From secretary to vice president of international marketing: bilingual professional makes her dreams come true

This vice president of international marketing started out in a secretary role more than 20 years ago. With the help of a few great mentors and lots of hard work, she has worked her way up the ranks. Here she shares her experiences, and explains that international business travel is not as glamorous as it may seem.

What is your job title and what industry do you work in? How many years of experience do you have in that field?
I am a vice president of international marketing with 20 years experience

Would you describe what you do on a typical day?
I spend a great deal of time communicating with vendors, customers, freight forwarders, import brokers, and agents all over the world. This communication is mostly email but some phone calls. The challenges vary from day to day. It is stressful but never dull.

If you’ve experienced discrimination, in what ways have you responded and what response worked best?
I am female in a mostly male industry. Most men expect women to be sensitive and fragile. I am neither. I can hang with the best of the good ol’ boys. I do command respect by my industry experience and reputation.

What languages do you speak? How has speaking another language helped you?
I speak fluent Spanish and English. I have found the ability to converse in the language of my customers and vendors to be a huge advantage. While most business people in Latin America can speak some English or at least struggle through it, speaking Spanish gives me a major advantage over competitors. I am able to build relationships more successfully. It can be very difficult to build trust between suppliers and customers living and working in different countries. Building trust is much easier when you are able to communicate in the language of your suppliers and customers. Significant misunderstandings can be avoided as well.

What don’t they teach in school that would’ve been helpful to you?
I have an International MBA degree. International finance, accounting, and marketing was the focus. I had to learn about the import / export business the hard way, through trial and error, in the real world.

How did you get started in this line of work? If you could go back and do it differently, what would you change?
I started as a marketing assistant. I was lucky to have two great gentlemen as unofficial mentors. They promoted me throughout my career. It was a long road to get where I am today but I don’t think I would change anything. It has been a great ride.

On a good day, when things are going well, can you give an example of something that really makes you feel good?
When I get an unexpected sales confirmation, or an unsolicited offer of something I have been trying to source, I feel good. I work really hard to keep all opportunities open with contacts all over the world. Sometimes, luck just kicks in. That makes me feel good.

When nothing seems to go right, what kind of snafus do you handle and what do you dislike the most?
I handle logistical nightmares, unreasonable (and/or corrupt) customs officials, incomplete or lost documents needed to clear cargo, data entry errors that distort costing, customers who don’t pay, vendors who don’t deliver as promised. What I dislike the most are people who refuse to cooperate on any level and will not consider any viewpoint but their own.

How stressful is your job? Are you able to maintain a comfortable or healthy work-life balance?
My job is extremely stressful. I try to maintain a good work-life balance by cherishing my relationships with my family. I am not a slave to the Blackberry when I am at home or with my family. The Blackberry is set to cut off @ 11 PM and turn on @ 7 AM. I exercise in my home 4 – 5 days per week.

What’s a rough salary range for the position you hold? Are you paid enough considering your responsibilities?
$120,000 plus bonus. No one ever believes they are paid enough!

What’s the most rewarding moment you’ve experienced in this position? Of all the things you’ve done at work, what are you most proud of?
My most rewarding moment was when I was asked to speak at the retirement dinner of my mentor. I am most proud of the fact that I started as a glorified secretary and have worked my way up to Vice President.

What’s the most challenging moment you’ve experienced? What would you prefer to forget?
Dealing with drunk customers is probably the most challenging experience. I would prefer to forget how naive I was about trust and the importance of business relationships at the beginning of my career.

What education and skills do you need to get hired and succeed in this field?
Experience matters more than education. Speaking more than one language is very important. International business is more about learning in the real world than succeeding in the academic world.

What would you tell a friend considering your line of work?
My line of work is not for the faint of heart. It is stressful. It requires a great deal of international travel which is only glamorous to those who don’t do it.

How much vacation do you take? Is it enough?
I always take off the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day. Then, I take a day or two at a time. It is probably not enough.

Are there any common myths you want to correct about what you do?
Getting all of the frequent flyer miles is not so great when you don’t have enough time to use them. Also, if you travel a great deal, the last thing you want to do in your free time is travel.

If you could write your own ticket, what would you like to be doing in five years?
I would like to have my own small import / export business, using the business relationships I now have in Latin America. I would also like to go back to school and get a PhD so I could teach on the college level.

Is there anything unique about your situation that readers should know when considering your experiences or accomplishments?
There is really nothing unique about my situation. I was lucky enough to have people in my workplace who wanted me to succeed. I work hard and am proud of what I have accomplished to date. I am always looking for the next international business challenge.

  • Bithia

    I was really inspired by your story! I speak Spanish and English, and currently work as a secretary. My dream is to become completely fluent, and to be successful using language to communicate with the public…

    Thank you.

  • Spared

    Thank you for sharing your success story. I am very impressed, as I can relate to you in many ways. I recently held a position as a product manager. In addition, I was helping to increase the sales of a second somewhat newer brand in Latin America. I, too, am bilingual in Spanish and English.

    I started in wholesale electronics with no experience on which to build. However, I have retail and management experience. I was working under the sales director, and although my title was product manager, I basically conformed to that of secretary. I became the director’s shadow and my administrative duties out weighed my sales opportunities.

    As a result, I was terminated from my dream job. I had some problems with the director. I faced the same challenges that you faced being new to the industry and being female (the only one in sales in our office).

    Communication with my director was insufficient to say the least. I feel as though I was set up for failure, and that doesn’t really make sense either. I am not sure exactly how or why things went awry.

    My director told me that I did not have enough experience to take on the responsibility of managing our product line. Although I was making progress. He also said that he did not have the time to get me to where I needed to be. Well, that might all be somewhat true, but he invested very little time in me in the first place. I was progressing on my own. Now, he says they will hire someone with much more experience (which translates to numerous contacts and years of business relationships that I lack) who will require significantly higher pay.

