|Latina Leadership in Dallas
By Christine BolaÃ±os
Prominent Latinas in Dallas, TX (L-R) Nina Vaca, Gloria Tostado, Lora Villarreal, Linda Valdez Thompson, Marie Quintana, Regina Montoya, Salma Gottfried, Alice Rodriguez, Gina Puente, and Delia Reyes. Photo by Jose de la Rosa.
There are no signs that Latina entrepreneurship and success will be slowing down any time soon. For the past two decades, majority women-owned firms have continued to grow, women have outnumbered men at universities, have a seat at the C-suite, and Latinas are a part of this demographic. The Latinas showcased in this feature have worked at several levels in different organizations and companies becoming a critical element in the growth of the nations’ economy, specifically Texas. They are only a handful of prominent Latinas that epitomize everything that a leader should be.
Linda Valdez Thompson
Executive Vice President of Administration & Diversity
DFW International Airport
Linda Valdez Thompson has moved about 14 times in her life but she still considers herself a Tejana. The “Everything is bigger in Texas” trope fits the proud Texan ideally as executive vice president of Administration and Diversity at DFW International Airport, the world’s third busiest airport.
Considered to be one of the highest-ranking Latinas in the aviation industry worldwide, in her role she is responsible for human resources, procurement and materials management, risk management, business diversity and development, and internal communications and diversity.
She says she would not have reached this level of success without her family’s support.
“I think a lot of it is my core family: my mom and my dad. You just learn the value of hard work and you also learn the value of people doing different work but valuing all work, no matter what someone does for a living,” Valdez Thompson explains.
Recognized among her peers as a leader known for strategic vision and ability to achieve business goals, she has a passion for creating a diverse and inclusive environment for all employees and suppliers.
While at DFW International Airport, Valdez Thompson has successfully implemented the Diversity Leadership Council to integrate inclusive practices into the DFW airport’s business strategy and employee resource groups to support the development and promotion of minorities and women.
As Valdez Thompson states, it is all about managing your appearance, your time, your projects, your relationships. “Most of the time when you’re first starting out, you are going to start out as an individual contributor which means you’re really managing yourself,” she explains. “I think people in the workplace sometimes forget that if they want to become a manager of other people the first thing they’ve got to manage really well is themselves.”
She serves as executive sponsor of DFW’s Women’s Initiative Network and implemented a mentorship program for the development and retention of professional women in Dallas-Ft. Worth.
Valdez Thompson has earned several distinctions including the recipient of the Dallas Business Journal’s Minority Business Award as Corporate Executive of the Year. She has also been awarded the Diversity FIRST Award by the Texas Diversity Council and the 2012 Most Distinguished Women Award from the Texas Association of Mexican-American Chambers of Commerce.
She is also an alumnus of the National Hispana Leadership Institute (NHLI) and a member of the Dallas Hispanic 100, a network of Latina professionals.
Puente Enterprises, Inc.
Gina Puente was raised in an entrepreneurial family but it was not until her father began a business at the DFW International Airport that she found her own path in business.
“Sunday dinners would revolve around the business,” she explained. “My brothers would always take an interest and even though I worked in all facets of the business, I never really had a calling. That’s why I pursued a broadcast journalism degree. Then, he got involved at the airport. It’s just a different atmosphere there.”
The “business bug” bit Puente and she took a job as a sales trainer and assistant manager at Gap Kids and Baby Gap. “I took an interest in the pace of retail and I jumped over into the airport business,” Puente explains.
By 1995, Puente made her own mark as an entrepreneur with the creation of La Bodega Winery, the first and only licensed fully-bonded winery in an airport. “I studied the demographics of the traveler and wine consumer, and their education and income level were about the same. I thought it was a great concept for an airport terminal,” Puente says.
Over the last 20 years, Puente has become one of the most successful female airport concessionaries in the world. Besides the winery, Puente owns and operates a family of retail, food and beverage and currency exchange businesses. Today, four different companies coexist under Puente Enterprises, Inc.
