When Anne Alonzo was growing up in Chicago’s Latino communities of Pilsen, Little Village and Marquette Park, she remembers thinking she would grow up to be perhaps a secretary or court reporter. Little did she know at the time that she would end up in many prominent leadership roles, in government as well as in the corporate world.
Alonzo is currently vice president of global public policy affairs at Kraft Foods. The successful Mexican-American executive is also the first woman to become chair of the World Cocoa Foundation (WCF). Prior to these positions, Alonzo served as deputy assistant secretary at the U.S. Department of Commerce during the Clinton administration.
Though Alonzo has long achieved six-figure success, she still remembers the moment she began to “dream big.” It was when she started getting exposed to the world beyond her own neighborhood.
“I started to work for a lawyer in Chicago as part of a work study program in high school,” she says. ”That was really the time when I first got exposed to the profession.”
Alonzo says before that, like many other teens, “I don’t really think I had a goal.” She explains her parents were loving and supportive, but not really in a position to guide or direct her regarding school or a career.
Working for the lawyer, though, set her in a different path. When she went to law school, she says her path diverged even more, and she was exposed to kids whose parents were professionals. Shortly after law school, she went to work at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
“I got interested in what the EPA was doing with Mexico,” she says. “They invited me to go to Mexico to observe – like an internship for three months – which turned into six months.”
Alonzo says this was her segue into international work. Learning all about Mexican and American laws opened up a whole new world for her. She says about a year later, the first diplomatic position through the EPA was created.
“It happened around the time they were announcing NAFTA,” says Alonzo who ended up winning an award for her work in support of the North American Free Trade Agreement and the environment. “I was really really busy these years…I [also] worked on the passage of the the Dominican Republic Central American Free Trade Agreement (DR-CAFTA).”
Later on, Alonzo returned to her home state and started working for Kraft Foods. In her current role at the company, Alonzo leads all global corporate affairs in the areas of sustainability, tariffs, tax and trade, and health and wellness. One of the things she likes about her job is that every day is atypical.
Although Alonzo has accomplished so much in her life thus far, she says what makes her proudest is completing her MBA – even more than her law degree.
“It wasn’t my strength,” she explains, because she considers herself more of a communicator that one for quantitative analysis. “I’m proud of it, because it was the hardest for me, but I did it. My mother saw how I struggled.”
While Alonzo attributes her determination and belief in herself to her success in life, she is also grateful for the breaks and privileges she got along the way.
“My mother gave me $2,000 to go to Europe, before I went to Mexico,” remembers Alonzo about the life-changing gift her mom gave her. “Those kinds of important points in your life shape you and give you a view of what’s out there.”
She says she wishes that all Latinos would travel more.
“It’s made me more tolerant,” she says. ”It’s important for our community, because a broader world is made available,” says Alonzo.
She admits it takes a lot of courage to continue to open new doors, but that’s also what gets her out of bed in the morning.
“You have to keep on challenging yourself, learning and contributing,” says Alonzo. “Life is short. We need to make the best of our time here.”