At age 12, Alvio Barrios left Cuba as a refugee on the Mariel Boatlift, a six-month period beginning in April of 1980 allowing Cubans to emigrate to other countries. Alvio shares how his journey influenced his identity, professional leadership style, and sense of adventure.
As I reflect on my journey, I believe my story has a lot in common with many other immigrants. I am very proud of my Cuban heritage, and I’m also very grateful for the opportunities I have as a US citizen. Someone asked me recently how that young boy from Cuba came to experience the career journey that I have lived. My honest reply was, “I have no idea.” There was no master plan. Life happens, and when it happens, you make the most of it.
When we left Cuba, my parents were in their mid-forties. My parents were both accountants. They lost their jobs when we immigrated to the US, and really had to start again with nothing. My dad was decisive, and he knew what was best for the family. My mother as well. They took a huge leap of faith and said, “We need to go find a better future, not for us, but for the kids.” They knew there had to be a better future somewhere else. There was no question on whether we had option to stay or not stay—we just had to go.
As proud of as I am of my cultural heritage, I can’t overstate the importance of diversity. I find I’m more successful when I surround myself with people who have different lived experiences and different points of view. I’m always interested in making authentic new connections. In doing this, it’s important to remember that nobody’s perfect. If you’re looking for the perfect individual to befriend, or be in your network, your search will never end. Everyone has something positive to offer.
Gratitude and Family
One of my favorite holidays is Thanksgiving, because it’s about gratitude. I was always grateful for the risk my parents took and the effort they made to bring me here.
When I look back at where I came from and where I am today, I was really blessed to have an incredible family—they were very humble. My grandmother learned how to read and write when she was 65, and she sort of led the family. Family always came first, and the simple things in life were the most important.
I think everyone you come across in your life has an impact. My mother taught me so much in terms of work ethic, caring, and being family-centric. My dad gave me many of the principles I live by such as do what you say you’re going to do, your word is important, do to others what you want done to you, be respectful, and be transparent so there’s no confusion.
Learning from Failure
I realized early in my career that the events I learned the most from were my failures and not my successes. So, I have this mentality—failures are actually a good thing, because you’re going to learn from it, and you’re going to remember it.
I also learned a lot in sales. Every time I lost a deal, the customer told me why I was losing the deal. Unfortunately, I was often too busy pushing my own agenda that I wasn’t listening to what I was being told. Since then, I’ve learned to listen more and talk less. We have two ears and one mouth, and we need to use them in that proportion. Silence is a great tool for negotiation.
Let’s Just Go!
In life, when you make a decision, you just need to go. It’s never completely safe. No decision is ever 100 percent sure, and you’re going to have to adjust along the way. I apply this to business. For me, 80 percent favorable is good enough. After that, you’ve got to trust your team and say, “Let’s go on this journey together.” We know the endpoint may not be exactly what we expect, but we’re going to learn a lot if we just start moving and executing.
My parents’ leap of faith in bringing our family to America has influenced me both personally and professionally. So, I say, “Let’s just go!”