After a long conversation with Monika Mantilla, it is easy to see why the Colombian-American businesswoman, wife and mother received the prestigious Hispanic Heritage Award for Business a couple of years ago. Mantilla is the CEO and President of Altura Capital, a successful investment and advisory firm. While she successfully reached a six-figure salary as an attorney before she went into money management, her life’s mission is much more than that. Mantilla’s goal is to increase the one thing she says will be the Latino community’s game-changer: more access to capital. With more money available to Latino businesses, they can expand, prosper, and be engines of growth in their community.
“According to a Commerce Department report, there are 44,000 Latino-owned companies that have more than $1 million in revenue; together they generate about $230 billion and employ a little over a million Latinos,” says Mantilla. While that may sound like a lot, Mantilla says this is not even close to what Latino companies can do. If they had the same access to capital and management resources as other American firms, Latino companies should be generating about $1.4 trillion and creating 5 to 6 million jobs, she says.
So she has devoted a large part of her life to figuring out how to close the gap, even testifying in Congress on the subject, and has long been recognized as a champion of Latino economic empowerment.
“What has been missing, historically, is that we as a community have not had the years and the exposure in this capital market,” Mantilla explains. She is an active leader in the New America Alliance, a non-profit aimed at increasing Latino economic advancement, and she does research, and more importantly advocacy, on the need to increase minority-owned and women-owned financial services firms.
At Altura Capital, an integral part of Mantilla’s work is to identify and work with small, emerging, and minority-owned money managers, and in turn convince large institutional investors, such as pension funds, to invest part of their money with these smaller minority firms.
“Research demonstrates that small and emerging firms are nimble and perform better than larger firms,” says Mantilla. There is, however, room for more Latinos in the field. “There are around 150 Latin0-owned financial services firms, but they own a very small percentage of the assets; about 0.02 percent of the American institutional pie,” she says.
Mantilla would like to change this. She says more Latinos, especially women, should go into financial management, and she stresses the positive knock-on effects of more economic power in Latinos’ hands. “It trickles down to the community,” she says.
Unfortunately, says Mantilla, many Hispanics are not familiar with this world. She herself grew up middle class in Colombia, and studied law “because that is what many in my family did,” she said. She always loved numbers, but it wasn’t until she moved to the U.S. with her husband that a perceptive manager told her she should pursue a Master’s in Business Administration (MBA).
Mantilla says creating networks – and mentors – is crucial. “When we got here from Colombia, I didn’t know a soul,” she says. The best way to acquire a mentor, she says, is pretty straightforward. ”Just be really good at whatever job you have. Bosses will respect you; they know you can deliver, and that creates the best mentoring opportunity,” she says. Mantilla also urges Latinos to get involved in clubs, community activities, or professional networks. “By adding value in a place, you become valuable.”
The busy businesswoman and Latina leader has been happily married for almost twenty years, and has two daughters. She and her husband work together at Altura. She has one piece of advice, especially for young women. ”Sometimes young women think they have to give up working in finance or investments to start a family, but it can be done; it’s a lot of calendar management, but you can do it,” she says.
Mantilla, who has received numerous awards and has been on many lists as one of the country’s most influential Latinas, says there is much work to be done. “Right now, many big American companies see us in the ‘minority bucket,’ in supply diversity,” she explains. ”I want to see us in the investment management side, or as the accountants, or lawyers, right alongside the CEO,” Mantilla says.
And while there is work to be done, Mantilla says it is a matter of time. ”It will happen. The dynamics of the Hispanic community are just too compelling.”