Latinos Climb Corporate Ladder Movement into Upper Management Not Coming as Fast as Many Would Like

Article excerpt

Byline: Mike Comerford Daily Herald Business Writer

When Sears, Roebuck and Co. was looking for a new member of its board of directors, it specifically sought out a Latino candidate.

Sears drew up a list of prominent Latinos from across the country and interviewed them before selecting the head of the National Council of La Raza, Raul Yzaguirre. Shareholders overwhelmingly approved the choice last month.

"The board wanted to bring someone on who could relate to the Latino community," said Yzaguirre, whose Hispanic advocacy group is based in Washington, D.C. "Generally, Sears has a good diversity campaign. But in upper management, they have a ways to go."

Yzaguirre is one of two Latinos to join a local corporate board this year.

In February, shareholders at Northbrook-based Allstate Corp. elected J. Christopher Reyes, head of Rosemont-based food and beverage conglomerate Reyes Holdings LLC. He's also on the boards of Lake Forest-based Wintrust Financial Corp., Dean Foods Co. and four area not-for-profit boards.

Reyes and Yzaguirre add to the ranks of Latinos on local corporate boards but the list remains short.

Rising through ranks

"They are beginning to rise through the corporate ranks," said James Drury, who as head of James Drury Partners Limited in Chicago has recruited Hispanic executives for boards. "But it isn't a huge universe out there of Hispanic CEOs looking to get on boards."

A survey sponsored by Chicago United Inc., an advocacy group promoting corporate diversity, showed that of the area's largest companies, about 2.8 percent had Hispanic board members.

The survey, conducted by the University of Illinois at Chicago, found that African-Americans more than doubled that rate, with 7.4 percent of corporate boards. Nationally, African-Americans are about 12 percent of the population and Hispanics slightly outnumber that.

"It is clear that there is slower movement of Latinos into senior management," said Carolyn Nordstrom, president of Chicago United. "It's not logical to say there aren't qualified people to take those positions."

The Washington D.C.-based Hispanic Association on Corporate Responsibility estimates that 93 percent of the Fortune 1000 companies in America have no Latino executive officers, which includes chief financial officers and general counsels.

A sizable demographic

However, the pressure to increase Latino presence on corporate board rooms is growing as Latino buying power and population increases.

According to the U.S. Census, the Hispanic population in the six-county Chicago area grew 25 percent in the past decade, to 1.4 million, a population that rival's Miami's community.

Those tracking the number of Hispanics in corporate board rooms across the country say the trend has turned for Latinos.

The Hispanic Business Corporate Elite directory grew 43 percent last year alone, with 928 names, mostly in the finance, technology, healthcare and utility industries. All of which prompted the publisher, Jesus Chavarria, to say "individuals are making strides to rise to the top of corporate America."

A survey of Fortune 1,000 companies showed that 82 Hispanics held 114 board seats at 99 companies last year, almost a 10 percent increase.

Indeed, the percentage has been rising about 10 percent a year since 1993, according to the Hispanic Association on Corporate Responsibility.

One of the highest profile Hispanic board members in the country is a former Quaker Oats Co. director - Florida real estate developer Armando Codina. He sits on the boards of General Motors, AMR Corp. …