Adria Córdova, and the road to entering the UNM Anderson Hall of Fame
Earlier this year, Córdova was inducted into the Anderson Hall of Fame at the University of New Mexico for her community contributions and professional career.
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What makes and defines a leader?
The answer to this question may vary from person-to-person. However, it is a question that has been the foundation of everything Adria Córdova has done throughout her professional career.
Having lived in New Mexico for her entire life, when it was time for Córdova to select a college, she chose the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque. There, she majored in organizational leadership at UNM’s Anderson School of Management.
She credits the program for providing her with a good foundation to navigate the different dynamics within organizations.
“I’ve worked in a few different organizations and having that organizational leadership background, I think, just prepared me and made me more aware of whenever different situations happen,” said Córdova during an interview with AL DÍA.
Beyond that, it also allowed her to gain a more analytical perspective of various situations, which has helped guide her approach as she has entered different stages of her life and her career.
“That’s what the program did for me,” said Córdova. “I think it made me just a more well-rounded leader.”
The Power of ALPFA
While her four years as an undergraduate student was heavily influential for Córdova as she developed her leadership skills, so too was discovering ALPFA.
It is the oldest Latino serving organization in the United States, and is focused on developing the next generation of Latino leaders.
The organization would play a major role in the remainder of Córdova’s college life, and has continued well into her professional career.
“ALPFA gave me an outside perspective that I never had,” Córdova said. “I grew up in a small town, I wasn’t exposed to corporate companies, I wasn’t exposed to a lot of professional leaders — much less Latino leaders — and what ALPFA did for me was give me an idea and a visual of what else is out there.”
She highlighted that the experiences she had with ALPFA would go hand-in-hand with her college classes.
“As I was meeting with other chapters, professionals and other individuals, I was taking all of that back to my program and vice versa,” she said.
As Córdova has gone through different stages of her career, ALPFA has remained a constant.
Fast forward to about a decade after she first discovered ALPFA, she was named President of the Philadelphia chapter of the organization.
An Eventual Return to Anderson
Upon earning her bachelor’s degree, Córdova began her career working in finance procurement for the Air Force Research Labs, a wing of the US Department of Defense.
At the time, Córdova wasn’t sure exactly what she wanted to do with her career. She was certain, however, that she wanted to pursue a master’s degree.
About a year after earning her undergraduate degree, Córdova began graduate school.
“Fortunate enough for me, the program that I was working in at the Air Force Research Labs covered a percentage of my schooling for my MBA,” she said.
Córdova returned to UNM and Anderson to pursue an MBA in finance management.
Already working in finance at the time, she was tactful in selecting her degree concentration.
“I chose finance for my concentration because finance is always at the root of every business,” she underscored.
Her mindset was that she had acquired the soft skills in leadership during her undergraduate studies, and this was an opportunity to add a hard skill on the financial side to her repertoire.
“When I put both of those together, then I would feel the most prepared to then go on ahead and do what it is that I wanted to do,” she said.
Córdova classified her time working with the Research Labs while pursuing her MBA as “a very formative part of my career and just my educational journey overall.”
Once she earned her MBA in 2013, Córdova felt the next chapter of her life would need to involve her moving out of New Mexico.
“I felt that there were more opportunities, I wanted to explore, I wanted to learn what it was like to live on my own and work at a large corporation,” she said.
Córdova’s next step was finding a company that would allow her to do that.
While she was a graduate student, General Mills came to UNM looking to recruit students. Upon learning about potential opportunities there, Córdova felt it was the perfect fit for her.
“I didn’t care what it was going to take, I wanted to work there,” she said. “I knew I deserved to work there, and I was going to prove to them that I was a good candidate.”
She did just that, as several rounds of interviews later, she earned a job as a business management associate. However, the role was in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Therefore, while she was excited to begin this new chapter, the situation was a little bittersweet.
“I had just got the job of my dreams at the time, this is exactly what I wanted… but on the flip side, that would mean I was leaving my family, moving far from home, and just the thought of the unknown was very scary,” Córdova reflected.
She was on her own, in a new city with no family, friends, mentors or a network of individuals to help her along the way. She had to navigate through it largely on her own.
While challenging, it was critical for Córdova to have that experience.
A year later in 2015, she earned a new position with General Mills which saw her move to Philadelphia.
It was upon her arrival to Philadelphia that she reconnected with ALPFA.
“Because I didn’t have a mentor, ALPFA became my mentor,” said Córdova. “It was the organization that served as my safe haven, that safety net for me.”
