Comerica Corner: Damian Rivera

By: Jessie Hilbert

A working day in New York City generally begins with a stroll to the subway with a hot cup of coffee in your hand and a newspaper under your arm. Not today. It is 9:31 a.m. on a peaceful Wednesday in mid-March, 2014, and suddenly everything is upside down and your perspective on life goes sideways. It’s a gas explosion and a bad one. Two large buildings in Spanish Harlem have been obliterated and the debris, the bodies, the smoke, the pain are etched into your psyche. Eight people are dead, several missing. And one person, in all this chaos, begins to challenge himself.

Damian Rivera

Damian Rivera

That person, who was not at the scene at the time, was Association for Latino Professionals for America Chief Executive Officer Damian Rivera. He lost a relative in the explosion and counts another as a near miss. One destroyed building housed the church he attended as a child.

His life, to be honest, had been rolling along. A biochemistry engineering graduate from Rutgers University, Rivera had married his high school sweetheart, had a son and a daughter and was advancing in his career at Accenture (formerly Andersen Consulting), a place he felt was his second home. He had been there 21 years and didn’t mind the possibility that he would retire from there. He also served on the boards of several non-profit companies, waving off the idea that he would do that full time. Maybe later, he would say.

The explosion changed all that. He took time off from Accenture and double-checked his priorities. That (with some nudges from his wife) pushed him into a Masters of Business Administration program at Columbia University. Before he knew it, ALPFA was wooing him to take over as CEO. He signed on in August 2018, taking the helm of the country’s largest Hispanic professional organization, dedicated to the advancement, retention, and promotion of Latin leaders in corporate America.

Life is about connections, learning, partnerships, giving back, says Rivera. The agency reaches out to corporations, like Comerica, and the corporations reach out to them. The agency takes the pulse of student needs and students, in turn, are the future of the agency. The company is focused on conventions – eight student symposiums a year, adding the Most Powerful Latinas Convention three years ago – a big hit – and hosting the annual convention every year. But now it is reaching for more.

Rivera sees the conventions as launching pads. Pushing a six-pillar platform dedicated to a holistic embodiment of leadership survival skills, Rivera sees the agency as finding a purpose in between conventions. One handshake a year isn’t enough, he says. There is a legacy to uphold.

Rivera speaks with resolve and focus. “It’s an immense responsibility to make sure I am helping the organization evolve to the next level,” he says, “so that it will continue long after I die.”

“Because it’s too important for the organization to be successful. Because of what it means for our chapter leaders and our corporate sponsors, who are looking for the best talent across the spectrum.”

“I take that extremely seriously,” he said. “I am very humbled by the fact that I was given this privilege.”