Success Lessons from 8 Inspiring Latinas

Leading LadiesBy Marlisse Cepeda

Whether they're filming movies like Jennifer Lopez or ruling on the Supreme Court like Sonia Sotomayor, loads of Latin American women have become household names. But you probably don't know about the Latina politician who got fired for testifying against her boss…and then ran against him for office and won. Or the media mogul who edited a national magazine at 15 and ran a TV station at 22. Learn how these powerful females got their start and climbed to the top of their fields. Photos by CBS Corporation, Getty Images, and Avon Products, Inc.

1. Gisel Ruiz

Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of Walmart U.S.
Ruiz made company history as the first woman in the high-level role. Joining Walmart in 1992, she rose through the ranks, holding leadership positions in departments from human resources to labor relations. She now oversees almost 4,000 stores and 1.4 million associates. The Mexican-American credits her success to her encouraging parents, who met as field workers in San Joaquin Valley, CA. "They always told me that I could achieve anything I wanted, and the only barriers in front of me were the ones I'd create myself," she said when she accepted the Premio Orgullo (Pride) award at the 2013 Hispanic Federation Annual Gala.

2. Nely Galán

Founder of Galán Entertainment and Former President of Entertainment for Telemundo
A Cuban immigrant, Galán is a self-made media tycoon. At 15, she guest edited Seventeen (the youngest ever to do so at that time) after writing an article for them. Seven years later, she became the youngest station manager ever at WNJU in New York. And in 1994, she started her own production company, Galán Entertainment. The Emmy Award winner has produced over 600 TV episodes in Spanish and English (most notably, The Swan) for HBO, FOX and Telemundo. She eventually became a president at Telemundo, making her the first Latina to head a U.S. television network. Her secret? "Once you know what you want, write down a plan to achieve it," she told "I like to plan for a year, then break it down to each month, week and day. Focused intention and small actions every day create results."

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3. Patricia Perez-Ayala

Senior Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer of Avon Products, Inc.
Fresh out of Boston College, Ecuadorean-born Perez-Ayala landed an interview at Procter & Gamble in Venezuela, where she was raised. Despite her hope for a finance job, the company saw her potential for marketing and made her assistant brand manager for Crest. She stayed with P&G for over 20 years holding various positions, her most recent being vice president and general manager of P&G's Eastern Europe division. She moved to Avon in 2012 as the chief marketing officer, responsible for the global management of the brand. Never envisioning a career in marketing, she says that first job interview taught her the value of giving alternative paths a chance.

4. Anna Maria Chávez

Chief Executive Officer of the Girl Scouts USA
In 2011, one year shy of the Girl Scouts' 100th anniversary, the organization celebrated a different milestone: hiring Mexican-American Chávez, the company's first Latina CEO. After studying international law at the University of Arizona, Chávez held several federal and state government titles, including legal counsel for the Federal Highway Administration and deputy chief of staff for Urban Relations and Community Development under former Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano. In 2009, she became CEO of Girl Scouts of Southwest Texas, and kept the position until her groundbreaking promotion. Chávez's advice for budding businesswomen: "Take on new responsibilities and challenges, even if you're not sure you're ready for them," she told "By soliciting feedback and taking things one step at a time, you learn to trust your instincts and deliver better outcomes for yourself and the people you lead."

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5. Susana Martinez

Governor of New Mexico
Martinez has been a force to be reckoned with long before she became the nation's first Latina governor and the first female governor of New Mexico. At 18, the Mexican-American worked for her dad's security company and patrolled church parking lots-armed-during bingo nights. Later becoming a prosecutor, she specialized in child abuse and child homicide cases. At one point, she was asked to testify against her boss, her county's district attorney. Boldly, she agreed, but was fired for it. The political powerhouse-in-training then beat him in his re-election bid, ultimately serving four terms as DA. After her historic win for governor in 2010, Martinez said her victory meant that "someone who grew up in a working family, just a few miles from the border, can achieve anything."

6. Nina Tassler

President of CBS Entertainment
Fans of CSI, How I Met Your Mother, The Big Bang Theory and Criminal Minds have Nina Tassler to thank. Despite her acting ambitions, she accepted a job as a receptionist at a talent agency, which fueled her desire to become a TV executive. Her big break: an interview with Leslie Moonves, then the head of Lorimar Television and now the CEO of CBS Corporation. Working with him for the next two decades, Tassler, half Jewish, half Puerto Rican, has transformed CBS's daytime, primetime and late-night lineups. Getting over 600 pitches a season, she's developed an impressive roster of shows, which also include Mike and Molly, The Mentalist and The Good Wife.

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7. Ellen Ochoa, PhD
Director of the Johnson Space Center

The sky was never the limit for Dr. Ochoa. Just five years after receiving her doctorate from Stanford University, NASA made her the first Hispanic female astronaut. She's had several technical positions at the organization and logged close to 1,000 hours in space-that's more than 40 days! Now retired from spacecraft operations, she became the head of the Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center in Houston, TX, in 2013. Dr. Ochoa, who's Mexican American, is the first Latina and second female to earn the position at the world-renowned facility, which oversees the training, development and research of manned space flights.

8. Gloria Santona

Executive Vice President, General Counsel and Secretary of McDonald's
Santona, the only Latina on the McDonald's executive board, oversees the legal and corporate governance functions of more than 34,000 restaurants in 118 countries. She joined the company as an attorney shortly after graduating from the University of Michigan. Even the biggest McDonald's fan has nothing on Santona, who's called the company home for the past 36 years, holding several positions within the company's legal department. Santona's advice for others: Focus. The Spanish businesswoman told, "Find out what you're good at and then focus on it. If you're doing something you're passionate about, it will come through in your work and you will shine."

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