As Vice President of the GLP-1 portfolio at Novo Nordisk, Ed Cinca oversees brands like Ozempic, Victoza, and the recently launched Rybelsus as well as the GLP-1 pipeline. In 17 years at Novo Nordisk, he has worked his way up through the ranks in marketing and sales as one of the few top Cuban American leaders in the industry.
In honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, I talked to Ed about leadership and performance, team management, his passion for diversity, and his advice for the next generation of Hispanic professionals.
Tell me about your background, from growing up to where you are today.
My parents both fled Cuba as teenagers during the revolution of 1959 and ultimately found their way to New York City, where they met years later. They married and started a family in a mostly Spanish and Jewish neighborhood of Upper Manhattan, where my sister and I were born. Life took us to South Florida and then New Jersey. Along the way, I always felt that I was living in two worlds: speaking Spanish at home, with our Cuban roots, traditions, and “truth”; and speaking English outside of the home, where kids played with neighbors instead of cousins, holidays were dictated by stores, and newspapers told the story of the day. My parents always fully embraced the American Dream; however, there was no doubt that we were Latino and very much in touch with our Cuban heritage—it is an important part of who I am as a person and as a leader.
As a child, you never fully understand the world around you, and I was often protected from its evils by a very protective mother. It wasn’t until we moved to South Florida when I was eight or nine that I had my first encounter with racism. A neighbor called me a “spic,” a word I had never heard before and couldn’t even assign meaning to. I had asked my mother what it meant, and I saw the horror and pain that it created in her. It was upsetting and difficult as she explained it to me. But she also taught me to let it go and concentrate on advancing myself.
My parents put such a premium on education that my diploma from Lehigh hangs in a place of pride in their home to this day. I then got an MBA at Fordham and launched a career on Wall Street. I didn’t know what to expect when I was going to work; nobody in my family or anyone from my neighborhood worked in the corporate world of banking and finance, but I knew that I wanted it and wanted to be successful.
What did success look like for you?
Growing up, I always thought I’d be an entrepreneur. I come from a family of entrepreneurs, so it felt like the natural course. Going instead down a path of corporate America was actually a really good fit for most of the roles I have taken on, where being bold and innovative are rewarded and celebrated. Because of my family influence, I believe I bring an entrepreneurial spirit to my corporate role. I’m in my 17th year at Novo Nordisk and growing from intern to VP has required a hustle mindset. That means always doing what it takes to see success come to fruition. It also means finding purpose in all that I do and treating my roles like my own business where I work for myself. I manage a book of business that impacts the lives of people living with diabetes; therefore, every minute counts. Because diabetes affects the Hispanic community disproportionately, I go to work knowing I’m doing something for my people—helping patients get better control of this disease and live longer, healthier lives. As I have grown as a leader, I have also come to see success as helping others meet their personal and professional goals, whatever those may be, and it has been so incredibly fulfilling.
How has your Hispanic heritage shaped your leadership style?
One thing I found early on as a Hispanic man in a predominantly white business is that I had to
balance being true to who I am while not losing sight of how to manage my career. For example, growing up, my family had passionate (and oftentimes loud) conversations about politics, opinions, and the news of the day around the dinner table every night. That passionate way of communicating became part of my DNA, but when I started my career, I learned that some people didn’t want that level of passion at work. I’m still passionate, but I have tried to find ways to “anglicize” or “soften” the way I express it. Let’s just say it’s still a work in progress. Nevertheless, I have found ways to incorporate open dialog at work and have witnessed the difference it makes in building teams and creating trust.
One management strategy is taking that passion from my family dinner table and bringing it to the conference table. At leadership team meetings, I often put a topic on the table and push the team to share their opinions. Sometimes it is hard to get the conversation started, but once they start speaking up, I know we’re getting somewhere. Because when the team feels like they can share ideas and debate in a safe environment, we have really robust discussions. I also see the payoff in employee satisfaction, engagement, and retention.
To what do you attribute to your success?
As a leader, I pride myself on finding the right people for the job and then empowering them to do it. I am always looking for a diverse group of commercially savvy, independent thinkers. I look for team players who know how to win together. I dedicate a lot of time to the hiring process, working very closely with my recruiters and HR business partners to ensure we are aligned on the type of candidate who can move the business. I invest in the rigor to find talent because I know that building a diverse and high-performing team is the essential ingredient to success.
I’ve also had role models and mentors along the way who helped me get where I am today. In my first job as a lease analyst for a real estate firm, I made a million-dollar mistake on my first deal. I went to my boss and told him what I did—I really expected my first deal to be my last. But my boss helped me to fix the problem and told me that mistakes were part of the learning process—as long as you learn from them and don’t make the same ones again! I accept mistakes as a way to learn, and therefore, mistakes do not paralyze me or my team. That learning, from my first job, is part of the way I continue to lead and advance.
What would you say to up-and-coming Hispanic professionals who are looking to advance in their own organization?
My advice for all up-and-coming professionals would be to have purpose in their development and a long-term vision of success. Always plan multiple steps ahead. I tell people to imagine entering their career destination in a GPS and then deliberately plan to get to their goal. You can change your mind or seek out diverse experiences, but make sure they are on the way to your long-term vision.
For up-and-coming Hispanic professionals, I say don’t be dissuaded when you don’t see people who look like you in the executive ranks. Don’t be deterred by what you don’t see; instead, recognize that where you come from makes you unique in the corporate world and is a great opportunity to think differently and to give different perspectives. It is important to be sensitive and to recognize that you may feel like you are living in two worlds—Latino and corporate—but there is a way to make them work together. It will change, and you can be the one to make that change.
Who inspires you—any Hispanic leader role models, and why?
Roberto Goizueta, the Cuban American who rose through the ranks of the Coca-Cola Company to serve as Chairman and CEO, is a role model for me and a great example for up-and-coming Hispanic professionals. Goizueta was always a learner; he asked questions and wasn’t embarrassed by what he didn’t know. I try to live that in my career. I am proud to follow my fellow Cuban American into the corporate world, and I hope to continue to create value in healthcare and to be successful in my future roles.
When Ed Cinca talks about business, you can feel the passion. He boils his secrets of success as a Hispanic male in the corporate world down to these three tenets: be true to who you are, empower your team to have a voice and do their jobs, and lead the way for the next generation of Hispanic leaders.