NB: How, as a Latina, has your background played into your work?
RB: I’m a “border girl.” I was born in Tijuana, Mexico. My dad was a super proud Mexicano and he really wanted me to be born in Mexico so I could one day be president of my country, which is never going to happen.
I had an incredible opportunity to grow up with one foot in Mexico and another foot in the United States. That gave me this sort of hybrid cultural identity that I’m really proud of. If you think about my work, from my media days to now when I’m running a FinTech company that leans very hard into culture, you can see that. You can really see from the content, the tools and the products that we make that there’s a biculturalism and pride to be Latina while having the best of the U.S. That’s really my origin story and I’m incredibly proud of it.
I’ve always seen being a Latina as my superpower. I feel that being different, being the only one in a room, being the first one, and being able to open doors coming from where I come, makes me unique, and makes all Latinas unique.
Standing out in a crowd is difficult nowadays. But having those insights, because of the way we grew up and the things we know, is incredibly valuable to whatever you’re doing. Whether you’re an employee at an organization or launching a company, leaning hard into those differences will really make you stand out and be successful.
In my case, more than trying to hide my Latinidad, I always mega-enhance it. There are so few that have the opportunities I’ve had. Only 1 or 2% get funded, only 1 to 2% get to be showrunners and tell authentic stories in Hollywood. I’ve successfully been able to do both because I’ve always really flaunted my difference in those rooms.
I’m a proud Latina; this is where I come from, and this is what I know. These are my insights and why you need to pay attention. I’m always armed with a lot of data, so I’m very thankful to all the organizations that are constantly coming up with these incredible studies. One of them is the Latino Donor Collaborative, a nonprofit led by an amazing Latina, Anna Valez. Having numbers on GDP growth, workforce growth, and all these incredible metrics to validate us is super important for me.
Being a Latino/a/e/x today is incredibly valuable to any organization. If you look at the youth, we are now the new majority and our insights are going to matter more than ever. That’s exciting!
NB: What drove you to found SUMA Wealth?
BA: Youth has always been my specialty. Before SUMA, I had Mitú which had the exact same demographic, Latino youth, that is primarily U.S. born and English dominant. That was a challenge when we started Mitú because you would think, “If this demographic consumes more English than Spanish, then why do we exist?”.
Although our community, our youth, prefer to consume content in English digitally, they still want the Latino cultural aspect of it and there was no company doing that. Using that same insight whether you are in media, FinTech, food or any other industry and making sure that they feel they belong is key. It obviously seems like something very simple, but when you think about finance, a lot of the financial institutions have not been able to crack that.
I have to give props to my co-founder, Javier Gutierrez, who came up with the idea. He told me “I think that after Mitú, you should found a digital FinTech company.” I thought he was crazy because that is not my background and it was absolutely outside of my comfort zone. He said the issue has been that people don’t truly know how to build community and how to do things in culture, and if you mix that with finance, it’s going to be a success.
So for me, it was very important that the next thing I did would give Latinos this economic power and that I could do it in a way that I knew how: by leaning very hard into my culture.
NB: What is the biggest risk that you have taken in your career?
BA: A recent one has been to say NO to funding. This is a very hard economic time and we, as Latinas, are at a massive disadvantage in the amount of capital that we are able to secure to grow our companies.
It’s already a privilege to be in that 1 to 2% that gets the funding to grow a company. So for me to say no to money that is not aligned with my values, with my purpose, has been the biggest risk I’ve taken in my career. And not just for me.
You have to think about it: “What if I don’t sign the deals that I need to sign? What if I run out of capital? What happens to all the people that believed in me and left other jobs to come and be a part of this? What happens to the money from investors who are mostly Latina?” You have a lot of weight on your shoulders when you want to deliver; more than for yourself, for everybody else around you that has believed in you. So saying no to money that, in my perception, was not great money and not aligned with what I was building, definitely was a choice that I didn’t make lightly.
NB: What was your “ponte las pilas” moment?
Losing my job was a big “ponte las pilas” moment.
I became an entrepreneur by necessity, not by choice. I lost my job and I had no other option than to become an entrepreneur in my early twenties. That was an incredible blessing, but that day I cried for many hours, I couldn’t believe this was happening to me, just right after I had won my Emmys and my MTV award. But then it ended up being incredible.
Life is too short to be miserable at a job or at a company, and if it’s by choice, you have a path to plan that transition. There are a lot of tough questions that you need to ask yourself. You really need to think, “If today was the last day of my life, would I be happy doing this, contributing in this way to the world or to my legacy as a human being?”
NB: What is a piece of advice that you have for those atrevidos out there that are measuring the job that they currently have versus what they want to have?
BA: There’s no one-size-fits-all or a dream job for everybody. It’s definitely a personal feeling; whether you feel incredibly fulfilled in what you are doing, and what that looks like, is very different for every single person.