Through ALPFA, she met several other individuals who were or had been in similar situations.
With this, Córdova had a bit of a leg up when navigating Philadelphia, compared to Minneapolis.
“That’s the power of relationships,” she said. “A lot of times, a lot of us that come from minority communities don’t necessarily know how to build those relationships, and thankfully that’s the whole purpose of ALPFA.”
As she settled in her new city of Philadelphia, Córdova continued to build her career and reputation with both General Mills and ALPFA Philadelphia.
A Pandemic and A Career Pivot
In July 2019, Córdova was named President of ALPFA Philadelphia after serving three years as vice president.
Simultaneously, she was working as a customer account manager for General Mills, developing her leadership skills on both fronts.
Like many, Córdova was heavily impacted by the pandemic.
“My entire job working in sales was flipped upside down,” she said about the onset of the pandemic.
This was especially true from a supply chain perspective.
While it was tough to navigate, Córdova credited the pandemic for helping turn her into a more agile leader.
“You have to think quickly and react quickly to whatever situation comes about,” she said.
This also held true in her president role with ALPFA Philadelphia. Having just completed their annual planning for 2020, the pandemic forced a shift to virtual programming.
While shifting to virtual was a wrinkle in the planning, Córdova highlighted that the health and safety of her members was at the forefront of anything else.
“Ensuring that my team was safe, that we were all in the right state to be able to continue the work that we were doing, we all felt that that was the time that we really needed to step up and support our community and that’s exactly what we did.”
The virtual nature of the events allowed the ALPFA Philadelphia team to design additional series, programming and resources that were most relevant to the Latino, and other diverse communities.
“There’s a silver lining in everything, and I think we all grew and learned a ton from that time period,” said Córdova.
“Just going through that experience all together, from a professional and personal standpoint, really shaped us as leaders, as an organization, and as a community,” she continued.
The pandemic also presented Córdova with the chance to move back closer to home and her family.
By the time 2022 hit, Córdova had had some time to reflect, and contemplate a potential career change.
Having worked in sales and marketing for close to a decade, Córdova reached a point in her career where she felt she was ready to pursue a new challenge.
However, a career shift would need to have meaning behind it, allowing her to use the expertise she acquired in the consumer goods industry while learning something new.
“I was very intentional about finding a role where I could leverage my prior experience, but also have the opportunity to continue to learn and challenge myself every single day,” said Córdova.
Eventually, she found that in the tech space in her new and current role as a senior solution engineer with Salesforce as part of its consumer goods vertical.
“It was the perfect intersection of what I was doing and what I wanted to do in the future,” Córdova said.
She is able to remain in the industry where she built her expertise, while adding tech as another layer of that pursuit.
“I'm extremely fortunate and blessed to have gone through all of the experiences that I've gone through because it's led me to where I am right now.”
A Hall of Fame Induction
The Anderson School of Management at UNM has a Hall of Fame, where each year alumni who achieve professional success, made significant contributions to their community and serve as role models are inducted.
Inductees are honored within four major themes: Lifetime Leadership, Young Alumni, Sustainable and Inclusive Progress, and Regional Innovation.
In October 2022, Córdova was honored as an inductee of the 34th Anderson Hall of Fame as a young alumni, which recognizes “graduates under the age of 40 who are impacting their communities and are making great strides in their professional careers.”
In a word, Córdova’s reaction when first learning of the recognition was “surprised.”
“I was in complete shock,” she said.
In getting this recognition, Córdova can’t help but credit her time as an Anderson student for serving as the starting point of her leadership journey.
“It’s been an incredible experience. I dedicated a lot of my time to Anderson as a student,” she noted. “It really shaped my career and gave me a foundation to be able to have the career that I’m having, and I am eternally grateful for that.”
“To be recognized by the university that I built my foundation on is just a very humbling honor,” Córdova continued.
In 2021, she became a marketing advisory board member for Anderson.
As she reflects on her own journey up to this point, she has a message for the next generation of Anderson students, and Latino professionals.
“Don’t be afraid to take risks and don’t ever doubt yourself,” said Córdova.
While she understands that many Latinos face imposter syndrome or may be the only Latino in the room, she advises others not to allow it to be a barrier.
“I have seen individuals miss out on opportunities out of fear, out of self-doubt, [and] not because of their potential, and it’s extremely heartbreaking,” she added.
She hopes that won’t be the case for as many young Latinos who are looking to build their collegiate careers, and subsequent professional profiles.
“Be prepared and have a plan, but don’t ever hold yourself back out of fear because fear limits our opportunities and the possibility of what could be.”