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Zoila Levis: A Professional Pioneer

The first female president of the Puerto Rico Banking Association outlines her professional and personal priorities


February 17, 2005
Copyright © 2005 CARIBBEAN BUSINESS. All Rights Reserved.

The view from Zoila Levis’ office at Doral Plaza is an endless panorama of far-off ocean and sky, as endless perhaps as the very energy, ambition, and dedication that she embodies. The Puerto Rico Banking Association is starting 2005 under her leadership, marking the first time that the association will have been presided over by a female executive. When asked how it feels to open such an important door for other women, Levis seems dismissive of the accomplishment saying, "I never feel that I am the first woman, I am one more executive who is occupying a position to which she wishes to dedicate all her energy and attention." Although she doesn’t immediately acknowledge her role as pioneer, that is precisely one of the many roles she has been playing all her life.

After graduating with honors from her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in business administration from the University of Puerto Rico and Indiana State University respectively, Levis moved to Spain to work for Johnson & Johnson, returning to Puerto Rico in 1972 as vice president of HF Mortgage Bankers. After three years, she moved to Venezuela where she established Forero & Levis and, in 1979, in Colombia, she established Z. Levis y Asociados. After finally returning once again to Puerto Rico, she became president of Doral Financial Corp. in 1991, where she currently also occupies the position of chief operating officer.

Her extensive professional accomplishments go hand in hand with her contributions to charitable causes such as the Chana & Samuel Levis Foundation, and with her dedication to cultural organizations such as the Puerto Rico Opera and the Puerto Rico Museum of Art, among others. Yet, Levis is quick to point out the importance her family plays in her life, and how the strong relationships she has with her husband, daughters, and grandchildren keep her motivated in her professional endeavors.

When asked how she manages to balance it all, she seems puzzled, as if leaving something out of her busy schedule were even an option. "Ever since I was young, I was used to distributing my time because I wanted to do it all. What gives me the most satisfaction is that I have been able to venture into many areas that are vital to my intellect and interests and, without them, I wouldn’t be what I am today," she explains.

Levis hopes female professionals who might like to follow her example realize that focusing exclusively on professional success is unhealthy, and that these ambitions should not overshadow their personal lives and families. Levis believes the field is open for future female leaders, however, she is also emphatic that women who aspire to lead, do have to be willing to sacrifice. "I believe that in order for a woman to assume a position of leadership she has to have passed the stage where she feels different from her male colleagues. Perhaps we have to work harder, we have to prove our worth continuously, but honestly, I understand that a professional woman has the same respect and is equally appreciated as a male professional. The important thing is that all be equally professional," Levis pointed out.

Leadership is surely a role she knows well and she will be diligently executing in the Banking Association during her term as president. Already this year, the association has hosted a two-day symposium on money laundering, which was attended by more than 400 industry people. Levis noted the extensive local participation showed a strong commitment by the island’s banking sector to fulfilling all the requirements and implementing all the regulations that safeguard the prevention of this. A series of diverse conferences and seminars designed to further enrich and guide the banking industry is already in the works for the coming year.

Levis also pointed out that the association will be firmly dedicated to helping Puerto Rico better prepare itself for the new realities of the global economy. "The association wants to be very proactive, it is an important moment for Puerto Rico’s future and we want to be present in the development and in the implementation of executive and legislative decisions," explained Levis.

Throughout the year, the association, which represents the interests of commercial banks in the different government forums, will work with the Legislature to hopefully pass some of the regulations that were left unfinished by the past administration. The association also hopes the regulations passed in the future won’t further burden what they consider an overregulated industry, but will rather foster Puerto Rico’s economic development. In that respect, Levis believes the private sector, together with the government, should carry the torch toward progress. "Neither this country, nor any other, can allow the government to be the only one looking out for development. The private sector has an obligation with Puerto Rico to collaborate so we achieve a proper level of growth," she emphasized, adding that it is equally important to stay positive and enthusiastic in order to push in the desired direction.

The process of growth will surely require many pioneers who are willing to tear down barriers and dare to open new paths. No doubt, in that respect, Zoila Levis’ experience, energy, and disposition will be an asset to the banking industry, and to all who are fighting to steer Puerto Rico in the direction of progress.

This Caribbean Business article appears courtesy of Casiano Communications.
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