Celebrating our differences
Honoring those who reflect the positive values of ethnic and racial diversity.
Marcellus Alexander Jr.
“Companies and organizations must be led by strategies that recognize and respect diversity, or they will be lost. Simply put, to be successful in today’s increasingly diverse society, businesses must reflect and understand the communities they serve. Forward-thinking organizations weave themselves into the very fabric of their communities.” — Marcellus Alexander Jr., executive vice president of the National Association of Broadcasters and president of the NAB Education Foundation.
Alexander’s words reflect a national sentiment, for sure, but they are just as important in Southwest Florida. Besides the melting pot of American heritage its citizens share, our region is a beacon for immigrants from both Europe and Latin America. Disparate American, European, Hispanic and other cultures reverberate through local art, music, sports, food and business.
But because this sect of diversity is not often obvious at the fore, Gulfshore Business partnered with D’Latinos magazine to create the annual Face Awards to honor and celebrate unsung heroes.
On the following pages, we feature companies and individuals who stand for and celebrate positive values ofethnic and racial diversity, and in turn serve as inspiration for others. And on Feb. 1, we will recognize these honorees at a ceremony, where Alexander will serve as the keynote speaker and award presenter.
Alexander has long advocated for expanding diversity within his industry through training programs that span from entry-level careers through station ownership. It’s a belief rooted in the knowledge that broadcasting and business as a whole must keep pace with a changing population and core values. He’s certain to elaborate on his message at the Face Awards.
This year’s winners were chosen from nominations in our six categories. The submissions were reviewed by our judges: community leaders Nicole Angelo, public relations and marketing professional; Monica Biondo, development director for the David Lawrence Foundation; Jadira Hoptry, vice president of community affairs at Fifth Third Bank; and Tammy Hall, Lee County commissioner; as well as last year’s award recipients, Andrew Delgado, Carolyn Johnson, Dr. Stephen Laquis, Lucy Correa Ryback, Robert Selle and Gail Williams.
Please read on as we proudly present our winners of the Face Awards 2013.
ARTS & CULTURE / Juan Diaz
"My father always told me that you have to perceive yourself as a citizen of the world."
Though he’s a native of Colombia and a resident of Naples, local artist Juan Diaz considers his citizenship on a global scale.
“My father always told me that you have to perceive yourself as a citizen of the world,” he says.
“The whole planet is our home. We categorize ourselves as different things to make sense of it sometimes, but we’re all from this same world. We’re all together. Thinking that way has always made me eager to explore, to discover what was similar and what was different.”
Now 31, Diaz fled his homeland’s capital city, Bogota, when his family’s ceramics business began feeling the effects of a tumultuous economy. Given the options of relocating to New York or Naples, his father—Alfredo Diaz—made the decision to bring the group to Southwest Florida.
“Living in Bogota was very hard and very raw,” he says. “We had friends in New York who asked us to move there, but my father decided it didn’t make sense to move from raw to more raw. So our friends went to Naples and they told us, ‘You’ve got to come here, we’ve found paradise.’”
He arrived at age 13, ultimately attended Naples High School and spent his formative years reaping the benefits of both his artist father’s worldly viewpoint and the more traditional and grounded attachment to native Colombian culture of his mother, Virginia Hernandez.
And while Diaz and his two younger sisters, Carolina and Maria, transitioned to their new homeland without incident, he still takes it upon himself—both through art and in everyday life—to help make sure other immigrants have the same seamless shift.
Carolina works locally as a dental assistant and Maria is entering medical school.
“It’s easy for people who’ve been exposed to others to understand their own reality,” he says. “But I don’t believe you have to be exposed to be able to think that way. We were lucky. We had a very supportive environment, which a lot of people in that situation don’t have.”
Diaz has been mentored since 2006 by international artist Jonathan Green, and his work has subsequently been included in both group and solo exhibitions in Naples, Fort Myers, Marco Island and Cape Coral, as well as Charleston, S.C.
“In my work, it’s a prior ity to be very diverse,” he says. “It’s the message of my work. To those making a transition, I’ll share anything that I know.”
-- Lyle Fitzsimmons
EDUCATION / Carmen Rey-Gomez
"Our home was the first place where people would come when they arrived from Puerto Rico."
Growing up in Hartford, Conn., Carmen Rey-Gomez’s household was steeped in the traditions of Puerto Rico, where her mother and father moved from in the 1960s. And like countless others who’d come to the United States from Latin countries before them, assimilating into American society was a mix of confusion, challenge, hard work and pride for her family.
“My parents were very adamant about maintaining language and culture,” says Rey-Gomez.
She learned English and became acquainted with other kids in her diverse inner-city neighborhood. “I straddled two different cultures,” she recalls. “I had an identity problem. Even though I was born here, people would ask, ‘Where are you really from?’ It served me well in the work that I do.”
Rey-Gomez is director of the Hispanic Institute at Hodges University, where she encounters and counsels students who experience the same struggles she did growing up.