    In this case, I feel the director made an err in judgment. He will not only lose more time in firing and hiring, but also more money in firing and hiring. I know that my performance could not have been THAT bad. And, I was just starting to take off after 5 months of organization and learning on the job. The one week that I was actually able to focus on sales, I set eight appointments with 8 different large (6 to 80 stores) retailers. I did not have the contact information. I simply looked up the information online and talked my way to the buyer, even to the buyer of Wal-Mart in Mexico. I went with our manufacturer to meet with all of these retailers, and I never even got to close the sales!

    I was given a great opportunity which was all too soon taken away. Now, after losing my dream job, I feel lost. If you have any suggestions, I would greatly appreciate your professional advice.

  • http://www.militaryobservation.info/ military observation

    I was just starting to take off after 5 months of organization and learning on the job. The one week that I was actually able to focus on sales, I set eight appointments with 8 different large (6 to 80 stores) retailers. I did not have the contact information.

  • http://www.cnitnews.info/ china IT news

    but he invested very little time in me in the first place. I was progressing on my own. Now, he says they will hire someone with much more experience (which translates to numerous contacts and years of business relationships that I lack) who will require significantly higher pay.

  • Keatdawg11

    I am really inspired by your story. My grandfather came from Cuba and he did not speak any English once he got here. So as he lived he lived in America he began to learn English and teach my father English too. My father had it very rough when he was growing up he always was working with his father to make money for the family. Now my father has taught me that not everything is just given to you he has taught me the values of work and how precious money really is. He always gives my brothers and I whatever we need but he always lets us know that we are going to have to work to be able to support a family like he has. 

  • whooshoosh

    I am an International Business major striving for an MBA after I graduate from undergraduate school in a few years.  I really connected with this story because I want a job in marketing, but in the fashion industry.  This story reminded me that I have to work hard to get to where I want to be.  It also showed me that this kind of job is no fun and games and requires a great deal of patience.  Thank you for all of this advice.

  • http://www.facebook.com/melidaj Melida Jaramillo

    I am a Business major, hoping to receive a Bachelor’s degree with
    concentration on the service sector. I enjoy the challenge of interacting with different people and helping them get what they need/want. I like to be efficient and effective when dealing with people from different backgrounds. I am originally from Mexico, and was raised there until the age of 16 when I moved to the United States with my parents and younger siblings.

    Before leaving Mexico, I was already attending a vocational school that would have allowed me to enter the Hospitality industry before I even started college. It has been more than 12 years since I started that path and after the many delays and detours life has brought up, I can finally see the end of the tunnel

  • Maria Catalina Silva Urrea

    This interview is more than inspiring to me; while reading it I felt goose bumps all over my body and i could picture myself almost repeating her words and living through similar experiences in the future. When people ask me what exactly I want to do with my college major, I can never find an exact job that fits what I want to do: interact at a business level with people from around the globe to come to agreements that will benefit both parties. Reading about what she does puts into words my dream job and career path.

    Today, I still feel uncertain about my future, and I always ask myself if I will be lucky enough to someday attain a position like hers in which I play a crucial role in developing relationships and businesses of great importance. But reading about her certainly makes me more confident about myself and about what I can do. Listening to her story and how she started out by being a secretary gives me hope to believe that one can always make a dream come true with hard work, effort, perseverance and commitment. I also speak Spanish and English fluenty, and I’m in the process of learning French, and I hope that these skills will be as helpful and encouraging as they have been to you.

    Thank you for sharing this story and proving to people that there is nothing more rewarding than dedication; and thank you for showing me that it is possible to work in a field like this even as a woman and it is not just a part of complicated dream.

  • Miguel Mancha

    This interview was extremely inspiring to me. I have always loved stories of people working from the bottom up. Especially since I watched my parents struggle as they built there business up. I myself plan on working my way up to a prestigious position as well. I know it will be hard, but I wont give up till I earn all of the success I deserve. I can completely relate with her desire to teach, I find that my greatest moment are when I am able to give someone incite on ,my own personal experiences, so they don’t have to struggle as much as I have. I want everyone to know that things will always be within reach if one is willing to put forth their best efforts. I have always pictured myself teaching in my later years.

  • Angel Cruz

    The saying goes, “I find the harder I work, the luckier I get.”
    Her story is a perfect example of how perseverance and hard work pay off. It is
    not “luck” or “who you know” or “fate” that decide how far one gets in life.
    The only person standing between you and success is you.

    Her story, I believe, is also a great example of what I believe
    to be the American Dream: being able to move up the social and economic ladder
    through determination. A story where someone is able to move from secretary to
    vice president is not only moving, but essential. It allows for the youth to
    have true heroes. Stories about real people achieving success encourages young
    people to pursuit their dreams. Why? Because stories like this one reassure on
    that it is possible. If one truly pursuits their dreams with all the will in
    their body, then success will inevitably follow.

    I repeat once, “I find the harder I work, the luckier I get.”

  • theodempena

    This story only pushes me further toward my professional goals! :)

  • Melissa

    I can relate so much to this story because I am a Hispanic female studying in the marketing field trying to reach a high marketing position. This only motivates me even further to reach
    my goal of becoming a future marketing manager someday.

    I can also speak English and Spanish fluently, and believe also that experience is a great tool in real life opportunities. I feel that I am going down the same path as she went through to
    reach her goals. I can only hope that my results turn out to be as successful!

  • J/ Elliott

    I need a secretary without experience i speak English and Spanish

    I need a secretaria sin experiencia que hable ingles e español

    e-mail caballeroso47@hotmail.com or call 718-600-6710

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