The Two Worlds Of Carlos Orta
Carlos Orta left his native Cuba for Spain in 1969 and moved to Miami two years later. Although he has lived in several cities, he considers Miami home.
Carlos Orta left his native Cuba for Spain in 1969 and moved to Miami two years later. Although he has lived in several cities, he considers Miami home. In 1997 Orta joined the Ford Motor Company and later worked with Anheuser-Busch. He came to Washington, D.C. in 2006 when he was appointed president and CEO of the Hispanic Association on Corporate Responsibility.
The primary mission of HACR, a non-profit advocacy organization, is the inclusion of Hispanics in Corporate America at a level commensurate with the community's economic participation in society.
Since its founding in 1986, HACR has focused on Corporate America's inclusion of Hispanics in the areas of employment, procurement, philanthropy and governance.
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Carlos Orta's record speaks volumns. Before entering the corporate world, he worked as a legislative aide for two members of the Florida House of Representatives. This gave him a taste for the public sector. Later, he became director of the Miami-Dade County legislative delegation. In his service with Ford Motor Company's corporate affairs division and as director of Latino community outreach for the Western region for Anheuser-Busch, Orta gained acquaintance with the innerworkings of Corporate America. The combination of his corporate and public sector experience fuels his current role with HACR.
Orta earned a bachelor's degree in liberal studies from Barry University in Miami in 1995. He started as an architecture major at Miami-Dade Community College but says that math did not agree with him. Frustrated with the numbers, he followed a friend's advice and accepted an internship with a local politician.
He told his friend that he didn't much appreciate politics or politicians, but she assured him that it was rewarding and offered an opportunity to try something new. Once he tried it, he was hooked.
“I loved it," Orta says. "Working for a politician provides you with the opportunity to help a lot of people who are not in a position to help themselves."
The internship, which he refers to as an "accident of fate,” acquainted him intimately with the public sector. It also catapulted him to a legislative advisor position and eventually legislative director. Orta also has experience as government and community relations manager for Waste Management of Florida, Inc.
"That whole aspect of being able to connect the dots and help people who didn't know who to turn to was very rewarding and that's what got me into the public sector," he says.
Living in Miami provided Orta with the foundation for his national involvement. "Growing up in Miami, it's sort of a given," he says when describing his interaction with the Hispanic community. His knowlege of state politics and the legislative process led him to a seat on several Latino-focused, community-based organizations. This proved useful for his position at Ford Motor Company.
"At Ford, one of my responsibilities was to manage the company's budget with regard to relationships with Hispanic groups." Those relationships, he points out, must engage with the community at every level — local, regional and national. "It's funny because growing up in Miami you're kind of landlocked. All you know is the Cuban culture." Orta says he found himself intrigued by the diversity of Hispanics residing throughout the rest of the United States.
"I really had not met anyone who was Puerto Rican, Mexican or Central American until I left Miami," he says.
Orta provides a few suggestions on how to be an effective leader. Three that he emphasizes are ethical standards, a vision and honesty. "As a leader you have to influence a group so they want to follow your vision and you have to assign them with responsibilities to make the project happen. If you do it for the right reasons, the rest will come."
A corporate leader's success is measured by the success of his or her company, he maintains. "Attracting new customers and keeping the old ones is one definition of success."
Orta points with pride to his accomplishments in increasing the size of HACR's constituency and forming new corporate partnerships. Last year, HACR's annual symposium brought together the CEOs of five Fortune 500 companies - including Time Warner, United Healthcare, and State Farm Insurance — for a discussion about their efforts to reach out to the Hispanic community. The upcoming 2009 symposium will feature AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson, along with the CEOs of Burger King, MillerCoors and Telemundo. Michelle Caruso-Cabrera of CNBC will moderate.
As a result of HACR's efforts, Orta hopes to see more Hispanics make the breakthrough from senior management roles to CEO positions in major U.S. companies.
A Special Influence
Outside of his career, Orta considers his grandmother his hero and the most influential person in his life. She was extremely involved in his upbringing due to his parents' heavy workload.
Within his professional life, he singles out Marion Bailey, organizer of a political action committee in Florida; Mexican-American Legal Defense and Educational Fund past president Antonia Hernández and Barry Coughlin, his boss at Ford.
"I consider all of them mentors. They provided differing perspectives and points of view for various situations that I encounter," says Orta. He points out that some of his mentors are young people, keeping him familiar with new technology and communication trends.
Orta speaks with personal knowledge and deep feeling on the topic of immigrants and their stereotypical portrayal in the mainstream media. He calls the way Congress has handled the immigration issue the most frustrating national failure in the past 10 years.
"Some elected officials seem to forget that the United States of America was built on people emigrating from other countries. Immigration is one of our strengths and one of the reasons why America is the greatest country in the world," he states.
Orta adds that media personalities like Lou Dobbs have distorted the issue by blaming immigrants for everything that is going wrong in the country. "Lou Dobbs wasn't ‘famous’ before the immigration issue." He claims that the only reason Dobbs covers the immigration debate and slanders all undocumented immigrants is to pick up ratings and make more money.
However, Orta points to what he sees as an even bigger problem: There remains a lack of Latino representation and influence within the media community as a whole.
(Edwin Mora is a reporter with Hispanic Link News Service in Washington, D.C. Email: [email protected])