Tell us a little bit about yourself (work history/hobbies / fun facts)
Coming out of college as a mechanical engineer, I spent the first 4 years of my career working in heavy industrial machine design and manufacturing for a company designing high-speed compressors for industrial pneumatics. I did what every engineer does and looked for something that was heavily designed focused; spending those first 4 years doing a lot of R&D on high-speed motor design and roto-dynamics. That was a great introduction into the working world and machine design for me, something I have always been passionate about but after those 4 years, I was looking for something new and different. In walks a recruiter, with an exciting opportunity at Acuity Brands in lighting design. I did not know much about lighting, but it sounded cool, so I took it on. I spent the first 2.5 years here doing mechanical design for our industrial luminaires and the last 2.5 years being a product manager for those same luminaires – interesting to be on both sides of the same product and have to try and sell something I designed – all the while finishing up my MBA at Tech.
For most of my youth, I thought I wanted to spend my life working on and designing cars. I fantasized about working for the AMG group at Mercedes or for Lamborghini as an automotive designer. I even went as far as to get an interview with Michelin out of college to go do racing tire design and R&D. Let’s just say when they told me “you work in CAD and design the tires on Monday-Friday and then watch someone else have fun tearing them up on the private racecourse Saturdays...” I decided that was not the job for me. I love cars but I realized I loved driving them, not designing them or their tires.
How has your experience as a Hispanic American been working in corporate America?
It is interesting, actually, how often I have this conversation with my parents & brother still. In the 12 years, I have been working in corporate America I have noticed a few things. Firstly, people’s reaction to my heritage changes depending on whether they see me first or they hear my last name spoken first. I’ve had so many people pre-judge who I am and what I’ll sound/look like (for better or worse) based on the “Rodriguez” last name but on the contrary, if they met me as Eric and I tell them about my heritage they’re so surprised and “would have never guessed”. Secondly, most people do not care about my ethnicity in the workplace. I have almost never felt outcasted for being Hispanic. Thirdly, speaking Spanish has invaluably aided me in being successful in communicating where non-Spanish speakers cannot; it truly is an asset.
I can say that I have never had a truly negative experience working in corporate America because of my ethnicity so far. Most people are generally interested in who I am, where I come from, and the pretty incredible history of revolution on my fathers’ side. With that said, I have had people be upset if I have been promoted or even having to report to me before because I was an “affirmative action” hire. That rarely comes up in conversation, but it does irk me to know that no matter how far I get or how hard I work there could always be someone stewing on this even if it’s not true.
Ethnicity and race still have a long way to go in corporate culture. Even in 2020, you see the C-level landscape lacking meaningful diversity, but it has been improving over time.
I look forward to hopefully being able to add to that ever-changing landscape and making an impact not just as an employee, but as a member of the Hispanic community.