story by: Melissa Rondon
REPRESENTATION AT EVERY LEVEL:
Inspired by lacking representation in corporate America, Andre Arbelaez is on a mission to bring diversity to the C-suite and change the face of the American CEO.
Occupation: CEO and President of HC3. “To be the best, be with the best.”
WHEN YOU LOOK at the faces of the C-level executives that dominate the American corporate landscape, it’s easy to notice a trend: Caucasian faces abound, and people of color are a rare find amidst the pale. Andre Arbelaez is fighting to change this by making C-suites across the nation more reflective of the diverse, vibrant communities they serve. He founded the Hispanic C-Suite Corporate Council, or HC3, in 2018 as part of an effort to increase the number of successful Hispanic executives in both public and private companies, a move that he believes is good not only for the Latino community, but also the entire corporate ecosystem.
Arbelaez has dedicated his career to empowering Latinos to lead and to represent their community at every level of business. He believes in the power of the united Latino community, according to Arbelaez, it’s time “to knock down doors to communicate the strength of the values we have,” adding, “We have been very patient and very nice, but we need to be more assertive in positioning our executives in corporate America to reflect their customer base. It’s as simple as that.” That’s Arbelaez’s ultimate goal with HC3; to build a world where C-suites across the nation look more like the customers they serve.
The idea of the American Dream is important to Arbelaez, who was born in Detroit, MI to Colombian parents and spent his entire life in Motor City, save only for the five years he spent in Bogota, Colombia during his early childhood. “We came to the United States with a ‘work hard and live the American Dream’ mentality,” he says. “It was an opportunity for my parents to seek a better life and to move faster along the economic ladder.” His father worked as a computer programmer in the US, while his mother started a language education and translation company. His parents’ example taught him that, by “working hard and doing things the right way”, he could achieve more, not just for himself, but for others as well. “That mindset kind of created a discipline, a philosophy, of always trying to help others as you’re succeeding, and it is a mindset that I’ve always had,” he says. It’s this mindset that propels Arbelaez’s entire mission, and his passion is evident when he talks about it.
His cultural awareness and diversity helped him as his career grew, often in unexpected ways. “I’m always thankful to my mother, who forced me to speak Spanish in the home, because that allowed me to get my first tech job -- being assigned to a large German automotive customer -- because I spoke Spanish.” This may seem counterintuitive-- after all, wouldn’t a German customer speak, well, German? -- but “the mere fact of having this second language was already a leg up on the position competition, and it showed a cultural understanding that some of my fellow executives didn’t have.” Arbelaez knows firsthand the power of diversity to benefit businesses, and bringing Latino leaders to the forefront is beneficial both to Latinos and the companies they helm.
As President and CEO of HC3 and former President Emeritus of the Hispanic IT Executive Council (HITEC), Arbelaez seeks to lift up Latinos into corporate positions, elevating them by helping them seize the opportunities they are presented with and create their own paths to leadership. “I’m trying to collect the best leaders because you have to start there, and we have them,” he says with confidence. He believes that members of the Latino community are uniquely suited to C-suite leadership, pointing out that “we as a Hispanic community have assimilated so well because of our cultural background: the Catholic religion, the work-hard ethic, the loyalty mentality we have, the strong family unit, the purpose we serve -- the combination of all that makes us excellent corporate leaders.”
Arbelaez is a crusader for diversity in corporate leadership with big goals: he wants to increase the number of Hispanic CEOs in the Fortune 500 from 13 to 50 by the year 2050. It may sound ambitious, but Arbelaez has never been one for small thinking; he has his eye not just on those C-level positions, but on the positions one and two levels below them. This puts qualified Latinos into a favorable position for promotion and is part of Arbelaez’s long-term strategy to get more Latinos into the C-suite. “We need to be engaged in determining economic policies within our companies and being a voice of what’s right to our community,” he says.
Arbelaez founded HC3 with the intention of creating a force for inclusivity in the world of corporate leadership. “The organization was built on a lot of discussions with great leaders from across the country, including your Jorge Ferraez himself” (Ferraez is one of the founders of Latino Leaders). He pauses for a moment, then quips, “We had a lot of wine, as you can imagine,” and we laugh. Returning to his characteristic focus, he continues, “In talking [we saw] that there was this important area that wasn’t being addressed in the ecosystem.” Arbelaez decided to use his voice to amplify others’ in the Latino community, filling that void.
Getting necessary support from corporations and executives was easy for Arbelaez. “It took a very simple mindset of how important this was to develop and gather incredible support … to say that there was a niche in the Hispanic community that needed to be filled with HC3,” he says. That simple mindset can be summed up in one of Arbelaez’s favorite sayings, “You can’t be it if you can’t see it.” And he’s right, representation really does matter, at every level. He continues, “So let’s expose, elevate, celebrate, and then develop the next generation so they can be it,” and that, at its heart, is the mission of HC3. +
Advocacy for Hispanic executive leadership in Corporate America
Increase the number of global Hispanic executives serving in CEO positions, and those one and two levels below, by a net addition of at least one in each Fortune 500 company
Develop a robust pipeline of Hispanic corporate leaders through education, training and scholarship programs
To be recognized as the most reputable source regarding advocacy for full inclusion as it relates to Hispanics
Engagement, services and support for multicultural and multi-generational leaders at executive career lifecycle stages
Integrate the Academic community serving Latino students