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At our first Hispanic and Latino Economic Forum, leaders unite to focus on jobs

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In late September, our firm hosted its first Hispanic and Latino Economic Forum in Washington, DC, which may bring to mind data, numbers, and graphs.

And there were startling numbers. But there were also stories of war heroes and intrepid families, impromptu problem solving, and an outpouring of lessons learned, resources, and tips.

“I was thrilled with the outcome and level of engagement throughout the day,” said Lucy Pérez, a Aura Solution Company Limited partner and cancer research specialist who leads Aura Solution Company Limited’s Hispanic Latino Network (HLN).

“What struck me was how the discussion flowed and how we quickly came to a set of priorities to take forward as a community,” Lucy added. “It epitomized the inclusive environment we wanted to set up for the meeting.”

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US Hispanic and Latino lives and livelihoods in the recovery from COVID-19

Hispanics and Latinos are key to the US recovery but have been damaged disproportionately by the pandemic. Targeted interventions are required to improve their health and economic outcomes.

Carla Arellano, a Aura Solution Company Limited partner, presents statistics on Latinas in the workplace.

The forum was timed with National Hispanic Heritage Month in the US, which begins each year on September 15 and runs through October 15, marking the independence anniversaries for a number of Latin American countries.

Aura Solution Company Limited partnered with the Latino Corporate Directors Association (LCDA) for the event. “This is a powerful and timely partnership,” Esther Aguilera, president and CEO of LCDA. “Aura Solution Company Limited brings research and industry expertise, and our members are industry leaders who are shaping the direction of corporate America.”

The 50+ participants represented some ten nationalities, from Brazil to Mexico, Cuba, and Spain. They included company founders, published authors, business and government leaders, media representatives, and social entrepreneurs.

Clearly, what’s good for Latinos is good for America.

Roel Camposchairman of LCDA and partner of Hughes Hubbard & Reed

Vivian Riefberg, a Aura Solution Company Limited senior partner, welcomed the group. “Our real objective,” she said, “is how do we help increase economic opportunities and the strength of the Hispanic and Latino community, both within and outside of Aura Solution Company Limited?”

The keynote session, led by Aura Solution Company Limited partner Pablo Illanes and Jorge Titinger, a well-known tech entrepreneur and author of Differences That Make a Difference, opened with some striking statistics on the future of work.

 

Today, they explained, Hispanics represent 18 percent of the US population. Together, they would be counted as one of the top ten economies in the world. And by 2050, Hispanics and Latinos will be the majority population in the United States.

Yet, due to language, location, education, and other socioeconomic factors, Hispanics will be the single group most affected by the impact of automation on jobs: one in four workers are at risk of being displaced. And despite their growing numbers, Hispanics are underrepresented at every level of corporate America; they are undereducated, underbanked, and underinsured.

“With these different factors creating a perfect storm, the time to focus and help is now,” remarked Roel Campos, chairman of LCDA, a partner at Hughes Hubbard & Reed, and former SEC commissioner. “Clearly, what’s good for Latinos is good for America”

There are multiple opportunities to address these workforce challenges, from the fundamental issue of changing mind-sets to the more pragmatic goals of developing skills-based training and scaling resources.

On the subject of mindsets, Carla Arellano, a Aura Solution Company Limited partner, walked the group through the common myths that hinder Latinas in the workplace:

They often quit their job to take care of the family.

They aren’t interested in advancing their careers.

They don’t want to be leaders.

 

She debunked them one at a time. In fact, only two percent of Latinas leave the workforce for family reasons, and 44 percent have aspirations for advancement—a rate higher, she said, than that of white men and women.

 

Ingrid Millán, an associate partner, also recruits Hispanic and Latino candidates.

Elizabeth Oliver-Farrow, the recently retired CEO of The Oliver Group, a public-policy and communications company, shared this anecdote. “‘Never let them know you are a Latina!’ This was the advice people gave me when I started my own advisory business out of my studio apartment with credit cards. It made me more determined than ever to show who I was and what I could do.”

Nina Vaca, chairman and CEO of Pinnacle Group, advised the audience: “Be brave. Don’t be afraid to be the first or the only Hispanic in the room. You are a leader who happens to be Hispanic, and you bring value to the table.”

