What makes a superstar, in business and in life? Why do some of us develop into leaders while others languish in frustration? How can ordinary people identify their dreams and make them become realities? Ralph de la Vega, CEO of AT&T Mobility and Consumer Markets, the cell phone company currently vying for first place with Verizon, speaks to these questions and others in his new book, Obstacles Welcome, which appeared in bookstores across the country, and on line, September 2009.
Although books about business practice abound, it is unusual to see a top-level executive illustrate his strategies for success with personal stories. De la Vega’s tactics are grounded in a set of principles: Integrity, Credibility, Teamwork, Commitment, Imagination and Excellence, values de la Vega believes are “the only way to win.” The first of these, integrity and credibility, are necessary to gain and retain the loyalty of customers and employees alike, “not only the right… but the wise” way to communicate and conduct business, he says. Teamwork is a combination of understanding our individual roles in the broader picture, awareness and inclusion of multiple perspectives, and commitment to hard work, even if it means sacrifice of personal interests. Finally, willingness to approach obstacles imaginatively, take risks, and aim high crown de la Vega’s foundation. “There is no future in believing things can’t be done,” de la Vega explains. “The future is in making them happen!”
De la Vega imagines two specific groups as his audience for the book’s message, although he repeatedly reminds readers that his ideas have application even in our private challenges. One of these groups is young people, an audience de la Vega has a deep affinity for, as evidenced by his many years commitment to working with the Boy Scouts and Junior Achievement. Though exact numbers vary, depending on who is measuring and being measured, statistics show drop out rates are high for secondary and college students.
“Good role models are essential,” de la Vega insists. He credits his grandmother, his abuela, for setting standards in his own life. “I will never forget it for the rest of my life,” he says. “She really took me in hand, but the bottom line was, ‘Stay in school. Get an education,’ and I did. I couldn’t stand the idea of being less, disappointing her.”
De la Vega faced challenges in acquiring education, experience that qualifies him especially to talk with young people about finishing school. “I was supposed to be a mechanic. That’s the future my guidance counselor at school laid out for me – because of my English, which I was still learning, and because of my financial background. I almost let my first job ruin my potential. I was sweeping floors at a factory, got promoted, and at sixteen years old was in sales. Imagine it! I had money in my pocket and I thought that was enough. I didn’t see I was giving up before I’d begun. It was my grandmother who showed me I was allowing myself to be satisfied with so little.”
De la Vega’s second audience for the book is executives-in-the-making, managers and aspiring entrepreneurs. “It is never too late to begin,” he explains. “Sure, ideally you realize your situation early in life, but when doesn’t matter so much as taking action once you’ve received that motivation.”
Some of the beauties of Obstacles Welcome are the simplicity of the language and clarity of expression. Each chapter addresses a key concept, followed at the end with a list of “take-away points,” the main ideas to remember. “I didn’t want to write a book you’d need a college education to understand,” De la Vega explained in a conversation about Obstacles Welcome. Instead, he shows readers how to attain success. These strategies include: establishing a vision, creating a plan, taking necessary risks, developing self-discipline, and watching for opportunities (welcoming obstacles as chances for excelling). He also talks about being prepared, so you don’t get passed up for promotions. “No one comes into a job ready for any possibilities. You have to face your weaknesses and make sure to fill in whatever is lacking in your profile.” De la Vega cites his personal weakness in speaking before a group as an example. He solved the problem by enrolling in a night class on oral presentation. “I used to dread it, but now I actually enjoy leading in a speaking situation.”
De la Vega’s graphics illustrate relationships between concepts. These drawings allow readers who have different learning styles to perceive his messages clearly. “The first rule of delivering a message,” he says, “is to repeat it, and then repeat it again.”
Readers who are expecting Obstacles Welcome to tell the life story of a celebrated and successful business executive will be surprised to find themselves reading, instead, a handbook for making a success of their own lives. “I started writing with a chronological narrative in mind,” explains de la Vega, “but it was dull. I didn’t think it was going to inspire other people. I sat down with my friend Peter Brown [de la Vega’s editor] who showed me how I could make it more entertaining for readers.” In fact, careful study of the book’s structure will show that de la Vega applies his strategies for success in business to making Obstacles Welcome a success in writing.
The book can be purchased at Amazon.com and fine bookstores everywhere.