De La Vega on Leadership: Fact-Based Leadership


In my opinion, one of the defining characteristics of great leaders is that they make decisions based on facts. I have always advocated that individuals and organizations must face the “brutal facts” when dealing with difficult situations in order to develop viable solutions.


Being grounded on solid facts is particularly important in conflictive times such as the ones we are living in now. Oftentimes today, individuals debate points of view using opinions and ideology instead of facts. This leads to wrong conclusions and makes it difficult to reach agreement on key issues.

Fortunately, in regard to views about US Hispanics, a new set of facts has become available thanks to the great work of the Latino Donor Collaborative*, which funded important research to track the progress and contributions of US Hispanics in America.

This research, when combined with facts from the Pew Research Center and from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, sheds a new light on the impact that Hispanics are making to our country in three key areas: the economy, education, and entrepreneurship.

Once you review the research, it is undeniable that Hispanics are a huge asset to our country, not a liability, and in fact are fueling its economic growth. Let’s look at each key area in more detail.

Economic Impact

Let me start with economic impact.

Many Hispanic immigrants like me may have arrived without much, but that has not stopped us from making a contribution.

In my case, I arrived without a penny in my pocket. Through hard work and study, I eventually became the vice chairman of AT&T. I continue to contribute after my retirement from AT&T, setting up my own company and investing in new businesses to create economic wealth.

My story is not unique. Together, the 55 million Latinos who lived and worked in the US in 2015 contributed $2.13 trillion to the US GDP, fueling the growth and vitality of the US economy.

Just to put that $2.13 trillion into perspective, if the US Latino population were an independent economy, it would rank as the seventh largest in the world. Greater than Italy, India, Brazil, or Canada (according to 2015 data). It would also be the third fastest growing economy in the world after China and India.


A second indicator of a community’s progress is education.

In the US, education is key to one’s success.

In my case, it made a huge difference in my life.

That’s why I’m so encouraged by the recent findings showing that Latinos are making very good progress in education.

The Latino high-school drop-out rate, for example, is at an all-time low while Latino college enrollment is at an all-time high. The drop-out rate for Hispanics has gone down from 34% in 1996 to 10% in 2016. At the same time, college enrollment for Latino high-school graduates increased from 51% in 1996 to 72% in 2016.

And while statistics show we still have work to do in the area of education, it’s encouraging to see the trends moving in the right direction.


America’s success was built on the courage and determination of entrepreneurs, many of whom were recent immigrants.

Research proves that Latinos are carrying forth that tradition.

Latino businesses are growing faster than any other ethnic segment, and about half of that is by Latina-owned businesses. Between 2002 and 2012 the number of Latino-owned businesses in the US doubled. With that, they went from representing 6.8% to 12% of all US business.

Spirit of service

There’s one more finding that I think must be brought out, again to shed some light on the contributions Hispanics are making to our country. There is no greater contribution than serving in our Armed Forces, making sure we keep our country safe and free.

In this regard, Latinos are serving our country in record numbers.

In 2015, young Latinos represented 18.6% of our military. More impressive still: They made up 25.7% of the U.S. Marine Corps.

I think this speaks volumes about Latinos’ pride and commitment to the United States.

Fact-based leadership

Great leaders stand on true facts.

I want to again thank the Latino Donor Collaborative for making it possible for great leaders to have access to new, proven facts on which to make decisions and help shed light on others.

The facts are clear. Hispanics are making a very positive impact in our country, just as other immigrant groups have done throughout our nation’s history.

Here we have a group of entrepreneurial people who are educated and hardworking; who produce a massive, economically positive impact; and who are willing to serve the nation they call home.

We must acknowledge their well-deserved place in our country and value the contribution they are making to keep America as the model and beacon of hope for people around the world.

The three infographics that appear in this column are also available on my website at under the “My Latest Advice” tab. I encourage everyone to download them and share them to get the facts out.


Ralph de la Vega is the former vice-chairman of AT&T Inc. He is the author of the best-selling book “Obstacles Welcome: Turn Adversity to Advantage in Business and Life.” He is also a LinkedIn Influencer, posting regularly on leadership and innovation