Liliana Gil Valetta arrived on the campus of Southwestern Adventist University at 17, carrying a suitcase and a dream. She had wanted to study at Harvard University, but her parents, both engineers in the oil and gas industry in her home of Barrancabermeja, Columbia, had scrimped and saved just enough for her to attend the one-year English as a Second Language (ESL) program at Southwestern Adventist University.
Liliana learned English through the ESL program, and she went on to graduate summa cum laude from Southwestern Adventist University. She earned a master's degree in business administration from the University of Colorado. From there, she worked her way up the corporate ladder to lead global marketing services at Johnson & Johnson (J&J), where she was responsible for billion-dollar promotional initiatives and agency contracts. She developed the company's first multicultural marketing plan for the pharmaceutical sector to help the healthcare giant gain even more market share and grow revenue.
“I realized no one was truly looking at the numbers, shifting demographics in the market, and the size of the collective economy and what it would look like in three, five, and 10 years through an inclusive and cultural lens,” Liliana said.
The business-savvy leader seized an opportunity and founded the inclusive marketing agency CIEN+ in 2010. Today, the woman- and minority-owned company provides business consulting and marketing services to “Fortune 500” companies such as CVA/Aetna, Google, and PepsiCo. Liliana founded her second business venture, CulturIntel, in 2016. CulturIntel uses artificial intelligence to provide data-driven market research to tap into diverse and high-growth markets that focus on consumer products, technology, and healthcare. “I am firmly in the business lane,” Liliana said. “The reality is that we live in a multicultural world. Anyone in business who wants to win and capture the market’s full potential must be inclusive in how they understand their customers.”
From student to board member
Education, Liliana says, is one of the greatest equalizers, and it’s why she decided to accept an invitation delivered via LinkedIn from Ana Patterson, a classmate at Southwestern Adventist University teaching business classes at their alma mater, now the University’s first female and Hispanic president. “Next thing you know, Lili was dropping everything and hopping on a flight from New York to Texas to speak to our class, Ana said. “That’s just the kind of person she is.”
Through the guest lecture, Ana connected Liliana with the school’s administration, and Liliana eventually joined Southwestern Adventist University’s Board of Trustees in 2019. Soon afterward, Liliana created the Aurora Hispanic Leadership Endowment Scholarship in memory of her mother to support first-generation Hispanic students. Liliana’s mother was a trailblazer for women in Columbia when she graduated with a degree in chemistry and pursued a STEM career in the 1960s. Challenging the cultural and societal norms of the time, she showed Liliana the definition of hard work, discipline, and a commitment to excellence.
Liliana did go on to achieve her dream of attending Harvard University in 2012, earning an executive degree in Global Leadership and Public Policy from The Harvard Kennedy School at Harvard University.
In 2017, Liliana joined a group of 11 other women business owners at the White House to meet with former President Donald Trump and advise on matters affecting small business owners. Liliana would happily accept the call if asked to participate in a similar program again. “It had nothing to do with politics and everything to do with purpose and responsibility,” she said.
According to Liliana, we all have a responsibility to give back to the world. “Especially for me, as a woman, minority, and immigrant to this country, I’m called to continually give back to my communities,” Liliana said. “I hold myself accountable and always try to remind myself to unleash and inspire the possibilities in others.”
Liliana also believes strongly in the power of unity. “Today’s notion of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion shouldn’t always be about looking for injustices,” she said. “If you look at any community, you can find those. The uniqueness of you, if you choose to dive into it, can give you an edge instead of being a disadvantage. I tell people of all backgrounds to take your unique upbringing and cultural context and use it as your superpower—not as a handicap. My career path and life story are proof.”
Liliana is a recognized cultural intelligence™ expert and World Economic Forum Young Global Leader. She is a regular TV commentator seen on Fox News, Fox Business and CNN en Español, and has been featured by Forbes, The Huffington Post, CNN Money, The NY Daily News, and MM&M, among others. Lili serves as a board member of the Harvard Women’s Leadership Board, National Board of Directors of the YMCA USA, mentor to the Stanford Latino Entrepreneur Leaders Program, and member of the New York State Council on Women and Girls. She is married to Chris Valletta, an award-winning entrepreneur, author, media contributor, TEDx Speaker, and former NFL Player. They have two boys.
This article was condensed from the November 2022 “D CEO” Magazine cover story. Read the full article at https://www.dmagazine.com/publications/d-ceo/2022/november/.