The four companies are Puente Concessions, Inc., V. Puente Currency Services, Inc., Venturas Puente, Inc. and Gina Puente Ventures, Inc.
Puente Enterprises grosses more than $50 million annually and employs more than 170 people from the Dallas-Fort Worth area. It sports a workforce representing 15 different countries and the management team is made up of 93 percent minorities, most of whom have been promoted within Puente Enterprises.
“I believe in diversification and it’s an asset for companies to embrace. It’s something that we are very proud of,” she shares.
She owes a major part of her success to her role models: her parents. Both failed first grade because they did not speak English and both became great entrepreneurs and parents despite not having graduated from high school. “They gave us every opportunity to succeed and also a strong dose of reality,” she says.
Executive Vice President
Brownsville, Texas native Alice Rodriguez had her first epiphany when she was only eight or nine years old. Her mother and older brothers were away working hard to make ends meet while their father, a shrimper, was away for months at a time. In the meantime, she and her sister stayed with their aunt who lived in Chicago.
“I remember going to the downtown area in Chicago. It was very exciting for me. One thing I recognized was all these people going to work downtown. Everyone I knew back in Brownsville was a laborer. People didn’t get dressed up or carry a briefcase,” she remembers.
“I thought, ‘when I grow up, I want to work in an office, I don’t want to work outside.’ It was a very important part of my life,” she continued.
She graduated from Pan American University, now known as The University of Texas-Pan American, with a bachelor’s in business administration in 1986. Her greatest source of inspiration was her mother, who despite not receiving a formal education beyond grade school, had a natural entrepreneurial spirit.
Rodriguez spent her first post-college year working for a property management company in a bookkeeping-like position. She wanted very much to get her foot in the door and found a lead in the form of a newspaper advertisement for a loan teller position at Texas Commerce Bank in Brownsville.
“I decided to take it because I thought, ‘you know what, I have to work from the bottom,” she explains.
After three months, she moved on to JPMorgan Chase Bank as a loan processor. She has spent 25 years with the bank, working her way up the corporate ladder, and eventually landing her current position as business banking executive for the western United States. She is responsible for small business clients from California to Texas with revenues of up to $3 million in sales.
Rodriguez manages 1,100 employees, $13 billion in small business deposits and $2 billion in small business loans. In 2011, revenues totaled $1 billion, up 25 percent from the previous year.
“The ultimate goal is to continue to drive deposit and loan growth which ultimately raises revenue, and hopefully, offering great services to business clients,” she says. “I think I’ve been very blessed to work for this organization for the last 25 years. I can’t emphasize enough this whole point about being surrounded by a group of people to help you be successful.”
Senior Vice President & General Counsel
Children’s Medical Center
Harvard Law-trained attorney Regina Montoya is among the first Latinas to earn partnership in a major law firm in the United States. Montoya has also worked at the White House and is working on a book about the importance of incorporating Latinos into the economic, political and social fabric of America.
Montoya said none of it would have been possible without her source of inspiration, her mother. Unlike Montoya, her mother did not have the opportunity to go to college until later in life.
With support from her parents, Montoya graduated with a bachelor’s degree from Wellesley College and earned her law degree from Harvard University—two of the country’s most prestigious universities.
“What a great honor to go to the same schools as Hillary Rodham Clinton and President Barack Obama,” she shares.
Montoya remembers that at the time she was attending Harvard Law, she was one of the few Latinas enrolled in the college. As a way to stay close to her Mexican American roots, Montoya took a Spanish class.
“What I valued so much is that I learned how diverse the Latino community is,” she remembers.
Montoya has come a long way since taking Spanish. In 1993, she served in the White House as an assistant to the president and director of intergovernmental affairs. Then, in 1998, she was nominated by President Bill Clinton to serve as a U.S. Representative to the 53rd session of the General Assembly of the United Nations.
