Named one of the Top 50 Hispanic Women in Business, and one of the 100 most Influential Hispanics in the U.S.
Member of Adelphi University’s Profiles in Success program.
Executive Vice President, Western Union Latin America/Caribbean
Fondest Adelphi Memories: Meeting some really fun people; I got to know a lot of new and different people from where I was raised. I remember how much we looked forward to Thursday nights; we’d get together at the Rathskeller and have such a good time.
Favorite Classes: Philosophy 101, which was very hard but very interesting and Operant Conditioning Behavior, where I enjoyed the experience of conducting experiments independently. I remember particularly loving my psychology classes.
Involvement at Adelphi: I was very active on campus. I was part of the University’s Latin organization, La Union Latina. I was a Resident Assistant at Eddy Hall, an orientation leader, and participated in giving campus tours.
Charting Her Own Path
As Executive Vice President of Latin America/Caribbean for Western Union, Liz Alicea-Velez oversees sales, service, marketing, systems operations, financial, and support functions throughout the Caribbean, Central America, and South America – the largest remittance receiving region in the world. Over the years she has earned numerous accolades for her leadership, including being named one of the Top 50 Hispanic Women in Business in 2001, and one of the 100 most Influential Hispanics in the U.S. in 2007.
In addition to hard work, Mrs. Alicea-Velez attributes her professional success to a valuable lesson her family instilled in her at a young age: “I was taught to be open to different experiences,” she says. “I didn’t have the perfect roadmap to my career, but I learned along the way. I believe there is something to take away from every experience.”
Born and raised in the South Bronx, she remembers the emphasis her family placed on education. “My family was focused on the fact that I’d graduate from high school and go on to college,” she recalls. “How I’d pay for it, they weren’t sure, but they figured I was resourceful enough to find a way.”
It was her high school guidance counselor who introduced her to the University: “Adelphi offered me a very generous scholarship I was able to take full advantage of, and gave me the opportunity to go away and see what college was about,” she recalls.
She distinctly remembers her initial impression of the University: “Adelphi’s beautiful campus was so different from anything I was used to,” she says. “Seeing it made me want to go there even more; I couldn’t wait for college, and to get away from the Bronx.” While she enrolled at Adelphi uncertain of what major she wanted to pursue, she savored the opportunity to explore so many potential careers. “With my background, I had never been exposed to all the different fields an Adelphi education had to offer.”
After graduating with her bachelor’s degree in psychology in 1978 – she and her cousin were the first members of her family to complete their college degrees – she felt the value of her accomplishment immediately. “Earning that degree opened up a whole new world for me,” she says.
Although her heart was set on becoming a psychologist, financial obstacles kept her from continuing towards a Ph.D. “Money was such a challenge back then,” says Mrs. Alicea-Velez, who needed a full time job right out of college. After spending the next 10 years working in sales, she was ready to make a career shift.
Having relocated to Massachusetts after her husband was accepted into Harvard University’s MBA program, she – also interested in earning the next degree – applied to Harvard as well, and was accepted. Although she was initially wary of entering Harvard, once she began her coursework, she felt confident in her abilities: “I received a good education at Adelphi,” she says. “I felt equally prepared to the students in the program who had received undergraduate Ivy League educations.”
She remembers the next three-year period to be “exciting and crazy,” since she and her husband were both working towards their MBA. “The first year I worked while he went to school, the second year we were in school together, and the third year, he worked while I finished my degree.”
Determined to embark on a career in an industry that was up and coming, in a role that would allow her to utilize her bilingual abilities, she entered the Spanish-language television industry. She drew upon her Adelphi education working in this capacity: “A lot of what I learned in psychology helped in marketing,” she explains, “because you’re trying to learn the psyche of the customer.”
With the birth of her first child, she stopped working temporarily to spend time at home with her baby, before she re-entered the working world when she was hired at Western Union as a product manager: “It was a job opportunity which allowed me to use my Spanish language and marketing skills, and to work with Latin American countries,” she says.
Since joining Western Union in 1992, she has held a number of increasingly senior-level positions over the course of her 17-year career, culminating in her current role as Executive Vice President, Western Union Latin America/Caribbean. “Western Union has given me lots of career opportunities. I’ve been able to run different businesses, and projects have brought me to Latin America, Europe, and across the United States,” she says. “I’ve had the chance to see the company from many different perspectives.”
It is this diversity, along with a constant exposure to new and different experiences that has made her career so enjoyable: “I get to work with really smart people from all over the world. I love the fact that my work affords me the opportunity to travel all over the world and see places I’ve read about; I get to experience other cultures, and learn from them.”
She urges Adelphi students to maintain a similar outlook as they embark on their own career paths: “You don’t know where or how you’ll learn, so make every step along the way a learning opportunity,” she says.”This will be beneficial throughout your career.”
Mrs. Alicea-Velez lives in Florida with her husband, and their son and daughter. In her free time, she enjoys exercising, spending time with family and friends, and skiing.
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