing myself, humbling myself and starting over every day. … I think we Latinos have a real advantage here; somewhere deep in our DNA, I really believe we are happier. We do enjoy and treasure life and our families. We value the right things.”
Gene Simmons told me when I was on The Celebrity Apprentice, “Why are you climbing a mountain the hardest way. I think you enjoy struggling. Why do you think you have to over-deliver every day? Sound familiar? He was right; if I wasn’t struggling, selling, climbing, or hunting I felt like it wasn’t going to happen and maybe I was right that “success”, the one that comes with ulcers, may not have happened, but I stopped and asked myself is there a way to do this better? Maybe I just had to be open to a new way of having “success”. But that’s where I was, and I have to be kind to myself. That is the best I could do then.
Ralph de la Vega
President and CEO, AT&T Mobility and Consumer Markets
If it weren’t for the extreme adversity of the Cuban revolution, Ralph de la Vega might have gone into the family business and become a grocer in Havana rather than a C-level executive in a Fortune 12 company (AT&T), a board member of a Fortune 71 company (New York Life), and a board member of three outstanding national non-profit organizations (Boy Scouts of America, CTIA and Junior Achievement). De la Vega has reached the pinnacle of success through the strength of his character, his courage and his perseverance in not only overcoming obstacles but actually thriving on adversity. This is a recurring theme in his life from arriving in the U.S. from Cuba by himself at the age of 10, to working his way through college and earning degrees in engineering and business, to leading organizations to spectacular success even in the midst of societal chaos and rapid technological transformation. From starting as an engineer with Southern Bell in 1974 to advancing with BellSouth, BellSouth Latin America, Cingular and finally AT&T, de la Vega has “walked the talk.” In fact, in his outstanding book Obstacles Welcome: Turn Adversity into Advantage in Business and in Life, he challenges us to not only overcome adversity but to thrive on it as he has done. De la Vega has turned numerous obstacles into opportunities and much adversity into advantage on his way to running a $50 billion dollar business with 100 million wireless subscribers and serving on boards that touch millions more.
“From a business point of view success is leading a group of people to achieve their goals. Great success is leading people to achieve things they didn’t think were possible to achieve. The ultimate success for a leader is to be able to convince and inspire people and eventually get them to commit to achieving hard goals, goals that in some cases may seem insurmountable but yet they achieve them because they were inspired, had a good goal and plan, and executed it well. As for personal success, everybody probably has their own life plan just like you have a business plan. The life plan should include in it the capability to fit your business plan in your life plan and still accomplish and achieve what you want to achieve in your personal life. … I think that happiness at home is success and business success is defined by whatever goals you set with the various teams in your business life.
When I was in high school, my success was defined by becoming an engineer. When I went to my high school counselor and said so, he said I should be a mechanic instead. I actually started to become a mechanic until my grandmother came from Cuba and told me that I shouldn’t let people put limitations on what I can achieve and completely changed my perspective. She was right. I got rid of that counselor’s advice and I became an engineer. Then I realized after taking that step that I could become much more. Again education changed my life because I went to Northern llinois University and I got my MBA degree there. The management experience I gained along with the education and the MBA convinced me that I could become an executive and the rest was history. I think had I not gotten further in my education, not only technical but also management and leadership education, I wouldn’t be where I am today.”
For Hispanic professionals, we are such a family-oriented culture that it was very difficult for me to leave my hometown, my family, and my friends. I left in an attempt to not only really improve my education and job prospects, but also to go after the opportunity I know is there. That sometimes if very difficult to do. I never make a judgment on what is right and what is wrong, but if you are never comfortable leaving the place you are comfortable with including your home town then you are going to have to wait for opportunity to come to you.
But if you really want to be the best person you can be and reach for success, then sometimes you have to go after opportunity and you have to be a driver on your journey to success and not a passenger. I think Hispanics are very drawn to their families, and that is good but sometimes that does hinder or takes a little bit longer for that opportunity to come to you.
Sara Martinez Tucker
Consultant and Corporate Director
Sara Martinez Tucker’s story began in a family-run convenience store called Come-In-Shop groceries where she learned about hard work, perseverance, and success. After earning her Bachelors in Journalism she worked for the San Antonio Express before earning her MBA at UT Austin. She then worked as an executive at AT&T for 16 years where she had a seat on the foundation board of trustees and served on non-profit boards on behalf of AT&T. When she retired from AT&T she re-evaluated what mattered to her. After concluding that women’s issues, business, higher education, and the Latino community mattered the most to her, she did pro-bono consulting for various organizations to support the causes that mattered to her, and became CEO of the Hispanic Scholarship Fund. Martinez Tucker also served as Under Secretary of Education under President George W. Bush. Currently she serves on the boards of directors of American Electric Power and Xerox.
