Eugenio Garza y Garza, MBA ’97, grew up in a conservative Catholic family in Monterrey, Mexico. Early on in his studies at Stanford Graduate School of Business, during a core human resource management class, a professor asked students to raise their hands if they supported a certain controversial position. Garza y Garza was the only one who kept his hand down. The feeling in his class was the exact opposite of the overwhelming sentiment in his hometown.
It was a shock, but it was also a learning experience. “It helped me open up,” he says.
At business school, he met people of different ethnicities, religions, and sexual orientations. “Getting their perspective opened my eyes,” Garza y Garza notes. Garza y Garza, who graduated from Monterrey Tech with a degree in chemical engineering in 1992, had always had his eye on attending business school to round out his education. He’d long been familiar with Stanford GSB, thanks to a renowned local businessman: the late Lorenzo Zambrano, MBA ’68, who, along with strong scholarship and alumni programs, kept Stanford top-of-mind in Monterrey. After working for three years as a consultant, Garza y Garza headed to Palo Alto for leadership training.
Once on campus, he found that the small class sizes helped him get to know his professors and his peers, and he learned how to take risks and trust others.
“It’s not necessarily having the right answer,” he says, recalling a lesson he learned early on in class, “but turning the right answer into action by influencing and collaborating and working with people with different backgrounds, and getting them to buy in.”
Channeling Professor Burgelman
After graduating from Stanford GSB, Garza y Garza worked in New York as a vice president at Goldman Sachs and a managing director at Merrill Lynch. He returned to Mexico in 2008 to become chief financial officer at Servicios Corporativos Javer, a medium-sized homebuilder. This was his chance to get back to Monterrey and also to take on a bigger leadership role, albeit at a smaller company.
“It was a risk,” Garza y Garza says. “I knew nothing about this industry.”
He saw the company through a banker’s eyes, but he had to get beyond the financials. So, he drew upon what he’d learned in a strategic management class taught by Robert A. Burgelman, the Edmund W. Littlefield Professor of Management, in order to figure out how the company ran and build trusting relationships with the employees. “It was getting them to trust me as an outsider,” Garza y Garza says. He wanted to show them that “their success was very important to me.”
Trust is especially important in Mexico, where, Garza y Garza observes, owners and managers often have adversarial relationships with employees. When he became CEO in 2012, he says, “I slowly tried to change that.” He took pains to show his workers and executives that they were now in an environment in which they could speak their minds and share opinions without risk — much like the culture he’d encountered at Stanford GSB.
Instilling Gender Diversity
He also tried to bring in new perspectives through diversity. Garza y Garza started adding women to his all-male inner circle when he was hired as CFO. By the time he was promoted, two of the four people reporting directly to the CFO were female — but all of the CEO’s direct reports were men. When he left in January of this year, two of his six direct reports were women.
Meanwhile, Garza y Garza had led the company through an initial public offering in 2016. As a result of turmoil in the industry and acquisitions made by Javer, the company had become the largest homebuilder in Mexico.
Garza y Garza is now a managing director with Lazard, splitting time between Mexico City and his home in Monterrey, where he also spends time volunteering with his wife and four children. He travels a lot, but he feels like he now has a better grip on how to balance career and family. These days, he tries to schedule work assignments to maximize time with his wife and kids.
That’s one element of another lesson Garza y Garza learned at Stanford GSB: the importance of finding a path for one’s life, not just a career. He shows his appreciation for this lesson as a longtime volunteer for the alumni community. He is both a chapter leader in Monterrey, as well a member of the Stanford GSB Alumni Association Board of Directors.
“I owe so much of my personal happiness to those years of school,” he says.
That connection also gets him back on campus a few times a year. “Selfishly,” he says, chuckling, “I love to go back as often as I can.”