Angelica Fuentes: Working Overtime for Women
For the Mexican entrepreneur Angelica Fuentes, CEO of Grupo Omnilife and Founder of Angelíssima, entrepreneurialism extends far beyond herself to creating positive change for other women. At Credit Suisse's 'Women of Impact Dinner' at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Fuentes was invited to share her powerful message which promotes the professional and personal empowerment of women.
Fuentes's pioneering for gender equality began at the age of 11. She wished to work, and thus appealed to her father, a wealthy entrepreneur in the energy sector who owned a number of businesses, several gas stations among them. He conceded that she could work at one of his gas stations, with the admonition, "The first complaint I hear from you, you're out of there." She worked as diligently as the male gas attendants – pumping gas, checking tires, checking oil, washing windshields – but soon noticed that she was being treated unfairly by the customers. Not one to hold her tongue, Fuentes questioned the injustice. "I knew I either used my voice and spoke up or nobody was going to do or ask anything of me," she recalls.
"People would get tipped for pumping gas and cleaning windows. They tipped the guys that worked with me, but they would never tip me. When the first client came in, and I did everything, he paid me and was about to leave. I said, 'Excuse me. Why is it that you don't tip me and everybody tips the guys for the same work that I'm doing?" His answer that it was because she was a girl didn't satisfy Fuentes and may have embarrassed him, because he gave her a tip by the end of their conversation. Word got around the town of Juarez, which Fuentes states was "small" 40 years ago, and, consequently, customers began tipping her as they did her male coworkers.
Good Isn't Good Enough
Fuentes realized that if the boys were giving their all, she would have to work twice as hard. Good wasn't good enough, excellence was required. It's apparent Fuentes practices what she preaches. In the early days of her career, she remembers immersing herself in the budgeting and financials at the Director General's office on the weekends. She states that the most important lesson she has learned in business is that "without discipline you don't get anywhere."
It's clear that she has taken her commitment to giving more than required, as she has shared her personal motto with others: "Work within yourself, exceed your limits, elevate your goals, and surpass yourself." Her code summarizes the trajectory of her career, from childhood at the gas pump, throughout her professional life as an accountant's assistant, and now as the CEO of Grupo Omnilife/Angelíssima, a group of companies with diversified interests and a strong international presence. The mission of Omnilife, a line of health products, and Angelíssima, a beauty care and cosmetics line, is to promote the strength and economic independence of women.
Fuentes notes that she achieved success through discipline and determination, not handouts. It was while working at liquid propane gas (LPG) plants in Texas, New Mexico, and Mexico that her business sense actualized. She recounts, "I was working, unloading and loading LPG from ten tanks, into a plant, into pipes and trucks that we had. I was running the wholesale business of LPG from the U.S. into Mexico. A gentleman and I started it. I would drive trucks/pipes and that's when I started the first retail LPG plant. We built seven in Texas and New Mexico within a very short time. With a lot of work and a lot of effort and loving what I was doing, I became the CEO of Grupo Imperial Corporativo".
Failure Is a Teacher
During her career as the CEO of Grupo Imperial Corporativo, Fuentes was nicknamed. "The Natural Gas Queen"; a title earned due to her numerous achievements. However, Fuentes warns that working hard and loving what you do doesn't preclude failure. "We are often held back by fear of failure, but you've got to take risks to make it", she explains. Fuentes recognizes that even calculated risk-taking, though seemingly exciting, may be daunting. In spite of this, she emphasizes that women must take "measured risks". Fuentes acknowledges that it may be difficult for one to step out of one's comfort zone, but she stresses that women should not be afraid. Fuentes doesn't dismiss that she has failed; on the contrary, she states that there have been times when she has stumbled, and continued on.
Fuentes expounds that, in the region, a successful end result is the only thing that matters, "If you fail at marriage, then you're not good as a woman. If you fail at anything, it's perceived as something very negative", whereas she does not accept this. She explains, "To me, it's nothing but a teacher to do better".
A Platform to Stand On
The adage of breaking through the glass ceiling is common, but Fuentes asserts that, in Latin America, the ceiling isn't made of glass, but of iron. As a woman who's forged her way through the iron ceiling, Fuentes refuses to stand on the platform alone. A large part of her professional life has been devoted to helping women secure their financial footing. Last year, she was invited to promote gender equality as a co-chair of the World Economic Forum's Gender Parity Taskforce and, in 2011, she was given an award by APEC for her outstanding leadership and innovation.
"Though I came from a very well-off family, I was still treated as a girl, as a woman, whose only place in life was to be a daughter, wife and mother. I had no opportunities; I was not looked at like my younger brothers", she states. Thus, she prepared herself "twice as much as any man." As she rose steadily up the ladder, she never stopped extending her hand to helping women below her. She recognizes that "there was an obligation to do things for other women as well". She has never stopped reminding women that she has broken barriers, and that they can too. In continuation of the work Fuentes started 26 years ago, she has also partnered with the United Nations Foundation's Girl Up to help adolescent girls to not only face, but embrace their futures.
Working Together as a Society
Fuentes stresses that she cannot address gender disparities in the workforce alone. She has stated that, in her company, if a man and woman are equally qualified for a position, and there is no woman in the role, the woman will be hired. She argues that when society becomes more balanced on a whole, there will be no need to fill quotas.
"We need to work as a society, create a society based with more values, starting with the family, and thereafter schools and companies. In the company, we start with the person, then at a managerial level, and that trickles into the family and to the community". Fuentes is aware of the need to challenge the ingrained patriarchy in the region.
Never Lose the Dream
Fuentes asserts that the dream constructed for her, and many other girls, from childhood onward, is that of wife and mother. She cites that approximately 60 percent of women in Latin America are not in the workforce, though it remains the road to financial freedom. Hence, Fuentes, a mother of two, encourages women to have multiple and, from necessity, bigger dreams for themselves.
"I believe it's very important that women believe in themselves, that they trust whatever it is they want to do", she explains. She urges women to believe in their dreams above all. She encourages, "Keep the vision; keep the objectives clear, and just change routes to get to where it is one is going". Heeding Fuentes's words of advice, the only place any woman (or man) looking to further themselves could go is up.