Ricardo Casas of SCORE: “You have to take some risk”

The second is that you have to take some risk. I encourage people to move on without having the perfect answer. I find that it’s too easy, if you don’t encourage people to move and not stay in the status quo, to get stuck. As part of my series about “individuals and organizations making an […]

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The second is that you have to take some risk. I encourage people to move on without having the perfect answer. I find that it’s too easy, if you don’t encourage people to move and not stay in the status quo, to get stuck.

As part of my series about “individuals and organizations making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Ricardo Casas.

Ricardo Casas is a SCORE volunteer, certified mentor and serves in numerous roles. He is Assistant District Director for Southeast Florida, member of SCORE’s National Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Council and of SCORE’s Hispanic National Steering Committee. Ricardo also serves on several corporate advisory boards for minority owned small businesses. Prior to joining SCORE, Ricardo has over 20 years’ experience with the ExxonMobil Corporation where he held leadership roles across its global organizations and worked on projects and assignments in 40 countries around the world. Ricardo earned a Master in Management and a Bachelor of Mechanical Engineering from the Georgia Institute of Technology and has completed the Advanced Management Program at the Thunderbird School of Global Management.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I had a long career in the corporate world and spent more than three decades working for ExxonMobil, including as President of Esso Standard Oil Company (Puerto Rico), leading Global Market Planning in Europe, Africa, South America and other parts of the world. Today, I’m am an Assistant District Director for SCORE, the nation’s leading organization supporting small businesses.

Before becoming a SCORE mentor, I had lived in Miami for more than 25 years yet felt I didn’t know the local business community, but I felt there could be opportunities to help entrepreneurs in my community especially immigrant entrepreneurs. I realized I could not only use the skills I honed throughout my career but could also use my knowledge and understanding of the cultures some immigrant business owners were coming from to help them bridge into the business community.

I read about SCORE in The Miami Herald and it piqued my interest. I also had an acquaintance who was with SCORE — so after I retired, I talked to my friend and he got me involved.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?

At first, I was concerned I would not be able to transfer my skills as a leader for a major company to helping individuals looking to start a small business. From day one, I felt like I fit in right away. I realized I had knowledge — both from my years of experience in working at ExxonMobil as well my understanding of the cultural aspects of the community that could really add value to the clients.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Back when I was managing my first small business, we extended credit to a client who was overseas and was not paying. I thought I would get fired, but when I told my boss he said, just fly over, collect the payment and all will be fine. Well, the funny thing is, it took me three trips to get all the money back, but I was not fired. My lesson learned was that we all make mistakes, particularly when we are first starting out — just find a way to recover and move forward.

Can you describe how you or your organization is making a significant social impact?

I think we can make an impact in several ways. One way is that most of these business owners don’t have a large network of contacts they can talk to. In my community, we see in many cases, you have people who have migrated to the US, so they do not have a local network they can lean on. We also see, from SCORE’s most recent Megaphone of Mainstreet Report on Unsung Entrepreneurs, that immigrant business owners really struggle to get assistance in the form of loans and government support, so when you combine that with the disadvantage of having a smaller social network, you can pinpoint a need that our organization can help address.

One way we do that is through one-on-one mentoring. Many people pay for this kind of coaching, and it can be costly with no guarantee of return for the investment. Our coaching is free, unbiased and comes from a genuine place because the coaches have all been there. This is particularly important when you’re working with individuals who, from a cultural perspective, may be expecting a ‘catch.’ People are always surprised by the number of tools we offer access to: business plans, proposal templates, etc., all help people get started and all are free.

Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?

I still think about one of the women I coached — an African American doctor. At first, I was nervous to coach her, because I worried my experience would not lend a lot of examples she could pull from, but that turned out to be wrong.

I helped her write a business plan that helped her secure hundreds of thousands of dollars in financing and open her own practice, and, last year, during the pandemic, I helped her navigate how to maintain her business and navigate the crisis to stay afloat.

To me, I think this shows the nature of this relationship. It’s there when the client needs it and we’re there to help with whatever they need, which is incredibly unique.

Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?

First, I think local agencies and policy makers could help new business owners by streamlining the resources available to them. At SCORE, we work to do this from a mentorship perspective, but for a new business owner just starting out — they may start at the government level and it can be very difficult to navigate the tools available, especially when they differ from location to location.

The other thing we have to think about is more proactively providing resources to new businesses and entrepreneurs. A lot of focus today is on established businesses, and while it’s important to provide continued support (now, more than ever) we have to give avenues for new businesses to emerge, especially when it comes to the immigrant community. In fact, the same report from SCORE notes that many immigrant business owners are more likely to hire — even now, during the pandemic. That means more jobs supporting local economies — that’s what we need now.

Finally, I hope individuals who have found success in the business world, either as leads at large companies or those who have started their own business will become mentors — growing that network of leaders who can give back and help strengthen small businesses in communities from coast to coast.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

To me, leadership is just taking action. It’s very simple, it has to be done by example.

You have to roll up your sleeves and jump in wherever you’re needed. Leadership is not asking questions, it’s just doing what needs to be done.

One of the things that in my work career I’ve experienced — we have two principal roles: individual contributor and supervisor. You would think that leadership is more in the supervisory role, but it has to be in both.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

To me the number one thing is that you have to make decisions, even if you don’t have all the facts and information.

The second is that you have to take some risk. I encourage people to move on without having the perfect answer. I find that it’s too easy, if you don’t encourage people to move and not stay in the status quo, to get stuck.

It’s important for SCORE volunteers to understand there is no failure. If you know you’re doing the right thing, it’s not a failure. Mentors hesitate because their experience isn’t aligned with the individuals they are supporting, but they should remain confident in their knowledge of business. That’s actually been one of the greatest rewards for me- learning about different sectors, food, entertainment, healthcare, etc.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

That’s very kind of you. For me, I think you can impact change for the most amount of good by inspiring individuals who have found great success — in whatever their field — to give back to the next people in line. Volunteering, mentoring, sharing what you’ve learned on your rise to the top, that’s how we can help lift up the next generation of leaders, support our communities and the greater good.

When you are working with people directly, it makes a much bigger impact, because it’s personal. Some people have the fear that they won’t fit it or won’t be able to interact. Don’t feel like you can’t make a difference, because you can.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

There is a famous quote, “Focus on What You Can Control, Leave What You Can’t”. Many times, we spend too much energy and time worrying about the output of something we cannot control. Instead, we need to have the discipline to focus and control the inputs, things where we can make a difference and which we can control.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

There are too many to name! I’d love to have a meal with others in a position to help increase our ability to mentor more business leaders. It would be amazing to sit down with leaders of industry to hear their own stories and take those lessons back to my mentees, as well as leaders of foundations who can help us get the word out about the work we’re doing.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

They can find me on LinkedIn: linkedin.com/in/ricardo-casas

This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!

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