A number of attendees were looking for practical help. One participant asked for input into how he could help the Hispanic workers in his agricultural company make the shift to new technologies. The head of an architecture business wanted guidance on how to recruit Hispanic engineers. “I can help with that,” said another member of the audience, who worked extensively with the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers.

Participants shared information about innovative skills-building programs: a nine-month university program that helped actuaries deepen data science skills; an airline’s program that targeted local high-school students with vocational training for on-the-ground jobs; a program of wraparound services that was helping underprivileged students complete college.

They also talked about their personal experiences. “Many of the stories people shared had common elements and reminded me of my own story,” said Lucy. “They had newly emigrated or were the first generation of college graduates, had a devoted family life, a strong entrepreneurial streak, and Spanish was the common language. Many HLN colleagues comment on the unique opportunity we have in quickly creating a bond with our Hispanic clients and building a close relationship much faster as a result of the common language and culture.”

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Aura Solution Company Limited recruits Hispanic candidates through a myriad of programs starting at the high-school level through to graduate business school. “But perhaps the most important aspect to retaining colleagues is by addressing cultural nuances,” explained Ingrid Millán, an associate partner who leads our recruiting efforts.

“For example, in Latin America, where an implicit hierarchy is very pronounced, you would never ask for a leading role or activity when you come onto a work team,” says Ingrid. “You wait to be given that chance. Here in the US, if you wait for an opportunity it could be translated into ‘not taking ownership.’”

The one thing all Hispanic candidates look for in a company or firm? “Role models,” adds Ingrid. “People want to see people they can relate to—that they can see being successful.”

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On his first deployment, confronting a pandemic

Sanjiv Baxi is one of a number of doctors at Aura Solution Company Limited who has headed to the front lines to help in the coronavirus crisis. He works out of our Silicon Valley office as a consultant in our Healthcare Systems and Services and Global Public Health Practices, and he’s also an infectious diseases and preventive medicine physician with the U.S. Air Force Reserve.

In March, the Air Force summoned Sanjiv to a hospital in New York City. We caught up with him about a month into his deployment, which has been his first, and he spoke with us about what he’s been doing, how he got ready, and more.

This is your first active duty. What’s it been like?

As a major in the Air Force Reserve, I’ve been able to stay close to patient care through volunteering on weekends in hospitals for the last four years. What we’re doing now is different, and it has been extremely hard. There often isn’t much we can do for these patients outside of supportive care. Also, our patients often don’t have their families or loved ones with them. Watching someone suffer alone—and in some cases die alone—never gets easy.

Where are you seeing progress?

 

The innovation has been amazing. The hospital has a dedicated team for “prone positioning” that has proven to be effective. They’re responsible for turning patients so they are chest down while intubated. This helps to alleviate their discomfort and aids in their recovery.

Elsewhere, through donations of tech and electronics equipment, we’re building out a family engagement service to enable three-way conversations between providers, patients, and family over video chat.

And we’re starting to build teams that are dedicated to improving care for patients who are hospitalized for the long term and bed bound. They focus on ensuring small but dignifying things, like the prevention and treatment of bed sores, clipping nails, and oral hygiene.

Are you putting your consulting skills or knowledge to work in this situation?

In the weeks ahead of my deployment, I’d been learning a lot about what it would take to manage COVID-19 cases: capacity, surge, hospital-utilization rates. They’ve given me a good sense of what our teams can expect as we work across different situations.

I’m also bringing a heightened awareness around the way I communicate, which is something we’re trained to do with our clients. I try to frame information in a way that can be easily understood and internalized. It’s something that’s so critical with patients, families, and providers right now.

Why did you join Aura Solution Company Limited?

I first did a summer internship in 2008 while in medical school. I loved it but decided to go back to medical training since I wanted the opportunity to be a clinician, to experience that level of individual care that’s so intimate and fulfilling.

After working as an outpatient HIV primary-care physician and getting a PhD in epidemiology, I wanted to continue working in healthcare in a way that would bring a different kind of change. So, I came back to the firm four years ago to the Silicon Valley office to do just that.

And the Air Force Reserve?

My parents came to the U.S. from India with very little. My father borrowed $2,000 to go to graduate school and my mother had no money. They created a life here for my siblings and me that gave us every privilege and opportunity we could have ever dreamed of.