Montoya is currently senior vice president, external relations and general counsel at Children’s Medical Center in Dallas. In her role at Children’s, Montoya oversees several major departments, including legal affairs, public affairs, governance, government relations, community relations and compliance/internal audit.
“Our mission is to make life better for children. Every day I come into this office, I know I couldn’t be part of a more wonderful institution. What really has distinguished this place is the people I have worked with. They really have such a passion for kids,” Montoya explains.
Montoya began her career at Children’s as a college intern, unsuspecting that one day she would work there. Prior to joining Children’s in 2009, she was chief executive officer of the New America Alliance.
She is a member of the Dallas Hispanic 100 and attributes her success, in part, to the women who broke down barriers in the past and paved the way for future Latinas’ success.
President & CEO
Reyes Consulting Corporation
She is a business-woman, government worker and an advocate for women in the workplace. Delia Reyes co-owns Reyes Consulting, a marketing consultation firm, with her husband, Adrian. She is the first woman to have served as chairman of the United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and is also one of only a dozen Hispanic women in the country to have served on the board of a Fortune 500 company.
In addition, she was appointed to the Federal Glass Ceiling Commission by President George H.W. Bush in 1992. As part of President Bush’s Glass Ceiling Commission, Reyes conducted a study of opportunities for, and artificial barriers to, the advancement of minority men and all women into management and decision-making positions in corporate America. The 21-member body prepared and submitted findings and conclusions to the president. “I was one of only about 10 women in the commission,” she says.
However, the route to success was not so easy for Reyes at first. When she arrived to the United States from Cuba in 1962 with her parents, Reyes experienced something she never had before.
“This is the country that gave us an opportunity to succeed. We were so grateful for that. Maybe because I came from a different background, I didn’t know discrimination but I could see a lot of discrimination here,” Reyes says.
The neglect she felt from others is what eventually set the stage for Reyes’ 1994 co-founding of Hispanic 100, a group of Hispanic women leaders in Dallas that strives to serve as catalysts for change and to highlight the accomplishment of Hispanic women in the area.
“What got me to create Hispanic 100 is an event the Mayor had invited me to. It was supposed to be 100 women business owners. But I was the only [Latina] one there and I could name at least four other women who could’ve been there,” Reyes explains.
From that moment on, her mission was to provide support to other professional Latina women and ensure other women would provide support to each other as well.
Reyes is currently a gubernatorial appointee on the Board of Directors of Texas Mutual Insurance Company. She has held gubernatorial appointments to the Board of Regents for Texas Woman’s University.
She has also held gubernatorial appointments to the State Bar of Texas and to the Governor’s Commission on Women. In addition, she serves on the Board of the Community Council of Greater Dallas.
Communications and Public Relations, South Central Region
Gloria Tostado never dreamed her career would take off in the telecommunications and public relations industries, but she could not be more fulfilled than she is as community relations manager at General Motors.
If it were not for a temporary job she took straight out of college, Tostado might still be trying to find her place in the world using her degree in Spanish and French and minor in sociology. “I felt that even though I had a degree, I was really not prepared for the workplace. But I did enter it, and it was in a really interesting way,” she says. “The summer after my senior year of college, I was working at a summer job. It was at a temporary agency. It was where I met two ladies who worked at what was then Southwestern Bell who had inquired about me.”
The ladies spotted Tostado while she was working as a receptionist. Tostado seemed to be just what they were looking for: a college graduate.
After a series of tests, Tostado got the job. She was amazed not necessarily that she was offered the job, but that she accepted it, as it had nothing to do with her degree and it required her to give up an oversees graduation trip she had already planned.
Tostado worked her way up the ladder at Southwestern Bell, now known as AT&T.
Professional image is everything in public relations, she explained. Especially as her job requires her to reach out to businesses and establish working relationships with them. “I’m a firm believer that there must be respect that you project so that you can get respect back,” Tostado continued. “I think that as a communicator, when you’re in a situation, you have something meaningful to impart. You must allow others to feel like they either gained from it or shared something back.”