For me, at the end of the day, being happy is my ultimate goal. As I get older, I think about the contributions that I’m going to leave behind. If I died tomorrow, would I feel I made a difference in the world? I did my best to open the doors to as many, Latinos and Latinas in my community as I possibly could and to lead them, hopefully, on their path to success. I was able to contribute to my community with SUMA, to support them in closing the wealth gap and starting to build generational wealth.
No job is perfect, and no day is perfect. But when you are passionate about what you do, when you love what you do, a problem here or there is very easy to let go.
You know that feeling when you think “I can’t believe I get paid to do this?” I’ve had that feeling so many times in my life. I’m inspired and I’m passionate, I wake up every day and I am excited to go to work. That’s very important no matter what your work is. If you don’t have that, the problems and the challenges that are inevitable will just feel like a bigger burden on your shoulder.
NB: You talked about closing the wealth gap in the U.S. What is SUMA doing and why do other companies need to take an interest in closing that wealth gap?
BA: The wealth gap right now is at about 20 cents to the dollar, so we have a long way to go to close it. I’m glad you’re asking me this question because there is no way that just SUMA alone is going to be able to close this massive wealth gap.
I think the most important thing that we all need to think about is education, and it doesn’t have to come from a company. As parents, it’s very important that we break the cycle of how we grew up, never talking about money. My parents were both college educated, but we never talked about money. At our dinner table, there was never a conversation on money; they did not trust the financial system in Mexico because they had lost everything in one devaluation. So you can’t blame that sort of post-traumatic stress syndrome, but I do think it starts with us.
Talk to our children about money, really teach them the value of money, show them how to do a budget and what is a credit card. Especially for kids that are our kids’ age, Natalie, that are going into college. They’ve lived with us for their entire lives and they haven’t really needed to manage money at the degree that they will when going to college and, even more so, after college.
Financial literacy and financial education are super important, but that’s not going to solve the problem. You need the tools, you need the products that people want to engage with because if they feel intimidated or think it’s too difficult to understand, that’s where you have a really massive gap. They’d end up thinking “I’d rather not invest my money because I don’t understand how” or “I’d rather not save for retirement because I don’t understand my 401k.”
What other companies can do is be supportive of that journey. Understand that if your employees are not participating in these company plans, there’s something wrong with the system. I like to say that if a flower doesn’t bloom, it’s not the fault of the flower or the seed, it might be the soil. So it’s important to make sure employees feel comfortable asking questions and are open to learning and understanding.
Also, companies need to really take a close look at how they’re paying their employees, and conduct audits. We see this every year with equal pay, as there’s so many Latinas pushing for economic equality. Latinas can learn all these great techniques on how to negotiate, but companies also have an important role to play and really question why they pay Latinas less than everybody else.
I have a hard time thinking that CEOs of corporations wake up in the mornings thinking “How do we pay Latinas less? Let me build a strategy.” It really doesn’t happen that way but there’s no intentionality in fixing it either.
We have to also understand that we come from cultures where we learned from our moms and abuelitas, the classic “calladita te ves más bonita.” But keeping our head down, not making a lot of waves, and being grateful for what we’re given does not help us when it comes to negotiating salaries.
To this day, I have a very hard time negotiating salary equity. I’m great at negotiating for others, but not for me. I can still hear the voice of my mom and my abuelita telling me “just keep your head down and do the work” but that is very unnerving for this generation.
So there’s a lot of work that we all need to do — as parents, as business owners and as entrepreneurs — to really change all those things that some of us carry from growing up.
NB: Who is your Atrevida/o/e preferida/o/e?
BA: I will always place my bet on Latinas. I always say if I had my chips to bet in a game, I’ll always put my chips on Latinas.
There are so many, it’s really hard to choose just one. I’m incredibly proud of women and particularly Latinas in space, leading incredible biotech companies or just launching things that we never grew up thinking that a woman — let alone a Latina — could be doing or could be leading.
Every day that you and I have the honor to be on these lists of the hundred top Latinas, doing incredible work in the US, I’m always in awe of the many industries and the many places where Latinas are breaking glass ceilings. It makes me feel incredibly proud. I tend to be one of the oldest ones on those lists, so I feel relieved knowing that there’s this incredible generation right behind us that are doing extraordinary things that I never got to see growing up. I usually was the first and only one in those rooms, but now I see that there’s like a whole army behind us. They are so much better, so much better prepared, fearless, using their voice, using their power, and I love it. I’m inspired by all these incredible Latinas.
NB: Is there any brand or company at the moment that you admire, that you think is doing such wonderful work for our Hispanic community? Why do you admire them?
BA: There are brands that absolutely get us, which I love. When something makes me feel that I belong, I think that brand absolutely gets it.
