You get the sense by talking to and meeting Jessica Ruvalcaba that the word “obstacle” exists in her vocabulary as a mere formality — because it has to and she has yet to discover a way to physically remove it from her personal dictionary. Only the bravest and most driven people can say that about themselves. And it doesn’t take very long into a conversation with the LAM Member of the Month to know that she falls into that elite category because there are obstacles that can slow the typical person down, and then there’s Ruvalcaba, who sees those familiar foes as fuel for her passion and vision.
Nowadays, instead of crashing through those obstacles, Ruvalcaba flies over hers — quite literally. Not too long ago, the LAM Member of the Month was on a plane flying over to Brazil, South America, cutting through clouds en route to sit across a table from the future of Latin American communication with millions of dollars in support on the line. As the Marketing Manager of Latin American at Cisco, Ruvalcaba is at the forefront of how Latinos communicate around the globe. The 30-year old, mother of two travels to South America, supporting 44 countries, 44 different sets of rules, 44 different obstacles in hopes of negotiating and facilitating partnerships with Cisco and the top Latin American companies on planet Earth. Jessica has been part of the Cisco’s Latin American services team which has increased to 23 percent— that number is incredible considering that a six or seven percent increase is more typical.
“There is a big, huge opportunity,” Ruvalcaba said. “[The Latin American market] is growing like crazy. In the beginning, no one was focusing on Latin America. You had someone in Russia managing all of Latin America. So, last year, in August, the Americas merged and they didn’t have an infrastructure, marketing initiatives to push services.”
Ruvalcaba was an intern at Cisco still working on her MBA when news of the merge reached her ears. And despite being surrounded by people with 20, even 30 years of experience under their belts, Ruvalcaba dared to believe she was capable of taking the Latin American wing of Cisco to levels it had never seen before. When a huge chunk of the corporate world was telling her that she couldn’t, shouldn’t, wouldn’t, Ruvalcaba knew she could, should and would.
Ambitious? Sure. But Ruvalcaba the intern already knew a thing or two about obstacles and how to overcome them. She had practically been doing that her entire life.
“There were a lot of people holding me back,” Ruvalcaba said. “I grew up in a humble place, a very humble place.” Ruvalcaba tells of living under the system, one of four children and a mother who envisioned molding her daughter into a good wife one day and the not the Latin American head of a huge corporation. “It was difficult for her to make ends meet,” Ruvalcaba said.
And all the anger, frustration and grief boiled over as Ruvalcaba approached the idea of college, so much so that Ruvalcaba tells of her adventures in gathering intel for her slew of applications — quite literally, Ruvalcaba had to break into her mother’s personal safe to get simple tax returns, make copies and return them before her mom would notice.
And that was the easy part.
From forging signatures, to threatening with jail to battling a community and friends who weren’t supportive of her vision and goals — what you should gather is that from a young age, Ruvalcaba was determined to change her course and give her life a deeper purpose.
“People, when I was younger, would set expectations for me,” Ruvalcaba said, “so I realized that I’m the only one that can set my own expectations. I’m the only one that can determine how high I can go.”
The first step on that rise was Cal State University at Monterey Bay, where Ruvalcaba earned her MBA in Business Administration and an internship at Cisco where she was mentored, by believers and doubters (but eventual-believers), from the ground up.
“I had to prove to all these people that I really could do it,” Ruvalcaba said of her rise up the Cisco ranks. “The manager had said, when I was an intern, ‘Jessica, we just have you here an intern and you probably won’t be hired here because this is only for senior management.’
Oh, how wrong he was.
In the span of less than a year, Ruvalcaba went from working any job she could get hands on to having her manager fielding requests for employment inside the company. Ruvalcaba did more than just catch the attention of a couple people, more than turned heads — she changed perspectives. And so, when the senior management position for Latin America opened up at Cisco, did you really think something like 20 or 30 years of experience from other potential suitors was going to get in her way?
“That’s where my heart was,” Ruvalcaba said. “That’s what I really wanted to do. I was part of the team that was setting the stage for Latin America. I can have the opportunity to bring in my ideas and make a difference. I can strategically plan because this a growing market and there is a huge opportunity for growth.
“I was beyond thrilled,” she said about earning the management position barely a year after completing her MBA and first walking through the Cisco doors. “But I was super scared of not meeting expectations. It’s a big job. I was completely shocked that I had gotten the position. (But) I didn’t have to be afraid anymore — [I knew] that I could actually succeed and complete the job successfully. I still go to work and say I’m going to give 100 percent. It doesn’t have to stop now.”
It hasn’t. With Ruvalcaba’s support, Cisco continues to experiencing success.
“Believe me, I’m very humble,” Ruvalcaba said. “I’m very appreciative and I’m very aware that I cannot do this alone. I’m very appreciative of those people that doubted me and that were negative because the only thing they did was push me harder. The people who helped me, who believed in me, who gave me the opportunity — completely appreciate it. I couldn’t have done it without them. All these accomplishments we’ve done in Latin America, it’s not just me. It’s a group of highly intelligent professionals at the Americas Cisco Services organization. I am a part of that success, but I am just a small part. I am happy to have been a part of that success.”
Ruvalcaba’s successes continues ultimately because she refuses to see any obstacle as an excuse — not at work or at in her personal life, where she’s dropped 140 pounds in less than two years and recently decided that it’s never too late to learn to play the piano.
“You need to have a vision,” Ruvalcaba said. “If you can envision it, you can accomplish it. You really need to work hard and you need to prove it to yourself. Make the correlation that hard work equals rewards. You really need to have the passion for it.”
It’s at that point that all your obstacles too become a formality.
About author Julio Lara: Julio is a LAM Member and sports reporter for the San Mateo Daily Journal. When he’s not at a ball game working on press row, he likes hanging out, listening to Rock En Español and sharing a good sangria. You can follow his personal blog here: http://ohmyjuly.wordpress.com/.
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