From a young age, Nancy Hernandez says her parents taught her that regardless of wealth, regardless of position and stature, there is value and something to be learned from everyone that you meet — whether it be a homeless person or a construction worker.
“This is something I wholeheartedly believe in, and I’ve been able to learn from a lot of people in my life,” says the successful entrepreneur. “I am open to the contributions that others can offer you.”
Inheriting her father’s business spirit (he opened his own auto body shop in Milwaukee, Wis. after immigrating from Mexico), Hernandez started her own marketing agency, Abrazo, 10 years ago. Before that, she had worked in the hospitality industry for a decade and got her Masters of Business Administration at Marquette University in her hometown of Milwaukee.
“I’m a numbers girl,” says Hernandez about why she eventually chose marketing as her career. “I love the analytical part of marketing…and I always knew I wanted to do my own thing.”
So she decided to follow in her father’s entrepreneurial footsteps and start the only marketing agency focused on the multicultural market in Wisconsin — which she says still rings true today.
“It was the right time and place,” says Hernandez who serves clients such as the Milwaukee Brewers baseball team. “Wisconsin still isn’t a hugely diverse state. Companies really need a lot of assistance and still do…That was something I was passionate about.”
She says what she loves most about her job is partnering with clients and working with her very diverse team. She also appreciates the flexibility being an owner allows for her to spend with her 5-year-old daughter.
“I try to get to the gym very early — by 5:30am, and then I get my daughter ready to go to school,” says the multi-tasking 43-year-old. “My husband and I try to commute together as it gives us a little time in the car to chat. And then at work, my volunteer organizations are a big part of my week. Whether it’s a board meeting, or planning for upcoming initiatives, there is a certain amount of e-mails that I have to answer every day.”
She says she grew up in a home where her mom made dinner every day, and she wants the same luxury for her daughter.
“I like to be organized about my life, so I created weekly menus so I don’t spend too much time thinking about it,” says Hernandez, adding that she tries to fit in traditional Mexican cuisine when she can. “I try to make it as healthy as possible. I’ll make six weeks worth at one time, and then I rotate the weeks. I try to take my work organization into the home so I can spend more time on the weekends doing something fun.”
Her organizational skills have also given her time to volunteer on several boards, such as the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Wisconsin. A decade ago, she also helped create the Hispanic Professionals of Greater Milwaukee, which is a vital force in recruiting diverse talent to the area.
“We figured this was a need in the area to continue to develop white-collar Hispanic talent,” says Hernandez about the group, which started with 10 to 12 founding members and today has more than 700 members.
She says the greater Milwaukee area is two percentage points behind the rest of the U.S. population in terms of higher education completion, and Hispanic Professionals is committed to closing that gap by 2015.
“We are doing that through a pilot program launched this year,” says Hernandez. “We have 150 college kids in a mentoring program with exposure to professionals and internships, and we are really focused on helping them graduate college, and how do we help to set them up to be candidates of choice, not just have a college degree.”
They are also continuing to work with their professional base, as a study found that although there was an increase in Hispanic white-collar professionals, the number in management level positions has not increased.
“We’re working on programming…to make them candidates for executive level positions,” says Hernandez.
She says a lot of Hispanic white professionals think just working very hard is enough to get noticed and promoted, but that’s not how it works.
“A lot is not related to education,” says Hernandez. “The time socializing around the water cooler is important.”
She says she asks the young people, “Have you gone out to lunch with your supervisor?” or “Have you volunteered for a project?” “Do you run across informational articles and send them up the chain?” She says it is those things that help you get noticed.
“We help them develop that plan,” says Hernandez explaining that Hispanic Professionals also developed a 6-month mentoring program for Hispanic students to feel as up to par as the peers they’re competing with in the workforce. “There are organizations doing great things with kids, but we also think that nobody has really come up with something that really works…We think with these different approaches, we can help them by leaps and bounds.”
She continues to say that she hopes other organizations copy them in order to help more Hispanic students across the country.
“We don’t want to keep it a secret,” says Hernandez. “We want to increase Hispanic talent in other areas. We want to be able to do things right here, and then when we do, share that with other communities.”