Blog, Membership Spotlight

In Her Footsteps: Advice from Susana Marino

Susana Marino is the President & Founder of the Northern Virginia Hispanic Chamber of Commerce (NOVAHCC). Susana provides strategic direction for the programs and personnel of NOVAHCC. She works to ensure fiscal responsibility and oversight for all organizational operations, supporting the growth and prosperity of small and large businesses in northern Virginia. Susana has grown membership for the chamber by 70% since August of 2017.

Susana is fluent in Spanish and is also the President of HR101 Workforce Solutions Group. A boutique company which provides strategic workforce development, staffing, and human resources services for medium-sized firms. Susana partners with businesses and non-profit organizations to help them move to the next level with employee retention, strategic workforce development, staffing, and human resources best practices.

“The idea is for business leaders to concentrate on growing their businesses, instead of focusing on non-revenue tasks.” – Susana Marino, President & Founder, Northern Virginia Hispanic Chamber of Commerce

Susana was born in Venezuela and spent part of her childhood in Bordeaux, France. Her family moved to France when her father, a surgeon, received a scholarship to complete a fellowship. Adjusting to a new school system and learning a new language was difficult, but this experience taught her the challenges immigrants’ children face when they arrive in a new country.

“That is why I support DACA, the chance of all immigrant kids to be able to attend college and complete a degree in the United States with a legal status is key for America to continue building its foundation and cultural tapestry in the idea that diversity makes us stronger.”- Susana Marino, President & Founder, Northern Virginia Hispanic Chamber of Commerce

Susana decided to launch the Northern Virginia Hispanic Chamber of Commerce in 2017 to fill a void in the level of services for Latino, Veterans, and other minority businesses in Northern Virginia. However, NOVAHCC is a cross-cultural chamber where people of all international backgrounds feel invited and welcomed.

The NOVAHCC’s goal is to focus on delivering bottom-line results with: B2B/B2G matchmaking; creating opportunities for economic growth through contracting with the private and public sector; access to capital; networking events; leadership training; and international trade missions developing import/export commerce to and from Latin America and the Caribbean.

One of the NOVAHCC’s pillars is to provide strategic workforce development to assist U.S. Veterans with career transitions. Susana’s oldest son is a former U.S. Marine Corp Sergeant and she understands the challenges our military faces when they transition to the private sector.

“It is key to retrain them to understand it is okay to brand their individual skills and accomplishments, something they are not accustomed to because in the military everything is about the accomplishments of the team” – Susana Marino, President & Founder, Northern Virginia Hispanic Chamber of Commerce

This is why the NOVAHCC is in the process of becoming certified in the V3 Program: Virginia, Values, Veterans.

Why do you think the USHCC’s In Her Footsteps Initiative is important?

It is important to highlight Latinas’ efforts to improve the life of others within their communities. For me, it is important to help businesses grow. Small businesses are the backbone of our economy. 22% of all small businesses are employers and almost half of the nation’s private sector workforce (49.2 %) are employed by small businesses. Since 1995, small businesses have been responsible for creating two out of every three jobs in our country. This is significant. Providing relevant professional development for business owners, tax incentives and subsidies for Main Street America are critical for a healthy economy.

What is your vision for the Northern Virginia small business community and how is your chamber helping make that vision a reality?

Northern Virginia Hispanic Chamber of Commerce was launched with the notion that the Latino business community needed a chamber to provide innovative and strategic programs to accomplish measurable and extraordinary results.  We are technical in nature; our events, workshops, and seminars must be innovative. The deliverables are measurable and chosen to educate business leaders to increase value for their businesses.

Knowledge is power and the Latino business community has not taken advantage of its full growth potential by not taking advantage of opportunities for procurement government contracting and private sector investment into diverse suppliers. Statistics show that once you win the first contract, your business has a 80% chance to win the second one, and so on. Many times these contracts result in revenue increases from several hundred thousand dollars to millions.

The NOVAHCC trains then facilitates face to face procurement opportunities to deliver an ongoing of a series of matchmaking throughout the year in construction, healthcare, engineering services, financial services, government contracting, information technology, and more. The purpose is to achieve bottom-line results, to train business owners to be procurement-ready, and to gain access to economic opportunities.

Who has been your greatest mentor, and how have they helped you in your pursuit of leadership?

My greatest mentor is still my father, Mario Iribarren George, who taught me to be strong and to follow my principles. My parents raised me to believe in myself, and to apply the principles of “good deeds, good thoughts, and good words”. Pursuing higher education was at the core of our family, because my father and my mother were first in their respective families to complete a college education. They motivated me to never get tired of learning, achieving, and to always pursue excellence.

As a business leader, how did you overcome your career obstacles?

I have overcome career obstacles by reinventing myself. In life, you will find more people saying “no” than “yes”, but I always decided that with each “no”, my response was always “why not?”. It was not out of stubbornness, but to understand the mindset of the individual saying no.

The word that describes me best is “relentless”. I enjoy challenges and I am always moving forward to prove that I am able to move the obstacles blocking my path. However, when you open a new business, don’t think you are going to make everyone happy all the time. Overcoming career obstacles is about trying, and trying again until you get it right.

A particular story that has stuck with me is the story of Colonel Sanders, founder of Kentucky Fried Chicken. When he offered his chicken recipe to restaurants he received 99 no’s, before getting his first yes and the rest is history.

All of us, have something unique to offer. Keep going until you get it right, but make sure you make informed decisions and don’t forget to keep your smile in the process.

What advice do you have for Latinas, or women in general, who would like to become business leaders in their community? 

I would advise women to believe in themselves and that it is okay to be assertive. Assertiveness is a quality that when seen in a woman can be frowned upon, even in today’s society.

Also, make informed decisions based on facts, not emotions. This requires you to do thorough research to understand if your product or service can be better, faster, and cheaper than the competition. Knowing your ROI (Return on Investment) while focusing on delivering innovation, but more importantly, choose to surround yourself with subject matter experts who know more than you do and are teachers by nature.

Whatever you decide to pursue, don’t abandon the project until you make it happen. You are in the driver’s seat. Own it and understand your new reality takes time and practice. You don’t know who is watching and who you are influencing with your actions.  I feel a tremendous responsibility when a young woman approaches me to ask me if I can mentor her.

Local chambers are often advocates for their local small business communities; Does your chamber have any particular programs that you see are making a positive impact in your community?

We are creating professional development programs based on 1) what members want, 2) uniqueness and 3) what can produce profitability for member companies.  Based on our research, CEO’s are walking away from membership-based organizations. That is why we are creating programs and events crafted for experienced business leaders who want to continue learning new methods to grow profitability. For example, our CEO Accelerator curriculum is for companies who yet to achieve their first million dollars in revenue. Our  CEO round-table is for more seasoned executives who need an outlet of peer experts to solve particular situations, and the Latino Leadership Academy is for nurturing career opportunities for middle managers who are employed and have not reached a C-Suite position.

What particular or special experiences have shaped your approach to leadership and/or business?

As President of HR101 Workforce Solutions Group (a boutique company which provides strategic workforce development, staffing, and human resources services for medium-sized firms) I have learned the importance of the human capital and placing people based on aligning their individual strengths and capabilities with the organization mission and vision.

I believe that no matter how much one achieves, keeping yourself real, available, and in touch with employees at all levels is fundamental to an organization. Having a true sense of belonging to something bigger than ourselves is human nature. This is why there is nothing wrong with setting the example as a business leader that you are approachable and that you value everyone.

Learn more about the Northern Virginia Hispanic Chamber of Commerce  or e-mail Susana at smarino@novahispanicchamber.com

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