Annette Franqui Believes in Diversity
By Patricia Guadalupe
Annette Franqui loves numbers. That led her to a career at banking powerhouses JP Morgan Chase and Goldman Sachs in New York and London, and currently as a co-founding partner of Forrestal Capital, a company that provides advisory services to a Latin American family directly investing in businesses. The trailblazing native of Puerto Rico also serves as Board Chair of AARP, the nonprofit membership organization whose mission is to empower people to choose how they live as they age. She joined the AARP Board in 2014 and became its first Hispanic chair in 2020.
“I believe strongly in giving back, and if I’m going to give of my time, I want to do it in an environment and organization that really has all the tools to make an impact,” she tells LATINO Magazine. “When I joined the board, I was just blown away by the quality of the people and the quality of the work and the breadth of the work, how far afield they worked to help people.”
One issue that’s important to Franqui is mental health – her mother has suffered from dementia – and the impact it has on the Latino community. “I just felt that we really needed to address this, and AARP has gone above and beyond what I even envisioned they could do. When you’re faced with this, just having a place to go where you can start thinking about all of the things that you need to do is tremendously important. I have used [AARP resources] myself and shared them with friends who are facing the issue of dementia.”
Franqui adds that AARP makes many of its materials available in Spanish on this and a variety of other issues and concerns, including the website AARP en Español, which she says is key to outreach in the Latino community. Nearly 7 million Hispanics are currently caregivers in the United States. Hispanic adults are more likely to be family caregivers, likely due to a stronger cultural desire to keep their loved ones at home and with high value on taking care of ones’ elders. Half are the sole unpaid caregiver for their family member and most provide care without paid help. “As a Latina, I think we look at caregiving a little bit differently and the fact that they have connected with Latino caregivers is to me supremely important.”
AARP is unusual in the nonprofit world – and corporate America as well – by having a very diverse board. More than half of the fourteen board members are people of color, and four are Latinos. “I’m very proud of being the first Hispanic board chair, and I am ecstatic about the other Hispanics on the board. We all come from different backgrounds and have different experiences. We need to have our voice at the board level,” Franqui says.
The other Latino board members are Rosanna Márquez, a lawyer who recently served as AARP Illinois State President; Julio Portalatin, a director at State Street and retired vice chair of Marsh & McLennan Companies; and Marie Quintero-Johnson, recently retired vice president and global head of corporate development for Coca-Cola.
“We come from different backgrounds, different life experiences, but I think that’s fabulous because that helps us understand our community as a whole much better and know that we can talk as one voice,” says Franqui. “When you have different people from different backgrounds, by definition the ideas that come up, the discussions that come up, are going to be richer. When you are working so closely with people who are different from you, that’s the only way that you understand all the people around you, and because we have a very diverse constituency, you need to do that. It’s a fabulous board and well-equipped to serve our constituents.”
AARP works very closely with its state and local offices and chapters to connect with local communities. “We make sure we are serving diverse communities with localized events and programs and collaborations with other organizations that serve those diverse communities,” she adds.
A graduate of the Wharton School with an MBA from Stanford, Franqui mentions that throughout her career she has counted on several people who have offered guidance: “Of course as you advance in your career, relationships and working with people becomes a huge part of your job, and rather than one mentor, I can think of three people who pushed me outside my limit and probably helped my career the most because they could see that I could do something that I couldn’t see that I could do at the moment.
“I was supposed to have a meeting with a large company in Europe and I’m flying out of a different airport than the guy who was the client relations guy and when I got to the meeting he called me and said that he had missed his flight, and then confessed that he had never meant to go and wanted me to be the principal person in pitching that business. I did, and really appreciated that from him. And there was a woman who was going on maternity leave and she said she wanted me to be interim CEO of this group and that was great. I also think that I’ve really tried, especially in the investment banking world, to be a colleague to everyone, not just the women, not just the men, and I think that really helped me,” she recalls.
Franqui is on other boards including Arcos Dorados, a NYSE-listed company that is the largest operator of McDonald's restaurants in Latin America. She recently joined the board of Oriental Financial Group in Puerto Rico. The number of Latinos on boards, whether nonprofit or corporate, remains low – about 4 percent, and even lower for Latinas – only about 1 percent.
Franqui suggests that Latinos have a lot to offer and it’s a matter of figuring out what that is and making the connections. “For instance, I’ve done a lot of work on consumer and family-led businesses, so if I end up on the board of a family-owned business, I would have sensitivity around issues and some kind of way of looking at issues that would be in tune with what they need. Everyone has a unique sense of where they can contribute the most,” she says.
Franqui adds that there are several groups, including the Hispanic Association on Corporate Responsibility (HACR), and the Latino Corporate Directors Association (LCDA), that advocate for greater Latino representation on boards and offer advice and training for those who have never been board members. Another entrée to joining a board is doing so first on the community level, says Franqui. “Join a nonprofit board in the community and then you start understanding the behavior of the board, the rules, issues the board deals with versus what the management deals with, and all that prepares you.”
Franqui concludes by revealing she finds her service as AARP board chair extremely fulfilling: “A good chair tries to listen to all the voices in the room and get a sense of where we should be landing and incorporate all that to get to a better decision, and have the one-to-one relationships with the management. The board makes sure that the management has the right tools and everything they need to carry out the mission and carry out the strategic plan. AARP is a tremendously important organization that helps improve the quality of life for so many people.”