At City Club 06.10.06 Verizon President Eduardo R. Menascé speaks on diversity and Hispanic market

Submitted by Norm Roulet on Sun, 06/12/2005 - 12:43.

The 06.10.05 City Club forum featured Eduardo R. Menascé, president of the Enterprise Solutions Group for Verizon Communications, the national communications company formed by the merger of Bell Atlantic and GTE. His responsibilities include oversight of all sales, marketing and service delivery for Verizon's largest business and government customers.

Eduardo pointed out Verizon is a "top 20 Fortune company" and global innovator in information technology, which is critical in and for the new economy. As a global new economy leader, respecting the needs of a diverse population is critical to being competitive and to making diverse populations competitive, worldwide.

In introducing the issues of diversity, Eduardo highlighted his life experiences from being born in Argentina, growing up in Brazil, attending Columbia University, New York, and operating major corporate entities around the world. He spoke of individual strife and public hardship at the hands of unjust political leaders in Latin America, freedom of speech in America, and the importance of respecting diversity in life and work.

He then pointed to Verizon helping to lead the communications revolution, rapidly transforming our networks around new technologies and new markets across the globe. Over the past several years, Verizon has invested more than $73 billion in capital projects, much of which is dedicated to bringing high-speed bandwidth to customers, including being the first company to deliver a true wireless broadband experience

Verizon is also investing heavily in projects bring fiber to the home, now rolling out a fiber-based network called FiOS and soon to launch FiOS TV, an alternative to cable service which will "offer customers a broad range of new, multimedia experiences". Read more about Verizon's FiOS vision in a press release from their CEO here.

Having put himself and Verizon in context, Eduardo moved to the topic of diversity and explained "scale and scope gives us a unique vantage point for seeing how important diversity is to our business", saying "the fact is, for Verizon, our success depends on our ability to transform into a truly multilingual, multicultural company".

He pointed out Verizon has an aggressive internal and customer-focused diversity strategy, which makes sense for many reasons, including that diverse cultures represents 1/3 US population, with $1 trillion in annual buying power, and because it is the right thing to do.

Eduardo asks forum attendees to consider that Hispanics (people from Spanish speaking countries now living in the US) are the largest and fastest growing minority group in America, spending about $686 billion last year - "making them in essence the eighth largest economy in the world". He thus explains that Verizon knows it must do business with customers "on their terms", including in Spanish.

For example, nearly 600,000 Verizon customers in New York and California receive their bills in Spanish and Verizon has over 600 Spanish-speaking representatives and two business centers devoted to Hispanic customers, they have their own Spanish-language magazine, called La Vos de la Plaza, their Spanish SuperPages online directories reached nearly 10 million Hispanics, and their FiOS TV programming will include up to 30 Spanish-language channels.

Eduardo reported Verizon's multicultural focus "is not just a competitive advantage but a competitive necessity", "is the best hope we have for staying connected to our customers", and "it's the best strategy we have for developing products and solutions that truly matter and have real value for all our customers".

Eduardo claimed his own experience has taught him Verizon drives progress in four fundamental ways:

  1. provide a corporate framework for change
  2. develop individual employees as leaders who are accountable for their own performance and outcomes
  3. build networks of employees through internal groups and organizations representing diverse populations
  4. have leaders who committed to diversity because it matters to them and they understand it truly matters to the business

Management has objectives focused on diversity, including making that a factor in compensation. As proof of good outcomes, Eduardo points out Verizon annually spends nearly $2 billion with diverse vendors, that almost half of their foundation's $70 million in annual giving goes to grants to more than 15,000 organizations serving diverse communities, "from African-Americas to Native Americans".

They strive to move diverse employees into leadership positions, having leadership programs for developing high potential managers in diverse population groups. But Eduardo points out to employees that "the key to career advancement is to be accountable for their own performance". They should thus see their success as leaders tied to reflecting interests of diverse customer populations.

Eduardo says he has worked in many countries and believes US is the most open of them all. At Verizon, employees are aware of being part of a minority - they speak openly about whether they are valued - and they look to leadership to be diversity mentors and advocates..

Leadership is most important driver of success - leaders who are diverse and embrace the value of inclusion. According to Eduardo, "Leaders who are committed to an inclusive, open-minded culture can leverage that advantage with their shareholders, employees and customers". At Verizon, minorities now hold 19% and women 32% of top management positions.

Eduardo continues, "as a leader, you have to appreciate and communicate the long-term business value of building a diverse workforce" - "high performance begins with a truly diverse, inclusive corporate culture".

He concludes, we must "break a difficult habit, and that is the tendency in all of us to seek out people who are familiar - whether we share a nationality or a neighborhood". "Differences, whether in backgrounds, culture, language, education or life experiences, challenge us - they force us to go outside our comfort zone."

