by M. V. Greene
In one simple phrase, diversity in the leadership of corporations works. Fresh ideas, top talent, backbone, hard work, and high expectations are some of the benefits forward-thinking organizations achieve when they understand that diversity is no longer just a feel-good endeavor, but a business imperative in a rapidly evolving multicultural global society.
Corporate and group leaders must provide top-level direction in many ways and in good times and bad, and those listed among Diversity MBA’s Top 100 Under 50 Executives do just that. Consider some of their stories: A manufacturing general manager who learned about competing at the U.S. Naval Academy; a big-city treasurer whose family migrated from Mississippi in search of the American dream; the head of a foreign subsidiary who began as a trainee in Washington, D.C.; a woman in a top position for the world’s largest retailer in the world’s largest consumer market; a marketing whiz at the heart of multicultural efforts for a financial-services giant, and a physics major turned financial expert who helped an airline steady its bottom line during tumultuous times.
Sound intriguing? We thought so, too.
Kenji Hashimoto, American Airlines Inc.
With the global recession ravaging national economies, times are indeed tough for some in corporate America. But Kenji Hashimoto has already been through it, making difficult decisions on corporate issues of profitability, productivity, and performance years before the recession hit in his role as managing director for airline profitability and financial analysis at American Airlines Inc. in Dallas.
Joining American in 1998, Hashimoto has served in his current position since 2007, responsible for a broad set of analytical and reporting functions that include route- performance analysis and profitability reporting, labor analysis and support of labor negotiations, and competitive benchmarking and analysis. But the events of Sept. 11, 2001, forever changed the fiscal paradigm for commercial aviation, forcing airlines to find ways to run leaner operations.
“Practically my entire career here has been focused on productivity,” Hashimoto says. “We continue to focus on making sure we are as productive as we can at all levels and across the entire company,” he said, noting that when times are difficult, it’s incumbent that executives keep their eyes on the prize, so to speak: “All of us in a tough environment always need to focus, which is doing your job as best you can on behalf of your company or organization. For those who do so, good things happen.”
That kind of thinking highlights Hashimoto’s view that the best way to confront corporate challenges and career obstacles is head-on. Throughout his career, he has sought to make an impact by gravitating toward taxing tasks, whether lateral or upward. Early on, for instance, he moved out of financial planning, his area of expertise, to take an opportunity in sales. One of his responsibilities today has him leading a team charged with negotiating and implementing a revenue-sharing agreement with two other airlines.
Additionally, Hashimoto, who earned his bachelor of science in physics from Harvey Mudd College in Claremont, CA and his MBA in finance from the J.L. Kellogg Graduate School of Management at Northwestern University, has served American both domestically and in Europe. “There’s a part of me that says sometimes, it’s helpful never even to acknowledge that you have an obstacle in front of you,” he says. “I realize maybe that’s a little too much of a rosy perspective. But I think if you can look at the opportunities in everything, you won’t get so focused on the negative. If you concentrate on how can you turn something to your personal benefit or your team’s benefit, you tend to have a better outcome.”
Edward Magee, Harley-Davidson Motor Co.
Edward Magee has some definite ideas about leadership. The general manager of Harley-Davidson Motor Co.’s Capitol Drive Powertrain Operations attests that his upbringing and career training would demand nothing less. He received his bachelor of science in mathematics from the U.S. Naval Academy, a master’s in public administration from George Mason University and a MBA from the daytime MBA program at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business. He served in the U.S. Marine Corps from 1987 until 2002 as a navigator, rising to the rank of lieutenant colonel, and received a number of awards for his service.
“When you go to the Naval Academy,” he says, “you’re thrown into an environment where you have to compete. My first really blatant lesson was that you can never be average in the way you approach your work or your life, because there are some very talented people out there. Average becomes below average very, very fast.”
A self-described student of leadership with a penchant for lifelong learning and personal/professional improvement, Magee’s desire for continuous learning was instilled in him by his family, who, he says, “defined the framework of how I view leadership and leadership development.” The Marines further presented him with the opportunity to learn and experience leadership, showing him that “The people who create the system are just as valuable as you are.”
