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Cuban native Raul Suarez-Rodriguez came to Miami at 19 to live the American dream, after a childhood rife with hardship and scarcity. As a newcomer in an unfamiliar country, he soon landed restaurant work, but eventually decided it just wasn’t his “forever” job.
With success on his mind, the pursuit of more ambitious opportunities could have intimidated an outsider such as Suarez-Rodriguez, who spoke little English, and had few advanced skills.
But by tapping into the strengths of his inborn “immigrant mindset,” Suarez-Rodriguez has become successful – and a respected leader in his field. In 16 years he has risen from restaurant busboy to CVS/pharmacy store manager, and now serves as manager of the company’s supplier diversity program to educate and groom women- and minority-owned companies to do business with CVS Health.
“By excelling at six characteristics that come naturally to immigrant populations, Latinos and Hispanics can go further, faster – and share their success with others, “ says Glenn Llopis, founder of the Center for Hispanic Leadership, and author of “The Six Reasons Why Hispanic Leadership will Save America’s Corporations.”
“Raul is the perfect example of someone naturally using his immigrant mindset to achieve great success. If we as Latinos can tap into those same characteristics, there will never be a shortage of opportunities for us to succeed and lead.”
What are the six characteristics, and how can all Hispanics apply them in their careers?
1. Immigrants naturally see opportunity everywhere, in everything
Suarez-Rodriguez was amazed by the new possibilities around him.
“Coming from another country to a land of opportunity, you see that everything is an opportunity. I asked myself, did I want to work at a restaurant forever? The answer was no. So I asked myself what did I need to do to advance my career and achieve my goal of becoming an executive for a large corporation,” says Suarez-Rodriguez, who began taking steps to achieve his vision. “So I learned the language. I got my degree. I got my MBA.”
While eventually serving as a store manager for CVS/pharmacy, he was interested in exploring other opportunities within the company. Eager to follow where possibilities would take him, Suarez-Rodriguez leaped at the chance to work with the retail pharmacy chain’s store operations team. And while the job meant upheaval and change in his personal life – moving his wife from Miami to Rhode Island – he was eager to take advantage of opportunities in a new area of the company.
“I really started learning about supplier diversity and what it means,” he says. As he observed the procurement side of the business, Suarez-Rodriguez quickly noticed areas for improvement. “I said, ‘What do we need to do to take this to the next level’?” By spotting opportunities for enhancement and sharing them with team members, Suarez-Rodriguez helped create his own success. CVS Health promoted from a Procurement Analyst to Manager of Supplier Diversity in late 2013.
2. A wider, more circular field of view helps immigrants anticipate crisis and manage change before circumstances force their hand
Suarez-Rodriguez’s job is part of CVS Health’s larger focus on diversity, and the effort to ensure its stores reflect the surrounding communities. By anticipating the potential problems minority- and women-owned businesses encounter in seeking to work with CVS Health, he also strengthens his company.
“Many minority-owned businesses are too small to do business with a big corporation like CVS Health,” he says. “I could see that we needed more education and training for these potential suppliers. They needed to understand the processes and practices of working with CVS Health.” To that end, Suarez-Rodriguez began working with Roger Williams University to create a national executive learning program geared to small supplier companies. The goal of the program is to develop, educate and empower the diverse supplier community, and most importantly the creation of a long-term path to sustainability in the growth of their business.
“This will help develop those potential suppliers so when opportunities become available, they can present themselves in a way to win business with CVS Health,” he says. Suarez-Rodriguez can also help facilitate small companies subcontract temporarily with an existing CVS Health supplier to strengthen their knowledge and skills.
3. Immigrants pursue their passions to explore endless possibilities
“Hispanics have infectious passion,” says Llopis. “And when they put passion into what they do, the pursuit of excellence opens endless doors of possibility.”
Suarez-Rodriguez exudes enthusiasm when speaking about his work.
“My supervisor would always say she has the right person in this job because I am so passionate about it,” Suarez-Rodriguez says. “Being passionate about everything can take you so far.”
