ELDA MACIAS ON THE VALUE OF NETWORKING

Elda Macias spent the last ten years in the corporate marketing department at Ameriprise Financial where she honed her financial expertise first as Manager, Segment Marketing, then Director, Business Alliances & Segment Marketing and most recently Vice President, Retirement & Segment Marketing. She left Ameriprise in March of 2016.

I caught up with Elda in April at Yum! in St. Louis Park to talk about what’s next on her trajectory upward and to spotlight her process for staying connected.

Q: Let’s start with your typical day.
A: Since I’m in transition, my typical day includes networking and connecting with people I know well or people I’m interested in getting to know better. I attended the Twin Cities Business 2016 Women in Leadership Forum (April 13, 2016) at the Golden Valley Golf and Country Club and connected with several colleagues there. Then in April, I was invited to the Carlson School C200 Reachout Conference. The Committee of 200 is a membership organization of the worlds most successful women entrepreneurs and corporate innovators. C200 has more than 500 members worldwide who collectively generate more than $1.4 trillion in annual revenues. These women are heavy hitters and they spent an entire day with students and alumni, like myself, sharing their experiences and insights. I had a great conversation with Angie Bastian, co-founder of Angie’s BoomChickaPop and it was awesome.

Having this time off allows me to attend events of this caliber and meet women who are open and easy to engage with. I’m confident that all of this networking is going to lead me to something new.

Q: Is networking a best practice for you?
A: Yes. I will always take lunch or have coffee with someone who reaches out or gets introduced to me. It’s partly how I give back, so it’s important I keep my networks healthy. I’m meeting interesting people at these events and on other occasions and then follow up with them. I’m grateful new contacts respond to me in the same way I’ve been with others. I always get a, “Yes, I’m happy to meet with you”.

Q: You mention several contacts who are women, is this intentional?
A: No, I just I happen to know more women and have a lot of connections within the financial services sector. I’m on the board of directors for Women Venture, my focus at Ameriprise was Women’s strategy. I consulted my own financial advisor about her marketing plan, she in turn introduced to me to a colleague at Charles Schwab who in turn introduced me to three other women in the industry – all amazing. Who knows where all this might lead, but that’s how it works for me.
I recently spent two and a half hours with a former Vice President of Diversity, now retired. The insights I gained were priceless. I’ll say it again, I’m grateful to have these women in my life and I’d like to think that the universe is giving back to me. I’ve never given anyone a lead on a job because I wanted something in return, it’s really because I want to give back. And if I can, why wouldn’t I?
But to be fair, I’m also going to meet with guys I got my MBA with. They’re more than happy to take a meeting, so my network is relatively diverse.

Q: If cultivating relationships is one value you hold dear, what other values influence your work and style?
A: I’m thinking about where I’m going to go next and I want to make sure it’s an organization that exemplifies good values and driven by a real mission for the work they’re doing. And you can have a good mission and still be a for profit organization. A company that is working towards the greater good, who gives back to the community and supports their employees in doing the same. A company that values diversity and every aspect of it including diversity of thought, cultural background and experiences. These are the values that are going to be important as I evaluate organizations I might want to be a part of.

Q: Do you think Minnesota has a good number of possible companies for you?
A: Yes, I think so. One financial services company that I’m talking to contributes money for their employees so they in turn can contribute to causes and organizations they care about. They also give employees time off to volunteer at their organizations of choice. A lot of Minnesota companies offer these benefits as well.

Q: What insights do you bring to your work as a Latina?
A: I pay more attention to certain things. For instance, when I was hired as the Assistant Director of Marketing at the University of Texas, El Paso, the department did not produce any Spanish language material, nor were they buying Spanish language media, this in an 85% Hispanic market. That all changed once I simply asked, what’s going on – why aren’t we doing this? And their response was to give me the green light to “try it”. And we did and it was successful. Now, Spanish language media is integrated into UTEP’s marketing strategy.
Later when I moved to Minneapolis and was hired by a financial institution as their Communications Consultant, my work was to present seminars to explain retirement plans to newly arrived immigrants (in Spanish) as well as C Suite clients. After a few presentations, I went back to my office and said, “Here’s the thing, we can’t just translate material, we have to transcreate the content for these audiences”. Their response was, “wow, we didn’t know that, so let’s do that.” And we did.

Q: And the outcome?
A: We were able to reach our intended audiences with relevant and culturally customized content. As for myself, I was rewarded, promoted, and given more responsibility in both cases. With the job at UTEP, it really didn’t matter that I was Hispanic and at the financial institution I was hired primarily because I spoke Spanish. In both cases being Hispanic was an advantage.

Q: How do you convince management to try new ideas if they are resistant?
A: When your customers, consumers or clients are demanding and expecting certain things, management can line up pretty quickly. The financial institution realized the value in transcreation versus translation. Beyond that I was the one explaining retirement plans to gardeners, and in the C suites listening to other clients, so I witnessed a wide variety of reactions. It was like conducting little focus groups every time I went out into the field. And my employer recognized the value in that as well.

Q: How can our Latino community do better towards building wealth?
A: My own perspective is to help our community understand the difference between building wealth and being rich, two very different attitudes connected to beliefs around money initiated in childhood.
Money is personal and emotional. People and maybe Latinos in particular can tend to make decisions about money with their hearts and not their heads. To me that’s where you have to start – stressing the difference between building wealth and being rich.

Q: What is the difference in your mind?
A: Being rich is having stuff. It’s about amassing things that provide a personal sense of status. Building wealth is getting to the point where you feel you have enough. It could be one hundred dollars or one million dollars, but you feel good about who you are. It also allows you to get to the point where you’re not worried about money. Then you can start giving back.

Q: These are your definitions right?
A:  Yes, focus group of one.

Q: What tips can you leave us with around personal financial health?
A:
1.    Always negotiate for better pay. Never take the first offer, always negotiate.
2.    Always take advantage of your benefits, start saving for retirement as soon as you possibly can. At a minimum save enough to get your company match because if you’re not doing at least that, then you’re leaving money on the table. Money the company was going to give you.
3.    For women, if you leave the workplace, try to get back into it as soon as you can. If you’ve taken significant time off for caregiving or any number of other reasons, what will happen is that by age 65 you may have as much as a 30% shortfall compared to men. Since women live longer, you’ll need that much more money to fund your longevity and will have less.
4.    Set a financial plan in place, it’ll be easier to reach your goals.

By sharing these insights we can get to a point where our Latino community will do better, because the wealthier we are, the more people are going to pay attention to us.