By Barbara Gutierrez
CORAL GABLES, Fla. (May 20, 2015)—The University of Miami’s Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies (ICCAS) launched the Cesar L. Alvarez Distinguished Series “Cubans in America” this month with former U.S. Secretary of Commerce Carlos Gutiérrez. Made possible by a generous grant from an anonymous donor, the series honors the Cuban-American chairman of Greenberg Traurig, LLP, who was the first Hispanic to lead a top-ten law firm in the United States.
The grant that funded the lecture series is part of Momentum2: The Breakthrough Campaign for the University of Miami, and will be used to bring prominent Cuban-Americans to campus to discuss their contributions to the U.S. Scheduled for Tuesday, June 2, the second Cesar L. Alvarez lecture will feature Cuban journalist and intellectual Carlos Alberto Montaner.
“It is an honor for our institute to hold this lecture series and celebrate the many accomplishments of Cuban-Americans,” Jaime Suchlicki, ICCAS director, said at the inaugural lecture on May 4. “Today we have one of those prominent Cuban-Americans here with us.”
At the discussion, Suchlicki interviewed Gutiérrez, who was born in Cuba and migrated to the U.S. with his parents in 1960. He grew up in New York and Mexico, where he married, started his family, and began working for Kellogg as a sales intern, selling products out of a Volkswagen.
“I wanted stability in my life and thought that the best way to do that was to work for a big American company,” Gutiérrez said. He never envisioned that 25 years later he would be CEO of Kellogg, stationed in Battle Creek, Michigan.
He said he owed his success to “following his gut” instead of following the advice of the many consultants the company had hired.
“I felt like all those years I was in a pressure cooker,“ Gutiérrez said. “I did not have a college degree so I felt that I had to work many more hours than those who had the degree.”
His transition to politics came after he met President George W. Bush in 1998 and turned down a position in his cabinet. Four years later, President Bush came calling again and offered the secretary of commerce position.
“Something in my gut told me I should take it,” Gutiérrez said, even though some in his family questioned the wisdom of accepting a 95-percent pay cut. Gutiérrez said it was the best job he ever had, in large part because he admired President Bush and respected his leadership skills.
“When things got bad, like in the Iraq war, for instance, he was more visible,” he said. “He would encourage people and tell them to keep their spirits up.”
Since leaving government, Gutiérrez worked at Citi, where he served as vice chairman of the Institutional Clients Group and as a member of the Senior Strategic Advisory Group. He is now chair of Albright Stonebridge Group, a premier strategic advisory and commercial diplomacy firm. He also chairs Republicans for Immigration Reform, the political action group he co-founded in 2012, and serves as a national trustee at the University of Miami and as a non-resident scholar at ICCAS.