“I think it’s important as leaders here at CVS Heath to bring on diverse talent,” says Monette Knapik, CVS Health Director of Strategic Procurement. “I think it brings a different perspective, a different approach, a different lens” to how CVS Health serves its customers, she says. “To be innovative, we need to always be considering different ideas and thoughts” to enhance the company’s success.
Suarez-Rodriguez’s current passion is helping potential CVS Health partners prosper.
“I believe there’s a lot we can do for small businesses,” in addition to formal education or subcontracting arrangements at CVS Health, he says. “I take the time to sit down with the potential suppliers to CVS. I want to talk about what they do that is unique and help them develop that uniqueness so that the decision makers here can see that they really bring to the table. I want to spend quality time to understand them and where they’re coming from. I really want to help them get to that level where it benefits both the supplier and the corporation.
“If we as Hispanics and Latinos focus on our passions, nothing can stop us from getting where we want to go.”
4. Immigrants live with an entrepreneurial spirit – doing their jobs as if they owned the business
“In the USA, you have a choice to be an entrepreneur,” says Llopis. “But in a developing country, you must be entrepreneurial just to survive. Creative thinking and innovation come naturally to immigrants.”
Suarez-Rodriguez routinely taps his inner resourcefulness to help improve something or solve a problem. “I look at supplier diversity like it was my own business, and so innovation is very critical.”
That agile thinking helped him make positive changes quickly and relatively painlessly as he assumed new positions in the company.
“Thinking outside the box is what senior leaders are looking for from us, as employees,” he says. Having previous experience in operations, and having built my network in that department, I knew of many resources available that my current department, procurement, wasn’t aware of. By applying this knowledge and wisdom, I was able to make some positive changes without needing so many additional resources, or asking other areas of the business for support.”
I have previously used a survey platform in operations, and having that background and knowledge I was able to implement in our program to build a pre-qualification survey for when diverse businesses are reaching for business opportunities.
Also, I had established a strong relationship with the training department; therefore, I leveraged them to create a Capabilities Statement Web-Based Training to educate diverse suppliers when presenting their company’s capabilities to decision makers ensuring consistency in the one-on-one business meetings
5. Immigrants consider the needs of others – as much as their own – when seeking success
“As a Hispanic, you are raised to believe that it’s not just all about you,” Llopis says. “Immigrants realize that by working with a generous purpose, and giving to others from their harvest of good fortune, they help ensure they’ll also have a perpetual harvest.”
Suarez-Rodriguez says that approach has propelled his success, as well.
Helping others succeed “is in our DNA as Hispanics and Latinos,” he says.
“If I don’t treat people with respect or take the time to sit down and be supportive to their needs, it’s a problem. To me it’s so important as a leader to also analyze their strengths and weaknesses, and work to help develop them. “
After all, he says, “They are a reflection of who I am. If they are not up to the standards of the people I represent, that’s going to be a problem for them, and for my corporation. I really want to be generous with people. I am proud that I take the time to set up a personal development plan for the people who report to me. My doors are always open for them, and I think that is critical.
6. Immigrants form strong bonds in business by treating employees, customers and partners as family
Leading “familia” style comes very naturally to immigrants – and Hispanics and Latinos in general, as well.
“Our cultural promise as Hispanics and Latinos is that success comes most to people surrounded by people who want their own success to continue,” notes Llopis.
It’s also a hallmark of Suarez-Rodriguez’s climb up the corporate ladder.
“It’s critical that I embrace that family type of environment when dealing with my colleagues, clients and prospective suppliers,” he notes. “It’s important they know I care. Whether they are small, medium or large suppliers, they need to know they’re all treated equally.”
“I want them to feel like they have a space on my calendar, and that they have access to potential opportunities,” he says. “That way I can call them and say, ‘is this something you are capable of, or should we look at something different? “
Ultimately, Suarez-Rodriguez says, nurturing the people around you, and “Having open communications with potential suppliers, colleagues and managers is very important for all of our success.”