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Kimberly Casiano: At the top of the corporate world

Even as a board member for Ford, one of the biggest companies in the world, she still remains faithful to her family values


May 13, 2005
Copyright © 2005 CARIBBEAN BUSINESS. All Rights Reserved.

Being a director of a public corporation has never been as challenging as it is today. Kimberly Casiano, a member of Ford Motor Co.’s board of directors since 2003 and among the highest-ranked Hispanic women in corporate America, can attest to that. "In public corporations, the role of the board of directors is extremely important, much more so than in private corporations, and especially in the post-Sarbanes-Oxley era," explained Casiano, who is also president of Casiano Communications, the largest Hispanic publisher of magazines and periodicals in the U.S.

Sarbanes-Oxley, an anticorruption act prepared by Sens. Paul Sarbanes and Michael Oxley, was born after a number of scandals rocked the business world, including those at Enron, WorldCom, and Tyco. The act requires massive and costly accounting reporting by publicly held companies. It also put in place what Casiano describes as a system of checks and balances. "We are officially there to protect the interest of the shareholders. In the post-Sarbanes-Oxley era, they [members of Congress] have endeavored to create a balance of power where they have taken the power away from inside management and away from the CEO and put it on the shoulders of independent outside directors," she emphasized.

Of the 15 members of the Ford Motor Co. board of directors, 10 are outside, independent directors, meaning they have no affiliation with the company other than their seat on the board, or, if they do have a business relationship with the company, it is minimal. Inside directors can be company management or they can derive substantial income from the company through pensions, stocks, or consultant work. All board members are elected by a committee composed of outside directors who attempt to bring together a diverse group of individuals with extensive experience and expertise in different areas.

Ford Motor’s board of directors is an excellent example of this. Among the members are John R.H. Bond, former executive director of HSBC; Stephen Butler, retired CEO of KPMG; Carl E. Reichardt, former CEO of Wells Fargo; and Robert E. Rubin, former U.S. secretary of the Treasury. Casiano, who is one of three women on the board, values the diversity of backgrounds and experience represented in the group. "It is fascinating to be sitting at a table with them. It gives me a tremendous amount of stimulation, an outlet where I can help in areas that in Puerto Rico and at Casiano Communications, I perhaps don’t always have the opportunity to," she pointed out.

The distinguished board of directors is befitting of Ford, considering it is ranked No. four among Fortune 500 companies. Companies as big as Dell and Microsoft are ranked 28 and 41, respectively. Last year, Ford reported $171.6 billion in sales and revenue, compared with $164.3 billion in 2003. Headquartered in Dearborn, Mich., Ford has approximately 335,000 employees in 200 markets. The company brands include Aston Martin, Jaguar, Land Rover, Lincoln, Mazda, Mercury, and Volvo. The company also has automotive-related services such as Ford Credit, Quality Care, and Hertz.

The variety of company offerings and successes is similar to the variety of accomplishments and experience that Casiano personally brings to the table as the first Hispanic woman to ever serve on the board. "If they were looking for a token Hispanic, they were talking to the wrong person. One of the things I brought to the table was the perspective of a small-business person. The face of Ford is the dealer. The dealers are the ones that see the customers. A family-owned business like Casiano Communications has a lot in common with Ford product dealers all over the U.S. and the world," she explained.

Casiano started working in the family business in 1988; by 1994, she was named president of the company. The examples set by her parents surely contributed to Casiano’s present success. Her father, Manuel A. Casiano Jr., was a founder and board member of Aspira, the first organization established in the U.S. to help Puerto Rican and other Hispanic youth obtain scholarships. Her mother, Nora, founded the U.S. Hispanic chapter of the League of Women Voters and was the first Hispanic member of the National Board of Directors of the Girl Scouts of America.

She firmly believes education is the key to success, a belief that is more than backed up by her own preparation and dedication to a number of educational causes. She studied politics and Latin American studies at Princeton University, graduating magna cum laude. Afterward, she obtained a master’s degree in business administration from Harvard Business School, becoming, at the time, the youngest woman to receive this degree in the history of Harvard University.

She presently serves on the board of trustees of the Hispanic College Fund, a national organization awarding nearly 1,000 scholarships a year to Hispanic youth, and the board of directors of the Young Presidents’ Organization, Puerto Rico chapter, where she is education chairwoman.

Casiano is also a member of the Access America Task Force and the Small Business Committee of the board of directors of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and is a member of the Procurement Council of the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. She recently concluded an appointment by the U.S. Treasury secretary to the U.S. Savings Bond National Committee.

For the past eight years, she has been chairwoman of the American Cancer Society in Puerto Rico for its annual fundraising event, which has raised over $2 million. She is also a founder and vice-chair of the board of directors of Nuestra Casa de los Niños, a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing private school education for economically disadvantaged children.

In addition to all of these commitments, and her more than eight yearly Ford board meetings, Casiano is also a wife and mother of two. Referring to the secret of her success, she explains it is all about knowing when to say no. "We are very jealous of our family time, weekends, we say no to many invitations that don’t include children," she said, adding she won’t accept any additional responsibilities if she considers she is spreading herself too thin. Her family priorities are shared and upheld by her husband, Juan F. Woodroffe. "Part of it is who you choose as a partner in life. If someone were to ask me who has taken the children to the pediatrician more often since they were born, him or I, I couldn’t answer, because he is a true partner," she explained.

Prioritizing family is a lesson she learned during a very painful chapter of her life. "A very close friend of mine passed away from cancer at a young age; I spent the last year of his life very close to him. One thing that became clear was, at the end, he wasn’t talking about his professional accomplishments; the important priorities were family, relationships, and closeness, the food for the soul and heart. That is what it is all about," she said, adding, "The rest of the things we do are interesting, fascinating, stimulating, hoping we can make a difference in the world, but ultimately what will nourish us is going to be that which nourishes our hearts and souls." After having said that, it is easy to understand why she considers her long list of professional accomplishments to be overshadowed by one thing. "Nothing has been as fulfilling or rewarding as motherhood, nothing," she revealed.

Her personal clarity and professional achievements make it hard to believe there is still one more thing Casiano would like to accomplish. "My dream someday is to teach. I love to teach. It is extremely fulfilling. It is something I would like to do in the future that is still on my professional to-do list." Considering the wealth of knowledge and experience she continues to collect, it is fair to say, those will be some very fortunate students.

This Caribbean Business article appears courtesy of Casiano Communications.
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