I had the privilege of being a speaker at the Pepsi Summit a little while ago and seeing everything that they do and everything that their partners are doing. There was a keynote by somebody from high up in the ranks at T-Mobile who explained, with data, how they went from last to first, thanks to the Latino market. I’ve always felt they speak to me, they get me, they do things in culture, and they understand the nuances of people who are Spanish-dominant versus English-dominant. So does Pepsi with all of its numerous brands.
I was very inspired by those two brands because I saw their case studies. I was very proud to see that they were leaning very hard into our culture, into a way of doing good but doing it well.
Everything that you built last year with the Jefa-owned campaign was brilliant. It was so on the spot because for Latinas, even if you have a job already, we’re always thinking of a side hustle. So that entire campaign was brilliant and an example of incredible execution that truly spoke to me very differently.
Those are a few examples, but I am very inspired by so many brands that are being very intentional in leaning hard into the culture. Ulta is another brand; their ex-CEO, who happened to be a woman, said: “Our growth is absolutely coming from Latinas, and we’re going to be leaning very, very hard on that.” Instead of saying “We have a small diversity, equity and inclusion budget that we’re going to put in because it’s Hispanic Heritage Month,” they are saying “The way that we need to be thinking about being successful as a company and continuing to survive and to thrive, is by really serving this demographic.” I love to see that intentionality now.
NB: ¿Suerte o sudor? What percentage do you attribute your success to in terms of luck vs. hard work?
BA: There might be some suerte for sure, and in my case, people say I’m white-passing. That’s suerte. I think that played a very big role in getting to where I am in my career, but I definitely worked many 18-hour days, six days a week, throughout my whole life. I started working when I was 8 years old. Much more sudor than suerte, but suerte plays a role.
For me, the secret to success is passion and hustle over talent. For those who ask if you need talent to be successful, my answer is absolutely not and I give my own example. I wanted to be a radio DJ as a kid because I was obsessed with Menudo, like every other teenager in my country. I was super shy and I had – and I still have – a very high-pitched voice, so I was definitely not your prototype of a successful radio DJ.
I practiced every day in front of my mirror in my room. It took me a thousand tries to be comfortable saying just the time and the name of the song. So now, when I do public speaking or when I used to be a TV host, people would say, “You’re so good, you’re so talented, you’re so natural.” And the truth is I wasn’t. I put in thousands of hours to be that “talented.” I was not born with that talent.
I had a friend and a colleague, Marco Antonio, who is literally the host of every single game show in Mexico, and he was a natural. We had a radio show together and he could improvise anything. I, on the other hand, had to research, rehearse and practice for days before I could do whatever he would do just by turning on that mic.
That was at the beginning of my career. Now I’m going to take you to when I’m 50 and said I was going to be the CEO of a FinTech company. I knew nothing about FinTech, and did I just go and say, “I’m just going to base it on my luck and see how I do?” Of course not! I enrolled in every single certificate program that I could find, at Berkeley, Harvard, Wharton. I was studying until three in the morning, on weekends, during the day, while taking care of the company, the kids, my mom, the dog, my husband.
You don’t see that, but for me to sit comfortably in a panel, to sit with investors, to have a vision on how to grow the company, it’s not winging it. I put in a lot of work. I am also incredibly privileged to know a lot of people who want to see me win, to look the way I look, and to have been born in a household where my parents were college educated and we grew up with nothing lacking at our table. So all of that is absolutely luck and it’s an absolute privilege. I fully understand that and I know it plays a role, but I wouldn’t say that pure luck alone can take you to success. At least not in my case.
NB: Is there any last thought or piece of advice that you want to share with someone who is currently at their job and wants to push for more? Somebody who has a dream and who just wants to get started?
BA: I would just say, you really have nothing to lose. This is advice I even gave my own husband when he had a really big corporate job and wanted to try something else. You can always go back to a job, but if you’re at the point of your career where you’re thinking “I really want to do this,” you’re able to do it. Just make sure you have your emergency savings. It’s very important that you have that set up so that you just don’t get off a rope and go straight to the ground.
The worst thing that can happen is being at the end of your life and thinking “I should have, I could have, tried this or done this.” It’s important that you just don’t stay stuck in a place that’s comfortable. With passion and hustle, you’re able to really accomplish anything, no talent required. If you have it, that’s amazing. But passion and hustle in whatever it is that you define as success will definitely get you there.
We’re living in a very exciting time. Gen Alpha is the most diverse generation ever. And we’re leading the way in that growth in so many ways; not just population growth, but workforce, GDP and home purchasing. More and more brands will start to really look at us as an incredible business opportunity more than a charity. It’s your time to shine being from our community and having those insights that every company will need. So just keep doing what makes you happy and passionate, and the rest will come.