Cid Wilson: 'When we succeed, we give back. When we give back, we succeed'
Cid Wilson, President and CEO of the Hispanic Association on Corporate Responsibility (HACR), is a proud Dominican American who knows that when Latinos are given the opportunity to compete in corporate America, "we compete and we win."
Cid Wilson was once a Forbes number-one-ranked financial analyst, a top figure on Wall Street.
At the executive level, he introduced himself like so:
“My name is Cid Wilson, soy Dominicano de pura cepa de Barahona. ¿Ya tú sabes?”
If nothing else, his colleagues understood he was Latino, and his “Latino-ness” does not wait by the door when he takes the room. Since his youth, he has wanted his personal achievements to reflect back on and strengthen the Latino community.
“We have that moral obligation that when we succeed we give back and when we give back we succeed,” he said.
Now as the President and CEO of the Hispanic Association on Corporate Responsibility (HACR), Wilson works to propel Latinos in the corporate world to c-suite positions, such as boardroom seats and roles like Chief Financial Officers (CFOs) and Chief Operating Officers (COOs). He travels the country, engaging with executives about the advantages and necessity of Hispanic inclusion at the highest levels of corporate America, which, as HACR makes clear, has been considerably lacking.
When Wilson made it to Wall Street in 1993, he started as an unpaid intern in the mailroom. He asked for nothing except lunch, bus fare and a shot to be the best mail boy the financial district had ever seen, which was his chance to rise up the ladder. By 2006, Wilson was named number-one Specialty Retail Analyst by Forbes Magazine.
“[The ranking was] a great accomplishment, but yet a reminder that we need more Latinos to use our blessings to make sure the ladder is still strong at the base, and that we can continue to have more Latinos rise up the ladder, because as I was rising up on Wall Street, it actually got more lonely,” Wilson said during an interview with PHL Diversity Executive Director Greg DeShields in the AL DÍA Newsroom.
The higher into leadership positions he climbed, the fewer and fewer Latinos Wilson encountered. And across corporate America, this is a common, daunting experience. HACR’s latest Corporate Governance Study in 2013 found that only 10 CEOs of Fortune 500 companies were Latino and zero were Latina. Today, there is only one Latina CEO on the list, Wilson said.
Less than 3 percent of Hispanics overall held board seats in the Fortune 500. Latinas, despite their individual economic buying power of over $1.1 trillion, still hold less than 1 percent of these board seats. However as Wilson put it, “Latino-spent is Latina-driven,” meaning almost all Latino household spending is done by Hispanic women.
Independent from the U.S., Latinos would produce the seventh largest GDP in the world, increasing 70 percent faster than the rest of the country’s contributions and yet, their c-suite presence in America’s most economically-influential companies has only inched forward since 2000.
The numbers, reiterated by Wilson and HACR to companies nationwide time and time again, show there is a multi-billion-dollar abyss between the population, earnings and contributions of Latinos in the U.S. and the positions they hold in corporate offices and boardrooms. It’s tough to say who suffers more from exclusion — Latinos, who, “given the opportunity, they will succeed or exceed,” Wilson said, or corporations who have rejected or ignored that the American employee and consumer base is increasingly Latino.
“If you don’t create a culture that is inclusive and also gives that [mid-level employee] a vision of where they can be rising up to an executive, they’re going to leave,” Wilson explained. “If they leave, we all know that high employee turnover is going to be very expensive. Efficiencies do not get maximized because you’re not allowing this person to develop to their true, full potential.”
“Plus, if you’re not doing it as well as your competitor,” Wilson continued, “that helps your competitor get that advantage. Diversity and inclusion is not just the right thing to do, it is smart business.”
Another smart business strategy is getting on HACR’s nice list. Through its own Research Institute, the association puts corporations’ Hispanic inclusivity on full-blast through its reports. It awards “five-star” corporations that participate in its Corporate Inclusion Index survey, rating companies based on HACR’s four pillars: investment in Latino philanthropy, employment, procurement and governance.
Latinos then know which corporations are giving back to their causes and communities. Latinos entering the workforce see which corporations have a Hispanic-friendly culture and other Latino employees. Latino business owners know which companies invest in their products and services. Board- and c-suite-eligible Latinos know which corporations are monotonously completing diversity checklists, and which have leadership that actively champions Hispanic inclusion.
Wilson was born and raised in Bergen County, N.J., which lines the Hudson River across from Manhattan, but his passion for empowering and propelling Latino success was instilled by his parents, who immigrated from the Dominican Republic. Brought up in the post-civil rights era, he identified the plight of Dominican Americans with that of other Latinos, as well as African Americans. Many Dominicans are Afro-Latino — a double whammy for discrimination, according to Wilson.
As many sons and daughters of immigrants are, Wilson was taught to value the culture and language, as well as the sacrifice of his family to give him a more promising life outcome. But his ambitious story of going from the mailroom to a leader in the national economy is, to him, much less about his individual success because if it was, Wilson would have probably remained on Wall Street.
He believes minorities cannot passively kneel on the shoulders of activist figures who preceded them, but must stand up and keep reaching higher. Wilson wants Latinos to ascend to those c-suite positions and make their voices heard on executive boards, so “when the next generation is ready to stand on our shoulders, we have strong shoulders ready so they can stand up, and be visible, and be recognized.”
Wilson turned ambition into a passion and a mission, becoming an accomplished authority on behalf of the Latino community. Naturally, this led him to HACR, and in his mind, the mission remains unfinished until Hispanics no longer struggle to fit into America’s corporate culture.
Wilson is also part of the effort to embed Latino legacy into the historic grounds of Washington, D.C., as a commissioner to create a National Museum of the American Latino. The commission was created in 2008 with 23 congressional and presidential appointees. Wilson was selected by former President Barack Obama to sit alongside Latino figures like Eva Longoria and Emilio Estefan to conduct research, present proposals and push Congress to pass the National Museum of the American Latino Act, the bill to approve the museum on the National Mall.
The legislation has yet to be passed despite bipartisan, years-long efforts by Latino politicians and community advocates. Wilson said a new Smithsonian to commemorate Latinos’ contributions to the establishment and progress of the nation is well-deserved and would enlighten the American public with histories like that of Cesar Chavez, Dolores Huerta and the farm workers movement; Latino patriotism and wartime veterans; Juan Rodriguez, a Dominican and the first immigrant to arrive on the island of Manhattan before the Dutch and English; and the oldest state capital, Santa Fe, N.M., founded by Spanish colonists in the 17th century.
“These are histories we need to illuminate so that all Americans can understand the long history of Latinos in the U.S.,” Wilson said, identifying that Smithsonian museums give all Americans the opportunity to connect and value the benefits that minority and immigrant groups present to the nation. Wilson noted several misconceptions about Latinos that the media and corporate America have propagated, which HACR and the implementation of an American Latino Smithsonian aim to eliminate from national discourse.
“The biggest misconception, this I think sometimes happens from the media, is that we just got here … and that we’re looking for handouts, which we’re not,” Wilson said. “We are qualified, if not more qualified than anyone else, to perform the jobs that are presented. We want that fair opportunity to compete for those opportunities. When given the chance to compete, we compete and we win.”