By Kaitlyn Luckow
Catherine Hernandez, Chief Brand and Communications Officer of Aflac, is a warm-hearted, passionate Latina who hopes to make a positive difference in the world. And that’s exactly what she’s doing.
Catherine Hernandez-Blades, though now the Chief Brand and Communications Officer at Aflac, didn’t start her career in the insurance world. Instead, she followed her dream of being a broadcast journalist. When that dream changed, she literally worked in rocket science, which eventually brought her to where she is now.
Hernandez-Blades’ dedication, empathy, and resourcefulness make her a powerful leader on the Aflac team.
History of Her
Although Hernandez-Blades is originally from the New Orleans area, she lived in Texas and California before a family emergency brought her back to the southern United States. That is where Hernandez-Blades’ career started at Aflac.
“Everything worked out as it needed to ... I’ve been blessed,” Hernandez-Blades said. “I’ve had a very fortunate and charmed career, and it’s continued here. I am very grateful for that.” As Chief Brand and Communications Officer at Aflac, Hernandez-Blades is in charge of branding, advertising, PR, and anything else you would typically find in a communications department. Through her position at Aflac, Hernandez-Blades was able to work with a team to continue to foster a new kind of corporate culture in insurance.
Hernandez-Blades explained how Aflac was founded over more than 60 years ago when three brothers dealt with their own father dying of cancer. The cancer not only took an emotional toll on their family, but a financial one, as well. So, they started an insurance company for cancer patients that paid cash directly to the policyholder to help cover expenses not covered by insurance.
That philosophy still runs Aflac today and has taught Hernandez-Blades the most important lesson she’s learned while working at the company: Making a positive impact is the most important thing you can do as a company.
Hernandez-Blades explained that companies can engage in good work and still make a profit. “Insurance companies provide a promise, but we want to be able to provide more than a promise, and that is very much ingrained in our culture,” Hernandez-Blades said. Aflac is currently working with the Aflac Cancer Center, an organization that they have given over $127 million to over the past 23 years.
Hernandez-Blades is also working on a special project involving bringing in special robots to provide comfort and communication to child cancer patients. “When you put people and the right things first and you’re authentic about it ... it is very rewarding,” Hernandez-Blades said.
It Starts at Home
As a Latina woman working in a corporate environment, Hernandez-Blades is passionate about helping others grow, as well. She contributes her success to how she was treated at a young age. “We can’t expect anyone, minority or otherwise, regardless of gender, to show up to college and say, ‘okay, I’m going to be a CEO’ ... Iif you haven’t spent the past years on the fundamentals,” Hernandez-Blades said.
When Hernandez-Blades was seven, she told her parents she wanted to become a broadcast journalist. Her parents supported her, took her to the library every week in order to help her foster necessary skills. She contributes this as a key reason to her success as a Latina woman in a corporate world.
“It’s a very complex issue. ... It takes discipline, and passion, and the support of a village,” Hernandez-Blades said. “Everyone has to be held accountable for it, not just corporate America.”
Searching for Balance
Hernandez-Blades admitted that she isn’t exactly a model of balance and is still working on the balance between her work life and home life, but she does admit that balance is key. She also pointed out that balance changes every day depending on your circumstances. Within that balanced lifestyle, she emphasized the importance of taking care of yourself.
For her, that self-care manifests itself in taking care of others and using her position for the power of good. “I would ask everyone to consider that no matter what your job is, you can make a difference,” Hernandez-Blades said. “No matter what, you can have a positive impact on others. ...Take the time to step back and figure out how to do that so that your soul can sing.”
For her, this soul-singing has become her main motivation and continues to make her passionate about her work each and every day.