When Magee arrived at Harley’s York, PA, plant in 2003, he found the opportunity to apply what he experienced in the military on leadership to private industry. A mentor imparted to him that leadership manifests itself through the people in the organization, and that a leader sets the tone for the vitality, success, and continual improvement of the team. “He said, ‘They won’t care what you know until they know that you care,’” Magee recalls.
While the global economy has been in a freefall, Harley has enjoyed sustained success. But Magee, an avid motorcycle enthusiast who rides a 2008 Harley 105th Anniversary Road Glide, won’t be sidetracked by what he calls unbridled growth that can promote bad habits. “We’ve got to really think about running our business for the good times and the bad times,” he says. “There’s a real sense that we have to step up to the plate now as leaders and make those tough calls and have those tough conversations and really focus organizations on excellence.”
Stephanie D. Neely, City of Chicago
As the elected treasurer of the City of Chicago, Stephanie Neely follows an axiom that guides her approach to her work: To make the office of the treasurer the best it’s ever been. “I use this example all the time,” she says.” You want a chocolate cake, and I make you apple pie. It’s a very nice gesture on my part, but I haven’t given you what you asked for. I always tell people to think outside the box. Because things were done a certain way for 15 years, it doesn’t mean it’s right.” .
A native Chicagoan who grew up on the south side, Neely is responsible for investing a portfolio of approximately $7 billion in an effort to ensure that the city’s residents get the best return for their tax and pension dollars. The office also develops and implements programs that foster and promote the economic vitality of Chicago’s neighborhoods, while maintaining programs that improve financial literacy and strengthen small businesses by providing access to affordable capital.
Neely says she learned some valuable lessons from her family while growing up that guide her in her job today. Her parents, J.C. and Doris, both deceased, and other family members migrated to Chicago from rural Mississippi. Her father and his six brothers, all uneducated, opened up neighborhood service stations. “Just watching how hard he worked to provide his family with a wonderful standard of living inspired me to work hard,” she notes, recalling how the brothers would go to great lengths to service customers.
She holds a bachelors degree in economics from Smith College and a MBA in finance from the University of Chicago. She was appointed to her post by Mayor Richard M. Daley in 2006 and won a citywide municipal election in 2007. She has more than 20 years of financial-services experience with investment-banking institutions, including being a former vice president at Northern Trust Global Investments.
“I believe in working hard,” she says. “I don’t have to be the smartest person in the room or the school or on the job, but no one is going to work harder than me. You have to prepare. You have to want strive and learn from mistakes.”.
Kevin M. Warren, Xerox Canada Ltd.
Kevin Warren began his career in 1984 as a sales trainee at Xerox’s offices in Washington, D.C., and ever since, even now as chairman, president and CEO of Toronto-based Xerox Canada Ltd., he cannot forget the mentors who helped him up the corporate ladder. He adds the influence of his late parents, Lucy and William. “The great thing is, once you start getting some momentum and start doing well, your confidence grows and you go from there,” he says.
New at Xerox, fresh from earning his bachelor of science in finance from Georgetown University, Warren embraced the role professional and corporate mentors could play in his development as an executive. “One of the misnomers is that most people think the mentee always picks the mentor,” he says. “It’s been my experience that it’s the other way around. I have found that people have seen something in me, either from my work ethic or my excelling in a particular job, and they decided to invest. And as the relationship matures, it becomes mutually beneficial to where the mentor can get as much out of it over time as the mentee.”
Now himself in a mentor role, Warren, a recent alumnus of Harvard Business School’s advanced management program, is responsible for business operations including human resources, customer service, marketing, and sales, espouses three tenets for successful careers — performance, corporate behavior and competency — which he calls his “success triangle,” one that’s especially poignant during the current recession and time of corporate transitioning.
“You simply deliver consistently good job performance because during difficult economic times, people are looking at the value proposition of every job and every person. You have to make sure learning is a continuous thing, and make sure you are a better executive in 2010 than 2009,” he says, adding that it’s key to have successful interaction with colleagues and supervisors. “Most corporations and large organizations are social institutions. You have to get along with people. High performers often get derailed because they don’t understand the behavioral part.”
