“[My family] had faith that if they worked toward their goals, they could achieve them. So, I grew up believing that if I wanted to do something, I needed to work to achieve it… and I would” – Nina Vaca
For this edition of Leading Wright, I’m going to shake it up a bit. As part of Hispanic Heritage Month, I thought it appropriate to recognize and feature a successful Latino leader – providing insight to a leadership approach and perspective different than my own. That’s the beauty of diversity isn’t it? Different backgrounds, different experiences, and different perspectives provide the fundamental building blocks for new ideas and approaches to solving the challenges we all face in leadership.
With that, I asked a fellow business leader, successful entrepreneur, and good friend of mine – Nina Vaca – to join me in writing this message by sharing some of her thoughts and insights on the secrets of her success, the importance of diversity in the business community, and what advice she can offer to those aspiring leaders and entrepreneurs to help them achieve similar success.
Nina is both an accomplished leader and a fierce advocate for the Hispanic community. Born in Quito, Ecuador, she and her family immigrated to California early in her youth before eventually taking permanent residence in Texas. Her academic career includes an undergraduate degree at Texas State University, and a number of executive education programs at several prestigious schools – Harvard Business School, Tuck School of Business, and Kellogg School of Management. She also holds honorary degrees from Northwood University, Mary Mount University, and Berkeley College.
Nina is the founder and Chair/CEO of Pinnacle Group (a direct competitor of my own Genuent). She and her leadership team have led Pinnacle on a tremendous growth curve, including recognition as one of the fastest growing Women Owned Businesses in 2015 and again in 2018. She also serves as one of the few Latinas on the boards of publicly traded companies, & has dedicated much of her time to empowering women and minorities and expanding their opportunities.
Her background not only includes success in business, but also an active role in the promotion of women and Hispanics in business and leadership. In 2014, Vaca was appointed by the White House as a Presidential Ambassador for Global Entrepreneurship to help inspire entrepreneurs worldwide. Last year, she was also elected as a lifetime member of the Council on Foreign Relations and is a Henry Crown Fellow at the Aspen Institute.
A passionate advocate for higher education, Vaca supports many organizations helping grow the next generation of global leaders, including through programs like Pinnacle Group Academic WorldQuest and Dallas ISD/Dallas Community College District’s P-TECH program. She has also spent two decades raising scholarship funds for minority students through the Hispanic Scholarship Fund, Law School Yes We Can, and the Nina Vaca Foundation, among many others.
Vaca was named an EY Entrepreneur of the Year and has been called one of the country’s 100 most intriguing entrepreneurs by Goldman Sachs. She has also been named one of the top 101 Most Influential Latinos in America by Latino Leaders Magazine for over a decade.
Impressed enough yet? Good. Now let’s hear directly from Nina.
So Nina, tell us a little about yourself – your background and your journey.
I grew up in an entrepreneurial family, and my dream was always to grow a business that no one would want to leave while supporting my family.
Pinnacle’s evolution and astronomical growth is the result of fearless approach to overcoming challenges and intense focus on two core values: delivering impeccable service to clients and putting people at the heart of everything Pinnacle does.
Some of the important early lessons are the same lessons that still apply today – you must be able to adapt to changing circumstances – the current pandemic is a perfect example, but another early example was 9/11 which happened after we were in business for less than 5 years, and then again the Great Recession in 2008-2009 – each time we’ve had to reinvent the business based on what customers need now.
You have achieved amazing success – entrepreneur, public company board member, philanthropic leader – What has been the secret of your success?
When I started my own business, I wish I had known that I was not alone and in fact belonged to something much larger than myself or my company. I had become a part of the American economic engine. I didn’t yet understand everything that I was capable of achieving until I started working on the business, not just in the business.
Being an entrepreneur is extremely hard work. It’s time consuming, risky, frustrating, and, sometimes, downright terrifying. But it’s also the most rewarding work you can do. So, to put yourself through all of the tough things that come along with entrepreneurship, you better have a really solid reason why.
As a female Latino entrepreneur, you can appreciate the importance of diversity. Can you give us your thoughts on the importance of diversity for corporate America?
As a Latina entrepreneur, I am living proof of the ways that immigrants can make positive contributions to this country. I’ve been blessed many times to be the first Latina at the table, but I don’t want to be the only Latina.
For me, true success is opening doors for others and expanding opportunities for women and minorities in business. I consider it a privilege to have the opportunity to invest in people and what motivates me is helping the next generation to reach even greater heights than we ever dreamed.
As a business leader, I have seen firsthand how diversity and inclusion fosters a more creative and innovative workforce. These benefits translate into improved bottom line performance for companies, which has been studied and reported on by McKinsey and others for several years.
For aspiring future leaders, what advice would you give them?
Surround yourself with people who truly want to be successful. After all, no one accomplishes anything alone, in business or in life. Look for groups, like councils and chambers, who can share experiences and wisdom with you.
Mentorship is another invaluable tool on the journey to success. Find someone to guide and push you to achieve greater.
Understand the realities of your situation and what you’re facing, both in terms of business impacts and the significant personal impacts this is having on your team.
And finally, leaders must respond, not react. This means taking the time necessary to gain perspective and be thoughtful in setting a course before taking action.
Amazing insight from a Latino leader who has not only achieved professional success in business but has a clear and impactful history of giving back to the community and helping others in their own personal path to success. I’m grateful she was willing to share her thoughts here on Leading Wright.