Atlanta Leaders Challenged to Define Future of the “New Latino Identity”


Story By: John Tabeilone


Latino Leaders Publisher Jorge Ferraez recently invited Atlanta’s influential Latino corporate executives, professionals and elected officials to discuss strategies for fostering advancement of the Hispanic community and the challenge of leveraging future leaders who could create wealth and jobs.

Sponsored by Coca-Cola and Northwestern Mutual Goodwin, Wright and hosted by Coke executive Humberto Garcia–Sjogrim, the meeting drew 30 attendees who addressed the “New Latino Identity.” John Wright, Managing Partner of Northwestern Mutual Goodwin, Wright said, “Meeting new people who encourage you to view and live life differently inspires me. The opportunity to collaborate and connect with people from different cultures, back-grounds and industries is rewarding and brings value to my generation and generations to follow. Our mission is to help protect and grow wealth of business owners, individuals and families by demonstrating the value and impact of integrated, comprehensive financial planning. Northwestern Mutual Goodwin, Wright is honored to be among a distinguished group of leaders who are helping to elevate the conversation and challenge one another to take action by identifying key goals and increasing collaboration.”

Ferraez spurred the conversation, stating, “It’s very seldom that we can have the opportunity to gather a small group of leaders in the community and discuss important issues that later can be translated into initiatives, ideas … or, why not start a new project, or the genesis of something new that will happen in the future; or, just a good night of reflection and friendship. Our objective is to listen to voices like yours.”

He added, “What are the most important things for you to advance yourself in the Latino community? One of those is education importance and the other is wealth creation.”

Consensus from the first exchanges dictated collaboration; the larger question lies in the details. The audience concurred that Latinos are entrepreneurial by nature, but need support and guidance.

“Unfortunately,” said Gigi Pedraza, “90 percent are sole proprietorships.”

Ferraez agreed: “We need to scale up to become million or billion dollar sales companies with as-sets. So, how do we go to this upper level to be more expansive?”

Wright, said, “I would just think about the ‘power of one.’ Find the one entrepreneur who has created ‘scale.’ That individual has to be altruistic, generous, and wants to give back. That individual can affect an enormous amount of people in the Latino community.”

He continued: “If leaders step up, we will have the support needed to realize the vision we’re talking about.”

Ferraez concurred, saying, “Sometimes it’s said we Latinos don’t help each other. What did it take you (State Representative Brenda Lopez) to become the first Latina elected to the Georgia General Assembly?”

Lopez’s response: “People willing to help you put in the work and basically give up their time … most of the money raised was smaller donations. I expected the support of the Latino community.” She thanked everyone and encouraged Latino leaders to attend career days at school to impart knowledge and experiences.

“We had a great candidate, first and foremost,” interjected Garcia–Sjogrim. “The question is, how do we bring more of those ingredients together in other places?”

The group suggested better educational opportunities, access to capital, the necessity to address public policies, and, greater financial literacy access.

La Kerri Jackson of UPS addressed how small entities can con-duct business with corporations: “We have a supplier diversity program. We want to work more with small business owners.”

UPS sends representatives to conferences and panels to pro-mote this program. Other companies that have joined to explore advancement in these areas are Delta, AT&T and Home Depot.

DeKalb State Court Judge Dax Lopez offered a different perspective: post-graduate work. “We need to promote individuals going into professional areas, accountants, doctors, lawyers. While we represent 10 percent of the population in Georgia, we are underrepresented at less than 1 percent when it comes to the legal, medical or business professions,” he said.

Since many don’t see themselves as Latinos but identify as Colombians, Peruvians, Ecuadorians, or other nationalities, Gerson Vasquez of the U.S. Census Bureau makes clear that, “We are a force in this country and we are not slowing down. We need to find unity. We need to find something that brings us together. Find those success stories, but emphasize that, as part of that success story, that it’s a Latino success story.”

Leona Barr-Davenport, President and CEO of the Atlanta Business League, argued stories need to be told repeatedly in churches and schools. “You need to write it; you need to say it; you need to share it,” she said.

Alejandro Cross, President of the Georgia Latin American Chamber of Commerce, pointed out nine of 10 Hispanic businesses never received financing, yet those entrepreneurs achieved their objectives. As the connection to Latin America diminishes for the next “Americanized” generation, will they take it to the next level? Given that scenario, Garcia–Sjogrim suggested collaborative partnerships to increase confidence and a long-term perspective of creating wealth.

Ferraez will issue the list of participants because “when leaders connect … intelligence, is created; wealth, leadership is created.” He added, “Leadership is like life. You cannot stop it.”