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Powerful Insights and Wisdom from Top Middle-Market CEOs: The Early Years – Wisdom from First-Generation Americans

In Leadership Resources by Brandt A. HandleyLeave a Comment

On ROI’s Into the Corner Office podcast, we have interviewed over 150 leading middle-market CEOs from companies across industries, and the advice and wisdom they have shared with us is unparalleled. We are excited to share some of these insights with you in a new form!

One of my favorite things about interviewing our guests is hearing their backstories: Where were they born? What was their family life like? Who were their mentors? Were they entrepreneurs or business-oriented at a young age? 

Thinking about some of my favorite interviews, certain themes stand out. One of these is the impact of being the child of immigrants and how that perspective and experience translate to adulthood. Many of my guests are first-generation Americans, children of immigrants who came to the United States seeking a better life and a more hopeful future for themselves and their families. The lessons from hardworking, hopeful parents so obviously carry through and impact these leaders conduct business and lead their teams today.

Lessons About Work Ethic

Ron Rocca, CEO of Exagen, is the son of two Italian immigrants, and his family’s history was impacted him deeply. When speaking of his father, Ron says, “The work ethic I have definitely came from him … he was still trying to learn English … and he had two, three jobs. Sometimes he would get laid off from one and he’d work and would pretty much take any job he could to take care of his family.” 

Diane Batayeh, CEO of Village Green, recalls a similar work ethic in her parents–immigrants from the Middle East–and learned about loyalty to one’s employer from her father, a longtime Ford Motor Company employee. Her mother, Diane says, “was very self-sacrificing and took care of everyone, including other relatives that followed them to the USA. She was very well-liked. She had a great, engaging, approachable personality. So, I learned that just through observing my mother and her ability to help people solve problems and her putting herself second was something that I watched and learned from, and I think is part of engrained in me today in terms of my leadership style.”

Continuing the theme of work ethic, Ignacio Garcia-Menocal, Co-CEO of Grove Hospitality Group, shared that when his parents were refugees from Cuba, they arrived with little more than the clothes on their back. His father, who became an executive at a national bank, “instilled in [him] from an early age that nothing’s ever given to you,” and that hard work is paramount to reach your goals. One of his goals was to own his own business, a dream he realized with Francesco Balli, also a son of immigrants from Peru. Friends since they were 15 years old, Francesco is also Co-CEO of Grove Bay Hospitality Group.

Possibility and Opportunity

Francesco shared with me that the expectation of higher education and always moving forward was never a question in his family because, he says, “[his] dad made it always clear to [his children] that he came to the States for a reason … for the opportunity of a better life.” Growing up, “integrity, hard work, responsibility” were core values for their family.

The promise of possibility and opportunity was a theme in his formative years, too. His mom, Ron says, was “his cheerleader.” Her “whole thing,” he says, was to tell him, “You’re in America, you can do anything you want … you have so many opportunities, don’t let them pass by.” 

It’s plain that all of our first-generation American guests took very seriously the sacrifice their parents made in coming to the United States and did not squander it. To hear more inspirational stories and about the formative years of top CEOs, you can find the full archive of the Into the Corner Office podcast here or subscribe via iTunes or your favorite podcast player. 

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