Her father worked as an electrician—eventually retiring at 45 and becoming an entrepreneur—and her mom worked as a secretary (she’s now a case worker for a local community-based organization in Hartford). The family’s door was always open. “Our home was the first place where people would come when they arrived from Puerto Rico. My parents would connect folks. That’s where we got our early training,” Rey-Gomez says.
Rey-Gomez attended Hartford College for Women, Central Connecticut State University and the University of Connecticut, where she earned a master’s degree in social work. She was interested in advocacy, social justice, education and health and human services.
She worked as a community health interviewer, family educator and community advocate, and later at an HIV/AIDS mental health provider in Hartford. She eventually moved to Fort Myers, and in 2000 started at Edison State College as director of student support services.
In August 2008, Rey-Gomez was named director of the newly formed Hispanic Institute, which she’s establishing as a recognized leader in Southwest Florida that informs policymakers about issues vital to the growing Hispanic community. One goal is leveling the playing field for all to have an equal opportunity and to be educated and achieve their highest academic, financial and economic goals.
“I hope that people really see [the Institute] as a resource they can utilize,” says Rey-Gomez, who has sons Danilo, 11, and Ariel, 8, with her husband, Oscar Gomez. “It is not for just Hispanic people, it’s for everyone.”
- Phil Borchmann
MEDICAL / Dr. William Figlesthaler
"The human condition is something that's universal."
Each year, Specialists in Urology/Premiere Oncology publishes a keepsake album that features photos of its 300-plus employees and their families. Looking at the colorful portraits, two things are evident: Everyone is happy, and the staff represents a rainbow of cultures.
The diverse makeup of the company is of utmost importance to its founder, Dr. William Figlesthaler, who opened Specialists in Urology in 1997 and Premiere Oncology in 2009. The practices have 15 facilities in Lee and Collier counties.
Part of his effort to assemble a multi-ethnic team is practical—it helps communicate with and provide comfort to patients of similar backgrounds. Moreover, it’s personal. “I was a single parent myself. I put myself through medical school and my residency,” says Figlesthaler, who serves as medical director and managing partner. “We have people from all walks of life. We train them in each position. We’ve seen so many people move up in the company, buying homes and cars.”
One popular program provides college scholarships for employees or their children. Currently, two $10,000 scholarships are given annually; to date, more than $100,000 have been awarded.
The company’s community involvement includes support of the American Cancer Society, the Shelter for Battered Women and the Boys & Girls Clubs. “It goes right to the very core of what we stand for.”
“[Figlesthaler] has always been firm about giving opportunity to those that may not receive it otherwise. He has always led the campaign with our management staff to foster and nurture all cultures, the less fortunate, single mothers, of all races and backgrounds,” says Chief Operating Officer Susan Scholz. “I have watched him literally change lives in the 12 years that I have worked with him, including mine.”
Figlesthaler extends his benevolence beyond U.S. borders, helping foreign doctors learn cancer treatments for less-fortunate patients. “I began traveling in South America,” says the father of three. “I saw poverty and need. I did cooperative work Bogota and Armani, Colombia.”
It was though those trips that he found himself lacking a crucial skill, which he needed here and abroad: the ability to speak Spanish. With the help of a friend from Bogota, he immersed himself in the language.
“I made it my goal to speak fluently so I could have a better understanding [of patients],” says Figlesthaler, who is now fluent. “The human condition is something that’s universal. If you do what I do and what we do here, [speaking the language] can show compassion and respect.”
- Phil Borchmann
NONPROFIT/PHILANTHROPY / Abdul’Haq Muhammed
"If you're not moving to improve lives, then annihilation is inevitable."
When it comes to diversity … some talk it and others live it.
There’s little doubt that Abdul’Haq Muhammed, executive director of the Fort Myers-based Quality Life Center of Southwest Florida, is firmly entrenched in the latter category.
Several times in his 64 years, the native of the Harlem section of New York City has found himself in situations where the rights and representation of minority groups—whether religious or racial—have been in question. And, without hesitation, he’s taken it upon himself to be a fully immersed champion of those causes.
“There have been a lot of contributing factors, I think, and it probably starts first with my parents and my faith structure,” he says. “Those things play a significant role. My faith traditionally has defined my sense of purpose in life and the character I strive to live by.”
Muhammed began fighting the conscience fight as a 10th grader when he refused to recite the pledge of allegiance because he didn’t see “liberty and justice for all” in the world around him. He joined the U.S. Army in 1966 and served a four-year hitch, during which he campaigned against random destruction created in the military’s quelling of civil rights riots in minority areas.
His message of empowerment and cultural pride grew stronger in the 1970s via speaking engagements at several New York-area universities, and through his training of chaplains who counseled inmates at infamous penal institutions like Riker’s Island and Sing Sing.
“People arrive to specific places in their lives based on diverse experiences,” Muhammed says. “It can be any number of things that spark a person, a seed inserted into their conscience that causes them to evolve and respond to life differently. I don’t think there’s one pathway. People arrive at different times to their sense of purpose.”
