No other word is used more frequently to describe Ana Rodriguez ’03, managing director of the SMU Cox Latino Leadership Initiative.
Spend a day in her office at SMU Cox School of Business, and you’ll see just how much passion fuels this Dallas native, community bridge-builder, and business executive leadership adviser to some of the nation’s largest companies.
“Ana is the right person at the right time with the drive and tenacity to make the difference we and our business partners need,” says Shane Goodwin, associate dean of executive education and graduate programs at the Cox School. “She is absolutely a force of nature.”
As the head of the Latino Leadership Initiative (LLI) – the nation’s only executive education program dedicated to the professional advancement of Latinos – Rodriguez helps students and executive-level employees from minority backgrounds transform their lives and careers. The program also helps more than 40 companies – like AT&T Communications, State Farm, and Walmart – retain and develop C-suite talent, so they don’t miss out on the market value and cultural perspective that Latino professionals bring to the workplace.
As of 2020, Latinos make up over 18% of the population, yet they represent less than 3% of executive-level positions in the United States. Rodriguez knows firsthand what it’s like to struggle to gain a foothold in the U.S.
“I’ve always been the outsider – the person that just never really fit in – which is why I love what I do now at SMU Cox. The work we do at LLI is all about how to find power in feeling like an outsider – how to make sure you know that you’re adding value even though you’re different than everyone else. That’s what corporate America needs right now.”
- Ana Rodriguez, managing director, SMU Cox Latino Leadership Initiative
Learning what it takes to achieve success
Born in the Bachman Lake neighborhood of Dallas, Rodriguez spoke exclusively Spanish as a child. She was raised by a single mother from Peru, and her father is from Mexico. Nuns at her small Catholic elementary school taught her English, which she spoke at school, and she continued to speak Spanish at home. Later she received a scholarship to attend Ursuline Academy, one of Dallas’s premier private schools for girls.
She went on to graduate from the Cox School.
With growing confidence and a ferocious work ethic, she became one of the youngest assistant vice presidents of Bank of America at just 25 years old. She quickly discovered that her outsider perspective and cultural background were not qualities she needed to suppress, but were actually some of her most valuable professional assets.
“I’ve always been the outsider – the person that just never really fit in – which is why I love what I do now at SMU Cox. The work we do at LLI is all about how to find power in feeling like an outsider – how to make sure you know that you’re adding value even though you’re different than everyone else. That’s what corporate America needs right now,” she says.
Rodriguez has devoted much of her life to guiding others to personal and professional success through the Latino Leadership Initiative.
“Ana is the right person at the right time with the drive and tenacity to make the difference we and our business partners need.”
- Shane Goodwin, associate dean of executive education and graduate programs, SMU Cox School of Business
A one-week program called Rising Latino Leaders helps managers see how their cultural identities can advance business objectives, and LLI’s signature offering, the Corporate Executive Development Program, is a popular nine-month intensive workshop taught by acclaimed faculty.
Results are stellar: 85% of those in the corporate executive development program achieve an additional promotion. Of those who participate in LLI’s program for first-time managers, 92% earn a promotion.
Preparing future leaders begins in middle school
LLI also invites middle and high schoolers to the SMU campus for tours led by current college students. They pair young Latinos with mentors who help them build the self-confidence they need to achieve success.
For Rodriguez, everyone has a role to play in moving young Latino professionals forward. “No matter where you are in the pipeline, you help,” she says. “You get rid of all of these barriers by helping those that come right after you.”
At LLI, Rodriguez adds, “We help companies encourage minority employees to find their voices and just be authentic, rather than to assimilate. I fell in love with that mission.”