At Verizon, when hiring, he asks himself have I really "cast a wide enough net". Says keeping focus on diversity "allows us to remain open - push to seek out new talent - makes people want to work for us and makes employees proud - keeps organization in touch with customers and community" - ultimately "ensures that Verizon has the vision and talent to continue to reinvent communications now and in the future".

The forum then turned to the traditional Questions from the audience for answers from the speaker.

Q. You need to start somewhere - to get a starting job at Verizon how important is it that application is able to speak unaccented English

A. We don't look at people based on accent - we look for the best person based on appropriate metrics like past performance and education achievement

Q. In your childhood in Brazil you suffered difficulties - why wasn't there more of an outcry against atrocities here in the US

A. I remember when I came to the US there was some press coverage in America about problems in South America - it wasn't totally ignored, but other things like Viet Nam were more in the news

Q. From your personal experiences growing up in Latin America, what is your personal opinion on Cuba policy in America?

A. I don't think there's a right answer - I've lived in countries that had sad situations - many ignore them

Q. I understand in the global private sector diversity is embraced but in government it is tokenism - how do we improve this

A. My experience has been business and what is right - the facts will help move good practice across the country - I'm sure there are strong elements of pursuing diversity - Bush has pursued diverse cabinet - there is going to be factor of growth of Hispanic population that will drive change - won't be overnight but will happen

Q. I own the largest Spanish language radio station in region and we have a growing Hispanic population but advertisers still don't understand the importance

A. There are lots of facts today showing what is happening with growth in Hispanic marketplace - buying power - companies can use Spanish to have better connection with this population - look to examples of companies that have succeeded with this and this becomes self-evident - the advantage of tailoring the message is effective segmentation of market that brings results

Q. What about issue of diversity within the Spanish community itself - in Guatemala the population is as stratified as ours - would you speak on the question of integration within these populations - how relevant is this as we look at Hispanic grouping within our country

A. Contrary to other ethnicities, Hispanics don't come from same country - have different cultures and habits - when you segment the market you must understand the differences - for example, people from Dominican Republic speak the most on the telephone and represented a huge amount of traffic and such aspects must be understood

Q. To what extent should there be government requirements for diversity

A. Diversity is a question of business sense and doing the right things - the intervention to establish quotas doesn't work as you establish a framework rather than reasons - having right beliefs is what matters - feeling good about what you are doing - we are not playing around with numbers, we have management objectives and compensation is related to diversity - most corporations today understand this right approach

Q. What do you think about the nomination of a US Ambassador who is opposed to global openness?

A. I cannot comment on the subject

Q. Among the most pressing needs in Hispanic and minority populations is education - does Verizon have programs to help and can Cleveland tap into?

A. Very much in line with what Verizon is doing - half of our $70 million annual foundation spending fits with diversity - literacy is a big program - Cleveland can tap into that

Q. You are opposed to diversity quotas - what about as business ethic?

A. We support that very much - our commitment is very strong - it is not just the corporation but individual leaders supporting diversity

Q. You do not feel government intervention is the right way to pursue diversity but in Cleveland the Stokes administration pioneered pursuit of diversity - as many corporations don't have the ethic of Verizon, what do you propose?

A. There was a need in the past and what I don't support is rigorous blanket policies from the government - I prefer good corporate policy to government mandate

Q. I do small business lending for Key Bank and much of my territory is Spanish language - I need to learn Spanish to better serve my customers - what do you think about corporations paying to better train workers to serve diverse customer base

A. We have diverse workforce and so can address the needs of our customers -“ if you are in situation where you need new language skills it would make sense for business to invest in that

Q. Ohio has growing Spanish population - how does Verizon look at that vs. other markets with large Spanish populations

A. By size, other markets are bigger. However, as we see growth of Hispanics across the country we will target that nationwide - cannot tell when it will happen but it will.

Q. You have global experiences in many major corporations - there have been charges against many big corporations for misconduct - why have so many corporations done bad?

A. Thankfully this is not an endemic situation across the US - is exception rather than rule - have been important exceptions with great harm caused - but if you look at whole corporate America all that was relatively minor - greed, lack of ethics - now pendulum has swung in other direction and proper process and behavior is a priority - problems were good wakeup for society as a whole - the values of integrity and doing the right things are core to the enterprises I work with. You must make sure you work for right companies.

Q. History of diversity is very short - in 1960s was made law - then right thing to do - now economic imperative - serve Hispanic population or fail

A. The Hispanic market is critical and if people want to be blind then what can you do? If you look at the profile of the US population Hispanics represent 20% of population ages 1-5