An immigrant from Colombia, who didn’t speak English, came to the U.S. alone at the age of 17, leaving her entire family behind. Today, she managed to become a recognized corporate executive turned business owner and tech innovator.
Meet Lili Gil Valletta, the Founder and CEO of CIEN+, an award-winning cultural intelligence® consultancy and marketing firm.
After landing in the U.S., Lili quickly realized that there were some misconceptions about her origin. Instead of being discouraged by the stereotypes often tied to being from “Colombia”, she was motivated to become a bridge to educate and elevate understanding. This motivation became the catalyst for what she and her team do today with CIEN+ and Culturintel, bringing the power of Cultural Intelligence® to the biggest corporations and brands around the world.
We at Insights Success got into conversation with Lili to learn more about her journey and how she is helping leaders successfully turn cultural trends into profits.
Below are the highlights of the interview:
Brief our audience about your journey as a business leader until your current position at CIEN+. What challenges do you have to overcome to reach where you are today?
I never ever thought I wanted to be a business owner or founder. However, that entrepreneurial spirit activated within me while at Johnson & Johnson, where I spent a decade in a fast-rising career across Global Supply Chain and Marketing roles. As one of the youngest executives then, as Global Director of Marketing Services in the Pharmaceutical sector, I realized I had the unique advantage and perspective to challenge how we look into commercial strategies, consumers and avenues for growth- and that ignited my business curiosity to push beyond the “obvious” definitions and application of diversity and inclusion. That intrapreneurial mindset moved me to pioneer the first ever enterprise wide multicultural marketing strategic roadmap, and co-founding the Hispanic Employee Resource Group “HOLA”, to establish a compelling case for action to turn cultural trends into impact and business growth. And this was the pivotal aha! Moment for me; recognizing that I couldn’t find the company or agency that I wanted to hire driven by data and inspired creatively by culture to tap into these high growth market opportunities- and CIEN+, XL Alliance then, was born.
Draining all of my stock options to self-fund the start of a new venture, my co-founder and business partner Enrique Arbelaez and I both left a promising corporate track to design the marketing company of the future. We knew there was white space to help corporations and brands future-proof themselves as the market shifts continue- a trend well ahead of today’s awakening toward equity and inclusion. With the rigor of data and technology for insights and the creative power of inclusive minds that weave cultural inspiration into everything we do, CIEN+ was born as a Cultural Intelligence® Engine. Today, we have the privilege of guiding and influencing some of the most iconic global companies and brands like Google, GSK, Merck, PepsiCo, Prudential, among other Fortune 100’s.
I am currently one of the few former corporate executives and Latina-founder seen almost weekly on national television as a business commentator seen on Fox News, Fox Business, CNN en Español, among others- always bringing the power of numbers and business analysis into today’s news. I also have the honor to be one of only 2.6% of Latinos serving on a Fortune 500+ public board, as an independent director at Zumiez (NASDAQ: ZUMZ). Other boards I serve on include AUA Private Equity Partners, Harvard Women’s Leadership Board, and the National Board of Directors of the YMCA USA.
Tell us something more about CIEN+ its mission and vision.
CIEN+ is on a mission to empower every corporate leader and brand with the power of Cultural Intelligence®. We strongly believe that given today’s shifting demographics it is mathematically impossible for any company to achieve their full potential and future-proof their growth without an inclusive approach to their business strategies and marketing- and that’s why we exist.
What we do transcends traditional “marketing agency” offerings, which is why we are trusted by some of the most iconic brands around the world. We bring the power of A.I. and data for human understanding with our Market Research Tech CULTURINTEL. We accelerate organizational readiness and strategy design with our CULTURAL INTELLIGENCE ACCELERATORS. And ultimately, put theory into practice with our MARKETING AND CREATIVE execution to engage and reach consumers with relevance.
However, none of this would be possible without the power of our people and the anchor of our values, which are the guiding principles for how we do what we do everyday.
Enlighten us on how you have made an impact in the Marketing & Advertising niche through your expertise in the market.
What we do is not niche, but the new American mainstream. In fact, by the year 2040, the U.S. will become a majority-minority country, and those shifts call for a business mind-shift that makes inclusion everyone’s job and inclusive of all. The math is quite simple; you cannot anticipate and drive incremental growth without investing in the consumer segments that are driving ALL the growth.
And that is why we have made it our mission for over a decade to empower leaders with inclusive data, strategy, and marketing that is designed to future-proof opportunity and stay relevant. The bottom line is simple, and the numbers tell a clear story…making it mathematically impossible for companies to achieve their full potential in society and business without cultural intelligence.
In an era when everyone recognizes the importance of inclusion as part of business strategy and ESG requirements, we- CIEN+- have been ahead of that trend for a decade. That has enabled us to lead in our ability to bring AI-powered insights that are inclusive, agile, and scalable and apply these into strategies and marketing campaigns that are always data-driven and inclusive.
This is why, in my most recent TEDx Talk, called “Diversity is Overrated”, the notion of diversity is challenged and flipped on its head, highlighting why inclusion is not a program or an HR mission but a mindset for activation cultural economics and growth. And that rewrites the rules of graduation from “doing multicultural marketing” to “marketing to a multicultural nation.”
Where do you envision yourself to be in the long run, and what are your future goals for CIEN+?
I see myself as a catalyst of change as one driven to “culturize” boardrooms around the world to drive purposeful profits in all they do. Just as people thought of Covey when it came to Leadership Principles, I envision a world where leaders around the world think of us when it comes to Cultural Intelligence in business. Our end goal is to globalize and embed our inclusive data and creativity in as many F500s as possible to accelerate business as a force for social impact and business growth.
What would be your advice to budding women entrepreneurs who aspire to venture into the multicultural sector?
To entrepreneurs venturing into the multicultural market I would say 3 things, which typically align to what I’d like to call the “marketing macarena”, getting to the heart, mind and wallet, in that order. First, get to the heart of the matter, becoming a student and master of the cultural dynamics that move and influence people, and that can only happen with a learner mindset and a cultural curiosity and exploration that is ALWAYS ON. Culture is lived not just read about. Second, get to the mind, decoding and mastering the power in numbers. Multicultural or inclusion matters are not an altruistic mission but a business imperative, and that can only be fully contextualized getting to the “minds” of decision-makers with the undeniable power of the numbers to tell the story behind the cultural shifts. And finally, third, get to the wallet. None of this works without daring to APPLY and execute on the opportunities, get started in DOING beyond pondering on the numbers and research. And to do so successfully, recognize that scalable impact happens as a collective, that you must surround yourself with people smarter than you and tap into circles of influence that can shortcut credibility and impact from the bottom up.
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