Ed Torres likes to tell about the day he got engaged. Though he’s now a member of The Consortium’s Eagle Club as a top donor, the University of Michigan student was broke on that day.
He still managed to rent a plane to fly a banner over Michigan’s football stadium for the homecoming game: “Sherri, will you marry me ♥, Ed.” But Sherri—a speed-reader—apparently missed her name as she glanced at the passing banner in the sky.
She elbowed him in the ribs and asked, “Why don’t you propose to me like that?” The story turned out happily: The couple has been married 26 years and has four children.
Since 2002, Torres has been managing director for Lilly Ventures, a venture firm spun off from Eli Lilly and Company that focuses on startups in biotech and medical technology. He earned his MBA from Michigan in 1989 and received The Consortium’s Peter C. Thorp Corporate Leadership Award in 2006. He became an Eagle Club member on June 1, 2008.
We asked him to tell us a little about his experience and the reasons for his deep financial involvement with The Consortium.
How did you first learn of The Consortium and what compelled you to apply for a fellowship?
When I decided to get an MBA, I did research on all of the top 10 business schools. When I received the information from the Michigan B-school (as it was known then), The Consortium figured prominently in the admissions materials. It was one of the main reasons I chose Michigan.
What did you do between undergraduate school and your MBA?
Completed the first year of medical school at Creighton University and then went to work at a nonprofit for two years.
Why have you decided to become so deeply involved financially with The Consortium? How would you persuade someone to become a member of the Eagle Club?
ROI. ROI. ROI. The Consortium, in my opinion, is the best single place to invest if you want to accelerate the ascent of people of color and diverse life experiences into the senior management ranks. I say that not only as a recipient of a Consortium fellowship, but also as a person who was intimately involved in diversity recruiting for a Fortune 200 for more than 15 years.
In what other ways does your work—personally or professionally—align with our mission?
I’m not sure it does directly. But I am certain that my association with The Consortium had a huge impact on my career. My wife Sherri and I have been financial supporters of The Consortium for years. And I routinely mentor young men and women of color. In fact, I did just yesterday!
What benefits have you drawn from your association with The Consortium, both personally and professionally?
Wow. We could write an article with several (fun) stories demonstrating how the Consortium has positively impacted me, my family, my business! First and foremost, I received an MBA from a great school several years earlier than I would have on my own. Second, the networking with Consortium-sponsoring companies was invaluable, as I was transitioning from pre-medical studies to business. Third, the network of colleagues involved in Consortium recruiting at other firms, while I was part of the recruitment efforts at Lilly, is invaluable. I leverage the network professionally often, and several of these people I would call personal friends.
Where would you like to see The Consortium go in its next 50 years? Where are our growth or improvement opportunities, from your perspective?
I’m probably biased as I answer this question. I was part of the Consortium Advisory Board and the Board of Trustees when we did a top-to-bottom long- range strategic plan. That plan resulted in a vision of becoming the place to educate and employ diverse, top-tier managerial talent.
Eli Lilly and Company has been a Consortium corporate partner nearly as long as the organization has been around. Your post-MBA career started there and now you work for its spinoff venture firm. How have you seen Lilly’s commitment manifest over the years and how has that carried over to Lilly Ventures?
Lilly was an early believer in the power of diversity. As I said earlier, I was intimately involved in Lilly’s MBA recruitment efforts for more than 15 years, and as such, I saw both boom and bust years and Lilly always supported The Consortium. In that time, I saw many a Fortune 500 start to support The Consortium, stop and sometimes even start again. Not Lilly. The Consortium is blessed with a cadre of fully committed corporate sponsors.
How has the climate for diversity in U.S. business helped or hindered you on your path? Has that climate changed over the years? Have you seen ebbs and flows? In what way?
I am a fair-skinned Puerto Rican. I have never experienced substantive, obvious racism. My parents did. Many of my friends and colleagues have. As a result, I could actually be a student of racism and society’s attempts to promote diversity. I think in the ’80s and ’90s, it was frequently a numbers game. Fast forward to today, and I think most leaders understand that diversity of experience equals diversity of thought equals better decision-making. We’ve come a long way.
When is the last time you referred someone—either a student prospect or a business associate—to The Consortium? What was the conversation like?
Every year, I have a half dozen young people seek me out to talk about the pros and cons of leaving the workforce to pursue an MBA. Almost always, the conversation results in me boldly and proudly talking about how The Consortium and/or Michigan Ross, as it is now known, helped me get to where I am today.