What is your occupation and how did you come to work in this field?
I am currently the Chief of Staff to the CEO of Mercer, a subsidiary of Marsh & McLennan Companies (NYSE: MMC) that specializes in helping people and the companies they work for manage their health care, retirement planning, investments, and work performance. Mercer generates about $4B in revenue with 22,000 colleagues worldwide, and as a result we help more than 100M people live better lives with more secure futures.
My role is about allowing our CEO, Julio A. Portalatin, to focus on those things that only he can do. I facilitate connections amongst his executive team and help manage critical initiatives he puts into motion. It’s part confidant, part gatekeeper and part strategic consultant—all in the service of keeping him focused on maximizing our organization’s goals. I’ve been doing this since August of 2013 and work out of our New York City headquarters.
Before Mercer, I worked with an MMC sister company, Marsh, a large professional services firm that provides advisory services and solutions that address the most complex risk management needs for global clients, both commercial and personal. My tenure at Marsh included working with the Global Sales Team as Global Sales Support, with the Marsh Northeast Sales and Distribution Team as the Business Development Manager, as the Leader for the US East Zone request-for-proposal group, and as senior project manager with Marsh’s Private Equity and Mergers & Acquisitions (PEMA) Practice.
During my 12-year career at Marsh I gained extensive strategic marketing and sales thinking, deep knowledge of the organization and insurance industry, and strength in overall project management and facilitation that ultimately led to my current role. It was my network of relationships established within the company from work experiences, as well as my role as Co-Chair for Marsh’s Latino Resource Group, HOLA, that really broadened my visibility with many senior leaders in the organization, including those at Mercer. So when the Mercer CEO Chief of Staff role was offered, it was truly “opportunity knocking,” but not by luck or happenstance. It was the result of the credibility I established through hard-work, dedication to service and passion for delivering value that was recognized and rewarded.
What is the biggest challenge of your work?
One of a Chief of Staff’s most important responsibilities is to strategically manage the executive’s time—a vastly different proposition than juggling appointments in an Outlook calendar. Doing it effectively requires an intimate understanding of the executive’s priorities and when those priorities and goals need to be acted upon. This is critical when the executive is the CEO, since the entire senior leadership team, and many other internal and external stakeholders, want as much of his time as possible. A good Chief of Staff will give that time to staff members only when the issue is ripe—and when the staffer is fully prepared. Sometimes it’s a bit like a “human shield” but it’s less about controlling access and more about making sure he can use his leadership time in the most efficient way on behalf of all of us.
Managing the CEO’s time is also both a sprint and a Marathon. As things evolve real-time, I have to be able to flex and adjust the priorities accordingly. That means I have to be intimately familiar with the most salient issues in the company to make good judgments on where he needs to get involved. For the longer term, most aides will also plan their boss’s schedules three, six, or even twelve months in advance, ensuring they have a full view of what needs to be done. It is a constant toggle between the short- and long-range perspectives in a constantly changing landscape.
What is your proudest achievement?
Career-wise: Attaining the role that I am in now, as well as the level of respect that I have with so many accomplished colleagues and stakeholders inside and outside of the firm along my journey. These relationships have been and continue to be powerfully influential for me. The most amazing day was coming home after my first day of work on the job and telling my oldest son, Gabriel, that I finally made it to the 44th floor—really as high as you can go physically and metaphorically! Years earlier when he was visiting, we accidentally took the elevator to the 44th floor and seeing how nice it appeared to him, he always said I should have an office there. It was nice to let him know that I finally made it happen through hard work and perseverance.
Personally: Running a 5K race for the first time and having my family cheering for me was an amazing accomplishment. And, of course having my sons who are now four and nine, and being married to the love of my life while having a rewarding career.
What leaders, thinkers or doers do you admire most?
My CEO is an amazing leader, and I’m not just saying this for brownie points! Why? He is a leader, a thinker, and a doer. This is best displayed when he is in meetings and it’s inspiring to watch: He has an ability to consume technical and heavy information before a meeting and still be ten steps ahead of what will be covered, offering succinct and sound recommendations (supported by factual data points) on ways to improve analysis or areas that may have been missed. He breaks it down simply and in an easy-to-understand fashion. He is a genuine people person and one of the most accessible CEOs for a company our size. From randomly dropping in on people in the cafeteria to walking the halls, he is keenly aware of the roles of all level of people in our organization. Similarly with clients, he is very in touch with how we serve them and their needs. His transparency and ability to connect with people at all levels earns him a lot of professional trust inside and outside of Mercer. On a personal level he is a curious, innovative and non-conventional thinker that has an amazing ability to blend with everyone--traditional and conservative alike. He loves his family and is supportive of ensuring folks are empowered in the business to have quality time with loved ones. Oh, and he also swims with sharks. Enough said!
In addition to Julio, throughout the course of my life I’ve had many inspirational people whom I have admired and have pushed and driven me to greatness, but really the person that I admire above all is my mom. She is someone who has persevered through difficulties and challenges but has always maintained a positive outlook on life—one of nine brothers and sisters, my mom was the first and only one out of her family to attend and graduate from one of the highest ranking colleges in Dominican Republic. She has travelled extensively and has always focused her passions on her family, her education, supporting her community and, of course, molding me into the person I am today. My mother has instilled in me a great sense of pride in my culture and where I come from as well as where I can go. Even after coming to this country at age nine and not speaking a word of English, I have not only mastered the language, but have also maintained true fluency in Spanish (speaking, reading, and writing) and now my kids are learning it too!
Where do you see yourself in ten years?
Successfully running a business either my own or one within the industry that I am in and creating and managing a charity that supports a significant cause--either related to children or those faced with deadly illnesses. I have a real passion there and a lot of heart for putting all my business learnings to that kind of use someday. I also see myself continuing to raise my boys to be amazing and smart gentlemen, increasing date nights with my husband to every other day from weekly, and doting on my mom.
How has your participation with the Executive Leadership Program impacted the way you approach your day-to-day role?
The feedback that I received during those sessions was amazing and is with me in every meeting I attend or run. My confidence level has increased dramatically and my ability to be in tune with the “whole of me” and how I work with others (whether millennial or boomer) has definitely been heightened. More importantly, I established some great relationships with other CUP presenters and cohorts and enjoy being able to connect with these individuals on a professional and personal level.