I remembered when I was very young in my corporate carrier and I had just made senior management. We went off on an officer retreat and they did that old exercise where you write your obituary. Everybody around me was like ‘I’m going to be the one that made that line of business profitable’ and ‘I’m going to be the one that got rid of the operators and made it automated.’ My answer then is the same answer I have today. I want to be remembered as a great daughter, a great sister, a great wife, a great aunt, and a great friend to many. I want my parents to say we couldn’t have asked for a better daughter, I want my sister to say thank God I was her sister, I want my husband to say thank God I picked her and I want my nephews to say we couldn’t have asked for better. I want to matter to the people whose lives I’m in. Professionally, I would hope that my bosses and subordinates would say the same thing, that ‘she treated us as if we mattered in her life.’
I think the attributes I’ve had in every job that I’ve had is to leave behind a better place than when I got there and also my mother’s admonition that the ‘customer’s always right’ and ‘take the initiative.’… At work, it’s about coming in and not just saying ‘what have others done in this job?’, it’s about coming in and saying ‘what can be done in this job with the resources I have?’, and if more resources are needed, asking ‘how do I tell that story?’ Every job I’ve been given I remember my mother saying ‘take the initiative.’ Take every job, just look at it critically, and see what can be done, instead of what did the person before me did or what is the job description. It’s look at that job and see what’s possible with it.
The advice I would give to people, and the advice I have given to many people, is take on something measurable and focus on doing it. I think my experience in D.C. taught me that there are a lot of people who measure success by their ability to talk about the problems and talk about the issues, and there are few people who are out there building solutions to the issues that face my community or the company in which I work. Rather than talk about the issues or why things are the way they are, my advice to people is to take hold of something and build it, do it.
Chairman and CEO, VisionIT
During high school, David Segura had one goal in mind, to become an IT entrepreneur. He doggedly pursued this goal by earning his Bachelors degree in computer science at the University of Michigan-Dearborn and starting his career in IT at Ford Motor Company. In 1997 he founded VisionIT, and since then has dedicated his passion and energy to growing VisionIT into one of largest Hispanic-owned businesses in America, with $230 million in revenue in 2010. Also dedicated to the advancement of minorities within the IT industry, Segura helped found the Hispanic IT Executive Council (HITEC) and has encouraged strong business partnerships between Fortune 500 companies and other minority-owned businesses. He also gives back to the community through non-profit board service for organizations like the Detroit Regional Chamber, Michigan Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, and the Heat and Warmth Fund. Segura serves America by sitting on the Advisory Committee for Trade Policy and Negotiations as well as on the National Advisory Council on Minority Business Enterprise. Focused, passionate and energetic, David Segura is an exemplary entrepreneur, business leader and community leader.
“Success is a journey. I believe it is more around the joy and excitement of building something great that has purpose and impact. Ultimately great service and delivery is rewarded with more opportunity; this leads to the ability to invest and impact your community by providing more opportunities for others. I’ve achieved success by operating by the principles of FAST: Focused, Agile, Streamlined, Talented — a model that has worked for both me personally and for our organization.
Focused is all about knowing what you are best at and investing in getting stronger and better each day, not taking on more than you can handle or opportunities that are not in your core business. Agile is being flexible and responsive to the needs of our customers, and creating win-win scenarios for both organizations. Streamlined is having well documented and repeatable processes that create outstanding experiences for our customers while leveraging the latest technologies that make the organization efficient and cost effective. Talented is about having the best and brightest people in your industry on your team while continuing to focus on developing people in your organization and giving them opportunities to shine.”
Set big, audacious goals, align with the right people who can work with you or have had experience in attaining these goals, put forth an incredible effort above and beyond what is standard in your industry and help others along the way. I have studied a lot of the great entrepreneurs in U.S. history and there is ultimately an uncommon belief that what you are doing can be great, many times against significant odds but over time as you build momentum more and more people get on board. One reaches a tipping point where the business becomes synonymous with success. I am excited about where we are today with VisionIT and I am thankful to have so many bright and hard working people in my organization who share my vision of VisionIT being the company that is truly transforming the technology services industry through outstanding customer service coupled with innovation in how we deliver our solutions.