Alejandra “Alex” Garza, MBA’92, was 11 when she first learned the magic of investing and compounding interest. That was the moment she knew she wanted to go into business.
“I thought, 'It doesn’t matter if you’re not born a millionaire. What matters is holding onto what you have and investing wisely,'” Garza shared with Chicago Booth students at a recent event in the school’s Leaders of Color series. “The first investment is in yourself. You think about it and you say, I can do almost anything.”
For Garza, that meant founding her own business, AGG Consulting, in Chicago. As president, she provides strategic marketing, leadership development, and business consulting for health insurance companies, educational institutions, nonprofits, and other organizations she’s passionate about.
Garza spent her young life in three different cultures. She was born in Mexico and grew up in the United States. She returned to Mexico for a few years to study at the Tech of Monterrey before moving to England. Though challenging at the time, continually adapting to a new culture proved to be a career asset, she said.
“Individuals who have lived in other places can go from one culture to another and understand what the signposts are or speak other languages,” she said. “It gives you an opportunity to look at problem-solving in different ways.”
After returning to the United States and earning a bachelor’s in psychology at the University of Illinois Chicago, she pursued her childhood dream of getting an MBA. She set her sights on Booth. Every class she took during undergrad was an intentional step in that direction.
Attending the school was like shooting for the stars: At first, she thought she wasn’t as equipped or as smart as her classmates. So she wrote herself a reminder: “Impossibility is off the table.”
“When I started at Booth, I was like, ‘I can’t do this. Am I going to pass these tests?’ Then you say, ‘Well, wait a minute. I’m here for a reason,’” she said. “Whatever you think is impossible, go for it.”
Helping out is vital
Garza, who is passionate about civic engagement and holds a certificate in nonprofit governance from Harvard Business School’s Executive Education Program, emphasized to students that serving the community through their talents and resources is a responsibility and a privilege. Nonprofit board service is a great way to give back, Garza said, and it can also help clarify purpose for them early in their careers.
“If you’re looking to develop a career in the health-care sector or the financial sector, think about organizations that you can serve within that sector,” she said. “What do you want to learn that you can also use in your professional development?”
Another reason to prioritize nonprofit board service early on is that it offers an immersion into governance that might not otherwise come until much later in a business career.
“When you think about risk management and the strategy of sustaining or introducing a service or a product, it also comes into play in the nonprofit world,” she said. “If you don’t sit on boards, it’s only in the C-suite or executive positions that you begin to learn about governance.”
Causes that matter to her
Garza serves on several boards that support equitable access to health care and education, causes that are important to her. She’s vice chair of the board at Sinai Health System, a Chicago hospital network that primarily supports underserved individuals on Medicaid. She previously served on the board of education for Chicago Public Schools and the board of Instituto del Progreso Latino, a Chicago nonprofit supporting workforce development for Latino immigrants.
“There’s a certain level of insights that a person who is part of the community brings to a board,” she said of her role at Instituto. “And that is very, very important because the mission, vision, and core values of any organization have to reflect also the values of the community they serve.” from one culture to another and understand what the signposts are or speak other languages. It gives you an opportunity to
Throughout her 25 years in the business world, Garza has been committed to bringing the best out of people and organizations. This was true long before she launched her own company, when she led marketing and business development teams for Aetna and for UnitedHealth Group.
Running her own consulting firm, Garza continues to leverage her business expertise to bring the best out of the nonprofits she works with, including a bilingual AM radio station and an entrepreneur incubator for the immigrant community in Chicago’s Little Village neighborhood. Her efforts mean they can sustain growth and serve their communities for many years to come.
Stewardship and success
Garza added that successful careers are marked by stewardship—of the mission, of the people served by the organization, and of the people who work for the organization.
“Those three things have to guide strategy, and strategic thinking comes together with insights from everyone in those groups.”
Build on those strategies, but leave room for the flexibility to adapt with seismic changes, she said. Gen Z, which entered the job market in the midst of economic and cultural upheaval, will be the best equipped to lead as these shifts continue to accelerate. Students and young graduates also represent the most multicultural generation of business leaders the world has ever known, Garza added, and with that comes new opportunities.
“It’s a generational pivot. You’ve got a different vision of what you want the world to be,” she said. “For anyone in your generation—wow, what an opportunity to shape something in a different way.”
This story was adapted from the Chicago Booth website.