As community relations manager for General Motors’ South Central Region since 2005, Tostado’s focus has been to help forge relationships within the Hispanic community and women’s markets.
Tostado is a native of Houston and currently resides in Dallas. She encourages aspiring Latinas to stop and ask questions and be well informed.
Chief Executive Officer/Founder
Pinnacle Technical Resources Inc.
Despite coming from a long line of entrepreneurs, Nina Vaca never imagined that her staffing and vendor management services business would grow to become the largest Latin-owned firm in Texas.
Dallas-based Pinnacle Technical Resources began on her living room floor in 1996 and since then, has grown to become the second largest Latina-owned business in the country and has provided hundreds, if not thousands, of jobs over the years. It is recognized as a Fortune 500 company and includes 4,500 consultants from across the nation and multiple foreign countries.
Looking back, Vaca says it was an insatiable energy within her that allowed her to start her own business. “I wanted to try to create something for myself and if possible, my family,” she says. “I never dreamed that it would grow to the size it is today.”
Born in Quito, Ecuador, business came naturally to Vaca, a third generation entrepreneur who grew up in a family business. “My parents created several businesses, including a chain of travel agencies. In one capacity or another, my brothers and sisters and I were always working in some type of family-owned business. At the time, none of us knew anything different. Looking back, however, those years formed the foundation of what I still do today,” she remembers.
Vaca’s greatest recent professional accomplishment is her recognition by the Texas House of Representatives. Pinnacle was honored for its 15 year history of creating jobs in Texas. “Recognition by the Texas House was one of the true highlights of my career. Not only did it validate all our hard work, but it showed our people can accomplish when they put their full effort into a worthy endeavor. Running a business is a lot like raising a family in the sense that when the people you’ve brought in, mentored, and work with side by side finally experience their own success, you’re even happier for them than you are for your own success,” she shares.
Her accomplishments as a business woman are magnified by the fact that she is Latina.
When her “achievements can be used to serve the goal of promoting the broader Latino community, they bring me a uniquely personal satisfaction that gives extra meaning of everything I do and all the difficult situations we have to overcome,” she says.
Chief People Officer & Executive Vice President
Affiliated Computer Services, Inc. A Xerox Company
Growing up in the barrios of East Los Angeles, Lora Villarreal says she did not realize she was poor because of the love and support she received at home. When she was six, her grandfather tried to enroll her in a Catholic school but she was required to learn English in order to attend. Though self-taught himself, he became Villarreal’s English instructor.
“I not only learned the language, but I learned that anything was possible if I just tried,” she says.
That attitude is what has carried her on to a successful career, eventually becoming executive vice president and chief people officer at Xerox Corporation, formally called Affiliated Computer Services. However, her success did not come without a few bumps along the road.
A single mother of two with only a high school diploma, she held several jobs before landing a secretarial job in the human resources department. Her boss believed in her, promoted her to recruiter and encouraged her to get a college degree.
Villarreal has experience in a variety of organizations, ranging from government to hospitals to newspapers, largely due to her second husband’s career as an Air Force officer. They eventually made Texas their home, though, because she did not want to live in a place where it snows.
Villarreal holds a bachelor’s degree in human resources management from Bellevue University, a master’s degree in administration and management from Central Michigan University and a Ph.D. in philosophy and management from California Coast University.
In her new role, Villarreal reached her lifelong goal of landing an executive position at a Fortune 500 company. She has been at Xerox for 14 years now. “I’m responsible for managing all human resources, our people around the globe. We have close to 95,000 employees. On a daily basis, it could be anything from salary administration to health and welfare benefits to payroll to recruiting to employee relations. Whatever the employee’s needs are. We’re here for them. We coach, we advise both employees and managers,” she says.
One of Villarreal’s most notable achievements during her time at ACS is the Workplace Solutions Center, a re-engineered HR service delivery structure that saved the company $5 million a year.
Villarreal is proud of her heritage and attributes her success in part to her mentors, many of whom were men, and decided to nurture her potential. Villarreal vows to never forget her roots and help others achieve their dreams. “Latinas bring a wealth of knowledge. They bring a heritage to the workplace that only they have,” she says.