Muhammed moved to Fort Myers in 1990 and founded the Quality Life Center two years later. He’s continued to implore people from different sects within the local black community—African-Americans, Haitians and those from other Caribbean nations—to focus on unity rather than their differences.
In fact, the center’s overarching philosophy, values and mission are tied in to formation of a positive self image, encouraging cultural appreciation and building confidence and promoting cultural awareness.
“In the 1960s, the challenges were conspicuous,” he says. “There was social discord, deprivation, the harshness of segregation. It was overt and very clear. Studying history, those conditions have a way of prodding people to rise to their highest potential humanity to address them.
“We’re telling the young people today, where in the past you were motivated by fear, now you can be motivated out of opportunity. And while the problems of yesterday were more in your face, if you’re not moving to improve lives now, then annihilation is inevitable.”
SMALL BUSINESS / Position Logic
Hong Long and Felix Lluberes surrounded by the watchful eyes of their staff.
Born in the Dominican Republic and now a citizen of the United States, Felix Lluberes knows about diversity first hand.
And as CEO of his own company—with 13 nationalities present among its three dozen local employees—it’s not as if he’s really got a choice.
“It’s not something we necessarily set out to do. It sort of presented itself through the opportunities that were out there,” says Lluberes, who founded Position Logic five years ago and runs the B2B location-based services provider from its headquarters in Naples. “To have a company that’s going to operate internationally, you have to have respect for many different cultures.
“And if you want to truly connect with customers, it’s got to be a priority.”
At first, Lluberes adroitly races through the list of his co-workers’ homelands, “China, Vietnam, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Mexico, Colombia, Guatemala, Brazil, Bolivia, Russia…” before slowing to a crawl when trying to recall the final three, “… Japan … Puerto Rico … and the United States.
“Whew, that’s a long list,” he says.
As for the practicality of coordinating communication with such a diverse staff, Lluberes and his Laos-born co-founder, Hong Long, have leaned on process-centric personality styles to smooth over any rough interdepartmental terrain.
The company provides hosted and enterprise GPS tracking platform software and location-based services. The hosted service allows entrepreneurs to start their own branded GPS tracking businesses, and the enterprise service allows corporations and government entities to increase their fleet efficiencies by installing and running the platform on their own servers.
English is the official language of the Naples office—though the company recently opened a facility in the Dominican Republic and actively recruits there—and all outgoing client emails are constructed with a no-nonsense template that both conveys respect and gets to the point quickly.
The company website has both English and Spanish versions, and plans are in the works to add a Portuguese version as well.
Lluberes says the diverse approach is essential to maintaining credibility over an international base.
“People judge how professional you are by how well you can communicate,” he says. “We are focused on awareness, clarity and execution when it comes to a client’s needs. We collaborate very well with each other, which helps develop a very articulate staff.
“We’re hiring leaders, not laborers. And when you look for people based on their leadership qualities it doesn’t matter where they’re from or what color their skin is. It’s a very big world and it’s going to be a lot bigger than just the U.S., so we’ve got to be more open and aware of that.”
LARGE COMPANY / Arthrex
"We are dedicated to making people's lives better, and it starts with our employees."
Naples-based Arthrex designs and manufactures its cutting-edge medical devices mostly at local plants, but it serves a global clientele via several locations around the world. So, embracing different cultures is essential to its success. As such, the company has initiated a variety of programs and practices that emphasize diversity.
“Arthrex has employed over 1,500 ethnically diverse employees in Southwest Florida since 1991 with a significant economic diversification impact to our state and community,” says Arthrex spokeswoman Lisa Gardiner. “Our global focus of innovative surgical device products made in Collier County contributes to a higher quality of life for patients and our community.”
The company’s humble roots date back more than 30 years ago in Germany, where founder and President Reinhold Schmieding, who was born in Michigan, began designing arthroscopic instruments on a $20 drafting table. The company grew flourished and Schmieding eventually moved his operation to Naples, where he had visited previously.
Employee numbers blossomed along the way, attracting individuals from a variety of ethnic and racial backgrounds. Its workforce consist of approximately 47 percent minority or protected-class status, which it has achieved recruiting from traditional job boards and niche sources such as the Society for Black Engineers and the Society for Women Engineers .
Arthrex offers employees an array of educational courses to promote and celebrate diversity and inclusion. For example, the Language Skills Training Program is for employees interested in learning any one of a number of new languages—Spanish, French, Portuguese, German and English (if English is a second language)—for business needs. There are several more languages spoken among the employees, so the company is looking to expand the program to encourage staff to learn new languages and to find commonalities. This program has also allowed many employees, who otherwise would not have been viable candidates, to advance within the company.
And in the community, Arthrex is the sponsor of the Naples Asian Professionals Association’s Asia Fest, the Council of Hispanic Business Professionals’ CHBO Gala and the NAACP Gala.
“As a leading healthcare technology innovator, we are dedicated to making people’s lives better, and it starts with our employees,” Gardiner says. ”Our commitment to diversity through recruitment, education and other programs allows our employees to grow and succeed in their lives as significant contributors to our community.”