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By Cheryl Hall
Business Columnist
The Dallas Morning News

Southern Methodist University is helping Hispanics crack the code that may be holding them in midmanagement limbo.

For the last three years, its Cox School of Business has been putting Latinos from Fortune 1000 companies through sort of an officer candidate school that gives high-potential managers skills they need for expanded duties.

Hispanics tend to move into midmanagement faster than other groups but stall before they get to the level of vice president and above.

The results of Cox Executive Education’s Latino executive development program have been so encouraging that the school is expanding the program into a Latino Leadership Initiative to tackle the issue from an organizational as well as individual basis.

Nine founding corporations, led by AT&T Inc. and Wal-Mart Stores Inc., have committed a total of $750,000 over the next three years. Other sponsors are Baylor Health Care System, Cash America International Inc., Kimberly-Clark Corp., J.C. Penney Co., MoneyGram International, Shell Oil Co. and State Farm Insurance.

Deborah Goldschmied, director of leadership development for AT&T, says her company became the lead sponsor because the focus is “on developing leaders who happen to be Hispanic rather than Hispanic leaders. It’s about helping Hispanic professionals better understand and recognize the cultural traits that can either slow or propel their growth.”

The Latino Leadership Initiative will use the 3-year-old management development program as its centerpiece, says Frank Lloyd, associate dean of executive education at Cox. But it will also include organizational development, research and educational programs.

“We want to reach Latinos at lower levels and at more organizations than we’re currently serving. We want to provide organizational support and engage in more research,” he says. “And we’re trying to expand the pipeline down into the lower levels of education.”

That was one of the attractions for Cash America, says Sandy Fulton, vice president of learning and development at the Fort Worth company. “This program is unique because not only does it provide individual development for high-potential Latino managers, but it also gives us opportunities to partner with local schools and communities to boost Latino education and workforce readiness.”

The initiative was formally announced Tuesday.

The folks at Cox cite government statistics that outline the problem.

The conversion rate from midmanagement to executive ranks is 10 percent for Hispanics compared with 23 percent for white males. And Latinos hold only 4 percent of executive and board positions at U.S. public companies, yet Hispanics will make up 30 percent of the U.S. population by 2050.

In 2010, the National Hispanic Corporate Council in Arlington, Va., selected Cox over a number of national competitors to host the leadership program.

Six of the 19 people in the class that ended in September have already accepted significant new assignments. There have been 32 participants in the first two programs, and 24 have moved into expanded responsibilities, Lloyd says.

Luis Pinto, who was sent to the first class by Shell Oil, learned not to sit back and wait for recognition or a promotion. He’s enjoying his post-program position at Shell’s home office in the Netherlands, traveling the world coordinating parts of the energy giant’s natural gas market development.

He learned the job was open right after he completed SMU’s program in May 2011. “Without hesitation, I made myself available for the position and set out a strategy to make it happen,” Pinto says.

Latinos are culturally programmed to respect authority, says Miguel Quiñones, academic director of the initiative. The 46-year-old was born in Puerto Rico and grew up in San Antonio. “We are raised to be good soldiers, which is why we probably make it to middle management faster. But when it comes time to look for a senior executive, companies want someone more assertive. This self-awareness of how their behaviors could be perceived by others and how organizations have a certain template has been eye-opening.”

It was for Lyris Leos, who’s been promoted three times at J.C. Penney since starting the program.

“Any kind of dissent is seen as a sign of disrespect in our culture,” says Leos, who was recently named to a new position, director for Hispanic marketing. “While that’s valued and ingrained in our belief system, that doesn’t translate well in a corporate office, where we are expected to be very vocal and challenge the norms and find ways to think differently.”

The leadership development program has been limited to employees of National Hispanic Corporate Council members that are Fortune 1000 companies.

Lloyd hopes to expand the program and develop additional programs that serve lower-level, younger Latino managers and smaller organizations.

Why is SMU making this a top priority — something it calls a “national center of excellence”?

“We’re at the leading edge of the demographic dynamic that is sweeping the country,” Lloyd says. “Our mission at the Cox school is to serve the business community. We would be remiss if we weren’t taking a leadership position in this.”

Pictured left to right:  State Rep. Rafael Anchia and Antonio Garza, former U.S. Ambassador to Mexico, served as keynote speakers at the Latino Leadership Initiative luncheon

Photo by: Josh Webb, SMU Cox

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