President and CEO of The Quintana Group
Marie Quintana was only five years old when she and her family were forced to leave Cuba and make a new life in the United States. As the oldest child in the family, Quintana felt a sense of accountability toward her family, and was the first to learn English and helped the others assimilate to a different environment.
They arrived in Louisiana on Thanksgiving morning. Unlike the majority of Cubans who moved to Florida, Quintana’s family moved to the small town of Reserve, Louisiana, where they were one of the only Latino families. Before moving to Reserve, the family temporarily lived in a housing project in New Orleans where they depended on Catholic charities to donate pots and clothes for survival. Her father found work cleaning offices and delivering pizzas until he found a job as a sugar chemist in Reserve.
“I started first grade there and I didn’t speak any English. I was in a school where there were no other Hispanics; they had never seen a Hispanic person. It was very scary,” Quintana shares. “My parents did not speak a word of English, so I helped them get comfortable with the culture while they were grieving having to leave Cuba. I was the one to navigate for my parents.”
In spite of a difficult cultural transition, the family remained hopeful of the possibilities the United States presented. “I wanted to go away to school up north but as do many Hispanic families, my mother wanted to make sure I stayed close to her. I went to Louisiana State University. My wish was to be a psychologist, I wanted to help people,” she explains.
She put herself through school by working in the school’s food administration office for four years. Though she enjoyed counseling others, she eventually opted to enter the business arena instead. She says she applied key skills she learned through psychology such as listening to others, to her work at leading companies such as IBM and PepsiCo.
Quintana is currently president and CEO of The Quintana Group, a full-service management consulting firm working with leading companies and brands to define, refine and implement business strategies to maximize sales results. Founded in May, one of the companies’ focuses is multicultural marketing, with an emphasis on Hispanics.
She previously served as senior vice president of PepsiCo multicultural sales and fulfilled sales and consulting roles with major corporations such as IBM and Perot Systems. She also was critical to the finding of a kidnapped Costa Rican child which led the island nation to sign a United Nations treaty for kidnapped children.
Senior Vice President Marketing
Dallas Convention & Visitors Bureau
In November 2011, the Dallas Convention & Visitors Bureau appointed Salma Gottfried as senior vice president of marketing. Born and raised in Mexico City, Gottfried moved to Dallas to attend Southern Methodist University.
“Dallas is my home, and I see many exciting opportunities for both the Dallas brand and our city on the horizon. The Dallas CVB is a great organization, and I look forward to working with staff, our members, city staff, and civic and industry leaders to position Dallas as the top meetings and leisure destination in our country,” she said at the time.
Gottfried began her career in the hospitality industry with the Loews Anatole Hotel, currently the Hilton Anatole Hotel, in Dallas before being promoted to director of public relations and advertising for the hotel and director of advertising for the corporate chain where she led all advertising efforts.
Gottfried, who is fluent in Spanish and English, attributes her success in part to her parents, who believed it was their responsibility to ensure Gottfried and her siblings got an education.
“I remember something my father wrote to me a in a letter when I came to SMU,” Gottfried says. “At the end of the letter he said that I should always be a leader and lead by example and to also give back to the community. That has stayed with me all of these years.”
After spending 11 years at Loews, she completed a 14-and-a-half year stint with Dallas-based advertising agency Dieste, where she mostly served as executive director of brand leadership.
As senior vice president of marketing, Gottfried manages a team that brings the company’s brand to life through public relations and multicultural initiatives. Dallas CVB is currently in the process of re-branding Dallas, a huge endeavor she is involved with.
“We are positioning Dallas to parallel the transformation that the city has undergone in the last ten to 15 years. That includes hiring a marketing partner and implementing a communications plan,” she says.
Gottfried was recently voted into the Dallas Hispanic 100, a group of local Latina professionals and leaders. She believes dreams can become reality with some hard work.