Warren’s career has chronicled many of the same principles he advocates. Most recently, he led Xerox’s successful integration of its $1.5 billion purchase of Global Imaging Systems. “You should never be satisfied with interim success,” he advises. “I push myself as to what the possibilities and really strive toward that. You don’t want to pigeonhole yourself. To get into that C-suite, you have to be versatile. That means you have to do some things you’re not totally comfortable with. When you get that discomfort, that’s really where the growth comes as well.”
Rebeca X. Vargas, JPMorgan Chase
Rebeca Vargas understands the power of marketing messages and knows the value of being proactive and optimistic. A native of Mexico, the JPMorganChase senior vice president and marketing director oversees the company’s multicultural marketing efforts for all consumer businesses. She recently led Chase to change its approach to marketing to Hispanics by developing a business segment within multicultural business, focusing efforts to expand its brand positioning with a new tagline: “Chase. Juntos Se Puede.” The new segment is responsible today for more than 20 percent of Chase’s new checking acquisitions
Vargas, who holds an MBA from Tulane University and a bachelor of arts in accounting from Instituto Tecnolugico Autunomo de Mexico, learned early on to “raise her hand” when she saw she could contribute to making a business process better. “I always have a proactive approach to everything I do,” she says. “I don’t wait for people to tell me what I need to do. I’m always proposing new things to see how I can contribute to the team.”
Before coming to the United States, Vargas held prominent positions at Bancomer, Mexico’s second-largest banking company, including vice president of risk management. Prior to joining Chase, she was an executive at Citigroup, analyzing alternative distribution channels for the company’s North America retail business and leading cross- sell initiatives between Citibank and CitiFinancial.
While the financial-services industry has probably been rocked by the recession more than other corporate segment, Vargas says it hasn’t deterred her. Staying optimistic despite challenging times is her best advice to up-and-coming executives. “I’m one of those people who sees the glass as full vs. empty,” she says. “Be sure of yourself, meaning know what you have and what you have to offer.”
What guides her approach to corporate leadership? Hard work, honesty, respect for others, and teamwork. “In order to be a leader, you need first of all to gain the respect of everybody in the organization — your peers and superiors, and, most importantly, the people who work for you,” she says. “You have to have respect for other people and understand how different people in the organization can contribute to the common objectives of the team.”
Stephanie Wong, Wal-Mart China
Stephanie Wong joined Wal-Mart China in 1995 at its introduction to the Chinese market and has had overall responsibility for human resources functions countrywide, rising through the ranks to her current post as senior vice president and chief administrative officer.
In the unique position of a localized top female leader, Wong relies on intellect, strategic thinking, and proactive leadership to stimulate her teams to enhance market value for the company. Being part of a rapidly developing organization like Wal-Mart China is like reading a much-anticipated new novel, she says: “I don’t map out my career path with aggressive goals for each stage of my life. Instead, doing every task conscientiously is my daily principle. My satisfaction comes from the quality of my performance, harmonious cooperation with other associates, and contributing to the company’s overall success. It’s important to me to work with passion and offer help to others.”
Under her direction, Wal-Mart China has achieved a number of national-level awards in human resources-related fields, including being China’s top employer, the best China employer to grow talent, and the top employer for Chinese college students. “We’re a fast-growing company; even in the current economic downturn, we’re opening many new stores across the country,” she says. “This means we need more qualified talent than ever. We remain focused on developing our people to support their personal development and the company’s growth. We will keep improving our processes and productivity in stores and offices to make our company an even more efficient organization.”
In tough times, Wong, who previously worked in human resources roles in China for Nortel and Compaq Computer, feels professionals must continue to strive for excellence amid downsizing and transitioning. “Without a doubt, difficult economic times bring situations and issues that affect our countries, our companies, and our careers,” she says. “We may lose something, such as money, a promotion opportunity or a job, but we shouldn’t panic because of this. You will perform outstandingly if you believe you are a real talent, regardless of the situation.”
Wong holds MBAs from Sam M. Walton Graduate School of Business at the University of Arkansas and China’s Tongji University and a bachelor’s degree in English from Shanghai Normal University.