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ADP's CEO Explains How He Is Living the 'American Dream'

June 04, 2017 00:00 AM UTC
- Updated September 02, 2020 11:46 AM UTC

Carlos Rodríguez explains his journey.

Carlos, your life story is like the American dream. Your parents immigrated to the United States from Cuba. You were only three years old. You came under difficult circumstances. And what did you learn about leadership that took you from your immigrant roots to where you're now the head of one of America's biggest companies? I'm definitely a living example of the American dream, for sure. I think some of the things that I learned through that experience are obviously a lot is through your parents as you as you grow up. And my parents, having the start over again in another country and really not having the benefit of speaking the language and not having a college degree, it was really good old-fashioned elbow grease. So they worked really hard so that my brother and I could get a good education and could have a better life. And so this concept of hard work is something that was really ingrained in me at a very early age. And it taught me a lot a lot about leadership, both at the family level, but also at the business level. Do you have a role model? I do. My role model is actually my grandfather, who spent a lot of time telling me stories when I was growing up. My parents were both working, so my grandparents lived with me. And he would tell me stories about how hard he worked with his own father, my great grandfather. And they had a construction business where they were building the first road that went all the way across Cuba. And he would tell me a lot of stories about, not just how hard they worked, but also how they treated their employees. And those stories always stuck out in my mind about the value both of hard work, which is something that I think I saw through him, and also through my parents, but also how important, when you become a leader and you have an organization where you depend on other people, how important it is how you treat them, in terms of what you get back from them. Well, given your background, what is the key characteristic that you look for when you're hiring someone, especially for a leadership position? Well, as you can imagine, I would say that it's a willingness to work hard, because I think there's no substitute for hard work. The other thing that I would look for is really values and integrity. Because it's the other thing that my parents and my grandparents taught me, which is the one thing that no one can take away from you. And it's oftentimes something that people take as table stakes. But you know, we see all the time in the news and in the headlines stories where people lost their way. And so I think if you forget about your values and your integrity, I think you do it at your own peril. So as you mentor senior executives at ADP, what do you teach them about being a successful leader? Make sure you have a clear mission and make sure you communicate it very, very clearly, whether your team is 8 people or 800 people or 1,000 people. We want to try to have a sense of purpose at the company level for the company, overall. But every team has to have some sense of purpose. I think people bring their best to work. And I think they're willing to work their hardest when they believe that there's something that the common team is striving for. And I think the leader is the one that forms that level of purpose. Carlos, as you look back on your life, both personal and professional, what's the best leadership advice that you've ever received? And why did it shape your style as a leader? Well, shortly after I became CEO, Larry Bossidy from Honeywell told me that, remember that many people can come to the same conclusion taking different paths. And it was really an eye opener for me, because it made me recognize that you can have people of different styles, different backgrounds, and end up being incredibly successful. So it just opens your mind to the possibilities of having a much more diverse team, in terms of thought and background, which I think ultimately strengthens the organization.