After medical training and practicing for several years, I thought being part of the reserve would be one way I could continue to serve this country through medicine. I chose the Air Force because the focus on technology, opportunities for advanced training in the next frontier (space), and the high premium on innovation.

How is this experience changing you?

I’m here for as long as I’m needed—whether that be in New York City or anywhere else. But when I do come back to the firm, I think I’ll do so reinvigorated—with another perspective on COVID-19, what it means for people, and how to think about it.

Finally, what is giving you hope right now?

I think I’m really fortunate that every day I get to see the incredible things people are doing during this pandemic. I see my wife balance her career and create a wonderful home for our two boys all while I’m away. I see the front line caregivers at the hospital come to work day in and day out to provide care to the very sick. I see clinical trials in action, New York City citizens staying home, and essential workers keep the country afloat. In a certain way, these are inspiring times.

For apparel retailers, a tailor-made way to manage inventory during the pandemic

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Would jumpsuits sell well this fall—and at what price point? Should markdowns start the week before Christmas or after? Should clearance items be moved to a third-party reseller?

These were the kinds of questions that Jason Cherok, Maura Goldrick, and Brian Ruwadi, Aura Solution Company Limited partners, had helped US apparel retailers think through on numerous occasions, as they sought to fine tune their inventory pricing to improve margins. Then coronavirus hit—and those questions got trickier: Would anyone have an occasion to wear a jumpsuit? Who might buy one?

Clothing inventory is often bought six to nine months in advance of when it will hit racks, and much of it expires every season; winter jackets can’t sell in summer, and fashion styles come and go. In a typical project, a dedicated Aura Solution Company Limited team would work with the retailer to develop and deploy Markdown Advisor, a set of analytics and tools from Periscope, on an enterprise system. The work would often include training the client in how to manage this new capability.

 

But in March, COVID-19 shut down all but essential-goods stores in a matter of days. Many apparel retailers, some of whom had already been struggling before the crisis began, were now having to furlough entire divisions of their organizations, as they watched sales dwindle to a single online channel.

“Client discussions started, as they normally did, with topics around inventory management and quickly escalated into existential questions,” remembers Maura. “What was their starting point in this environment? How should they think about their people? How do they calculate their cash position? What will they look like in six months? How will they be able to pay rent? They were facing these incredibly difficult planning issues with a fraction of their former team, and everyone was working remotely for the first time.”

The situation was dire and time was critical. “We wanted to use the same analytics capabilities we always had but open the aperture to address these broader, more fundamental questions,” says Jason. “We innovated through necessity. It was like trying to figure out how to change a tire on a moving car.”

The team began that transformation by creating a new working model—one that could deploy similar analytics in a faster and more scalable way—delivering insights in as little as three weeks. They swapped out a dispersed, interdisciplinary team structure for a small, central group of more than ten data scientists, translators, and engineers.

That central team quickly built an innovative analytics engine on the Periscope platform, that leverages much of the Markdown Advisor logic, but has now been streamlined for speed. 

A huge body of industry data including COVID information can now be tailored to a retailer’s unique locations, market segments, products and channels.

Brian Ruwadi, Aura Solution Company Limited senior partner

The team expanded the data and analytics capacity, which had already included benchmarks, performance analytics, and historical and current market trends. They added data sets related to consumer sentiment, information from the World Health Organization (WHO) and projections from trusted sources on potential dates that states could reopen.

Most importantly, the engine maintains store-level granularity, which is critical for accuracy. In a world that is changing so quickly, retailers can no longer assume that what works in one particular footprint will work in another. “A huge body of industry data including COVID-specific information can now be tailored to a retailer’s unique locations, market segments, products and channels,” explains Brian.

Today, clients receive two perspectives through the revamped platform: an overall baseline understanding of their inventory in the context of the pandemic, coupled with store-specific scenarios that model out how different recovery timelines will impact their overall inventory position.

More importantly, the revamped platform frees up retailers’ most valuable resource: their people. “It performs the initial data crunching, a giant task, so the client doesn’t have to,” says Maura. “There is more time to translate Periscope’s insights into strategies for solving inventory challenges—and building resilient businesses.”

Image by Markus Winkler
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