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Miguel Quiñones – The curious Genius Making Hispanic Executives the Norm, Not Exception

With corporate America increasingly welcoming visits from Dr. Miguel Quiñones, it’s easier to believe that the days of nearly invisible Hispanic executives are numbered.

When the Southern Methodist University professor is not on campus lecturing students and chairing the department of management and organizations, he’s catching a plane to teach and engage with executives and groups from some of the most well-known brands in the country. As the academic director for the Latino Leadership
Initiative, a partnership between SMU Cox School of Business and a number of Fortune 1000 companies, Quiñones is a key contributor to its goal of identifying and developing the next generation of Hispanic leaders.

Having met the highly accomplished professional only on paper before our phone interview, I expected arrogance on the other end of the line. Instead, I encountered a friendly, easygoing demeanor.

“I can talk as long as you need,” Quiñones said as we began our conversation. “Not sure if I have a very interesting story,” he added, laughing, “but we’ll see what comes out of here.”

Quite a modest statement, considering the Puerto Rico native is an internationally recognized expert in the areas of individual and organizational development and the strategic management of people. Throughout his career, he has conducted extensive research on topics related to these subjects and his findings have been published in numerous trade journals, publications and books. Among his ongoing fieldwork, he leads LLI’s Latino-focused research to help organizations design and deploy policies and practices aimed at attracting, developing and retaining multicultural leaders.

For nearly a decade, Quiñones has practically helped businesses remain competitive by designing executive and other leadership education programs specific to Latinos. He has his work cut out to help corporations become more inclusive, as Hispanics reportedly occupy only 4 percent of executive positions and will increasingly comprise a more substantial portion of the workforce. Latinos “tend to fly under the radar because of the cultural sense of being more deferential,” so workplaces often overlook their leadership potential, Quiñones explained. “By having to find people for this program, because they’re interested in making sure they’re not falling behind in developing their future leaders, it actually brings (Hispanic) individuals to their awareness.”

Quiñones additionally shares knowledge as a polished speaker, often traveling to summits and the like to address executives on such workplace issues. Plus, Google him any day, and you’ll run across videos where he’s effortlessly interviewing local chief executives about their business perspectives or being interviewed by news reporters on how to be a better boss.

“Mickey,” as he is known to many, embodies the Latino who rose to the top and looks back to help others, Hispanic or otherwise. Even though he was raised by college-educated parents, his father a chemical engineer and mother a dietician by trade, Quiñones was not immune to the cultural challenges Latinos generally face in climbing the career ladder.

“We grew up to be respectful of authority, to not toot our own horn, so we don’t necessarily speak up,” Quiñones said. “We’re sort of more deferential and avoid conflict. There’s general cultural themes that, from the outside, might look like an individual is meek or more reserved, not a leader.

“Learning how to navigate multiple cultures — having to move from Puerto Rico to San Antonio and then seeing how I respond in certain situations and how that can play out or be misunderstood — is certainly interesting and important for me to relate to our (LLI) participants.”

The youngest of four, Quiñones left La Isla del Encanto knowing minimal English at age 11 in the middle of sixth grade, after the oil refinery where his father worked relocated to San Antonio. Fast forward to Texas A&M University, Quiñones pursued psychology after a class piqued his interest in human behavior and perception. His curiosity toward business and how organizations work led him to master’s and doctorate degrees in industrial and organizational psychology at Michigan State University.

His studies to master the design of effective and motivating learning experiences have proven successful. Quinones is an elected fellow for the American Psychological Association and the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology for his distinguished contributions to the fields. Among other accolades, he has received SMU’s highest recognition for teaching effectiveness, Altshuler Distinguished Teaching Professor, and is a triple recipient of the George R. Brown Award for Superior Teaching from Houston Rice University.

“I create an environment where we’re all just learning together,” Quiñones said of his teaching style. “I like a group to ask questions, so I create a very interactive class where we’re all trying to understand or apply a concept. I think students feel that I’m approachable and they can be vulnerable and explore topics. I think my curiosity is contagious.”

A husband and father to a daughter, 17, and son, 15, the professor somehow finds time to volunteer in the community. He is the board chair at the First Unitarian Church of Dallas and a board member of The Hockaday School, a girl’s college preparatory school, and Teaching Trust, which helps develop education leaders for urban schools.

Asked for his greatest accomplishment, Quiñones mulled the question before bursting into laughter as he understandably struggled to pinpoint it. “Certainly, I’m most proud of my family, my children, but also that love to always learn and have my kids have that curiosity as well,” he replied. In terms of professional contributions, he
likes to believe his best are yet to come. This includes helping SMU Cox receive more recognition for developing students who are understanding of organizations and able to effectively lead others.

“In the kind of world that we live in, where things are changing, we’re much more interconnected and things are more
ambiguous, you really have to tap into the strengths, skills and insights of a diverse group of individuals: That idea of being an inclusive and a curious leader, it’s necessary,” Quiñones said. “I would like to think that I can still make a contribution in helping create a department program in school in which we produce students who have that same set of characteristics that are so needed in our world today.”

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