Name: Julio A. Portalatin
Title: President and CEO
Headquarters: New York, New York
Number of Employees: 20,000+
Education: BS in business management, Hofstra University; honorary doctorate, Hofstra University
What I’m Reading: Fast Innovation: Achieving Superior Differentiation, Speed to Market, and Increased Profitability by Michael George, James Works, Kimberly Watson-Hemphill, and Clay Christensen
My Philosophy: Create an environment where no one is advantaged or disadvantaged, where everyone’s opinion matters, and where all employees feel valued and believe they can be successful.
Away from Work, I: Am an avid scuba diver who feels perfectly safe in the company of sharks!
How My Heritage Values Fuel My Success: My dad came to the United States from the Dominican Republic because he believed in democracy. He taught my siblings and me to stand by our positions and—with logic and peaceful, intelligent means—make a difference in the world. Growing up, I realized I was different—both ethnically and personally. I learned to speak Spanish before I learned to speak English; to this day, my mother speaks to me only in Spanish. Instead of letting those differences get to me, I embraced them as part of my true character and, ultimately, this has been a contributing factor in my success. I recognized early on that what makes us different is what makes us not only interesting, but also valuable, in our personal lives, community impact, and in business. I am grateful that I learned how to be effective while being myself—embracing my heritage and also being unafraid to express my opinions.
This has shaped my work philosophy, which is to create an environment where no one is advantaged or disadvantaged, where everyone’s opinion matters, and where all employees feel valued and believe they can be successful. To me, that’s just a basic, common sense approach for how to treat people, inside and outside work. Companies and organizations of all types that do this have a tremendous competitive advantage in our global, hyper-connected, fast-paced world. Engagement and experience are at the heart of success when dealing with customers—no matter what business you are in—and with high-performing employee cultures. Bringing out the best of what each person has to offer makes us better as a whole. This is what ultimately propels innovation and real progress. I am passionate about this philosophy, and it has served me well throughout my career.
How My Company Supports Me…and How I Pay it Forward: To compete in today’s global economy, we must attract, develop, engage, and retain the best people from diverse talent pools. We can’t deliver on our clients’ objectives and achieve our financial goals unless we fully leverage the capabilities of our entire workforce—people with different abilities, backgrounds, personalities, cultures, and experiences. At Mercer, we aim to build and sustain an interculturally competent organization and foster an inclusive workplace, where the most talented people want to work and clients across the globe choose us to resolve their business issues. Because these issues are workforce issues for the clients we serve, diversity, in its largest form of expression, is not just a cultural mandate; it’s a true business imperative for Mercer.
I take every opportunity to actively lead and genuinely lean in to initiatives that support true diversity. It is not enough for me to mandate programs—I have to participate to make it real. I expect my leadership to model this behavior as well, and we are all held measurably accountable for doing so. Currently, I am a member of the Global Diversity Council and co-chair of the Veterans Talent Initiative for Mercer’s parent company, Marsh & McLennan Companies (MMC). I am also the global chair for Mercer’s Global Diversity Council and regularly participate as a speaker for internal diversity and inclusion events across the MMC operating companies. I am deeply passionate about gender diversity within our firm and helping our clients understand this workforce imperative as well given the family, societal, and business benefits. In fact, we recently released a groundbreaking on this topic. As CEO of a firm that leads on the issue of bottom-line impact of diversity and inclusion, I am acutely aware—and proud—of the many things we are doing to create gender equilibrium in our own workforce. As an example, 40% of my executive leadership team is female.
With regard to supporting Hispanic professionals, I am involved with and have served as the keynote speaker for the African & Latino Americans in (Re) Insurance business resource group (BRG) of our sister company, Guy Carpenter. The BRG focuses on networking and sharing industry experiences with clients, prospects, and colleagues. MMC partners with the Hispanic Association on Corporate Responsibility and the Association of Latino Professionals for America. I am a key supporter of those relationships and will likely serve as a speaker at various events over the next year with those organizations. Additionally, I believe that for every critical hire we make at Mercer, we must find the best qualified candidate who also meets our diversity criteria. It’s not good enough to just say this, we also have to encourage it and act on it. I lead by example in this area, in that my executive leadership team is not only the best qualified, but also strikingly diverse. My chief people officer and chief of staff are both Hispanic. I’ve been featured in Hispanic Executive and other publications, and I am proud to share my experiences in the hope they will inspire other up-and-coming leaders to incorporate their true and authentic selves into their own unique leadership style.
The Best Career Advice I’ve Received and the Advice I Offer Others: While there are many people who were influential in my life, what they taught me can be summarized as follows:
- Working hard is not enough; you have to work hard at the right things.
- Surround yourself with people who are going to make you better; challenge yourself by always bringing people on board who know more about what you’re hiring them to do than you do.
- Wake up each day thinking about how to make a difference. It’s usually in the context of what you’re doing that day—the message you’ll deliver or the work you’re going to do. Or it can be something completely different. You won’t always reach your goal, but you will train your mind to think that your existence really is all about making a positive difference in whatever you are working on. That brings you to a level that allows you to outperform and contribute in ways that perhaps others cannot, and where you can model for others.
I consistently offer these same three pieces of advice to others when asked about career advancement.
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