Today I had an opportunity to meet a dynamic woman I could identify with, Mayda Sotomayor-Kirk. She was the keynote speaker at Indian River County’s 2012 Best Places to Work Kickoff held earlier today at the Vero Beach Riverside Theatre. Mayda is the CEO of Seald Sweet International, a Vero Beach-based citrus company.
Mayda left Cuba at the age of 3 with her mom, less than $50 and her aunt’s telephone number. This all came about when Castro’s Revolution triumphed and stripped families of all their possessions. Mayda’s family had lost all of their possessions, but not their pride and work ethic. Within five years, Mayda’s family owned businesses in their new home, the United States of America. Her story is not that different from many Cubans who emigrated in the 60s. In fact, in a lot of ways it is similar to stories told by the elders in my family.
Here is my favorite part of her story…. After her father’s business began turning a profit, he sat down a wrote a letter–in Spanish no less–thanking the United States Government for their assistance and support when they first arrived. Accompanying the letter was a check for every dime the family had ever received, plus interest. He proudly walked in to a Welfare office and handed the letter and the check to the clerk in that office. I love this! In this one action he demonstrated his gratitude, his work ethic and his pride.
I know a little about work ethic and pride. My father was a lifelong business owner despite arriving here in his twenties with limited English and formal education. Sure, when he first arrived, he worked for employers. However, as soon as he scraped up some savings and a skill, in those days, for him, it was learning to be a diesel engine mechanic, he became an entrepreneur.
Enough about me for now…sort of.
She explained to the room with over 70 in attendance that she was ‘thanked God’ she never became a Lawyer. She was at the university intending to be a lawyer when she took an entry-level sales position. She told about a time when she stuffed envelopes with invoices. She explained it may seem like a simple position, but she learned about which clients were the important ones, which products were the popular ones and how it all affected the company she worked for.
You are wondering what I saw. Why she stands out to me. Indian River County is not diverse in population, certainly not in 2000 when Mayda first went to work for Seald Sweet as director of imports. She is not only Latin, Cuban to be precise, but she is a WOMAN. She became senior vice-president in 2004 and in 2007 became the company’s first female CEO. Even she noted in her address the founders of the citrus company are probably ‘rolling in their graves’.
Which brings me to a final point. She is funny. Her sense of humor is familiar. It would be an understatement to say she made an impression on me. More than likely our paths will never cross again, but today I realized I have worked hard too. I shouldn’t limit myself to my current position. I too can be CEO of sorts someday. I may never know the difference between a Navel and a Valencia, but today I found a role model.