When it came time to select a career path, Teodoro “Teo” Gonzalez Jr. felt pulled to follow in his father’s footsteps — but not too closely.
Currently the CFO at Simplex Group in Miami, Fla., Teodoro “Ted” Gonzalez Sr. earned his MBA at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s (UNC) Kenan-Flagler Business School as a Consortium fellow, where he founded and led the Corporate Finance Club. While Teo attended UNC for undergrad, he, on the other hand, decided to earn an MBA from Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business, where he is currently a second-year Consortium fellow exploring brand management and venture capital.
They recently spoke with The Consortium about their similar but divergent paths, how their interests and careers have intersected at times and what The Consortium has meant to them.
Q: Ted, what initially inspired you to get your MBA, and what did you hope it would do for your career as well as for your family?
Ted: Before UNC, I was working on the family’s agriculture business in Puerto Rico, but I realized I had some gaps in my business knowledge. I did my undergrad at the University of Dayton in accounting and marketing, but I knew I had room to improve in finance and operations. Knowing this, I started researching MBA programs because I felt they would open more opportunities to me career-wise, which would, in the end, help me better support my family. My wife, Lillian, had some friends who had just graduated from Indiana with The Consortium, and as soon as I learned about the program, I knew that was the way to go. I’m very happy to say I was right; I don’t think I would be where I am if it weren’t for The Consortium.
Q: Teo, with your father as a role model growing up, was business school always in the cards for you?
Teo: I love my dad, but growing up, I wasn’t too interested in his job because, frankly, I had no idea what the heck he was talking about whenever he said he worked in finance. If you had asked me what I was going to do when I grew up, I was going the medical school route — only to realize that the natural sciences were neither my strength nor my passion.
All that said, my dad having gone to business school and built a successful career in business was without a doubt a significant example of the privilege I had growing up. Toward the end of my college experience, when I was figuring out full-time recruiting, he helped me prepare for interviews and charted out what different career paths could look like for me, but he also knew when to let me be stubborn, toss his advice out the window and fail. His familiarity with all these areas of business helped me steer to the places and functions that most interested me.
Q: While you both decided to pursue business, you took divergent paths, specializing in different fields, so what led each of you to go the direction that you did?
Ted: We are very different personalities. I’m more of an introvert who has learned how to be flexible and shift gears when I need to be extroverted. Teo is a bit more on the extroverted side — kind of like his mom — so it feels natural that we are pulled in different directions. As I learned more about finance and operations in business school, I felt much more comfortable working directly with the numbers than I expected and began to thrive. I pursued that strength and now combine my expertise in finance and ops with my interest in leadership to be an operational CFO and lead my organization.
Teo: I love trying to connect with people to understand where they’re coming from. In brand management at Procter & Gamble, it was exhilarating trying to piece together what our consumers wanted and how that aligned with our business strategy.
My dad is right, I think we have sort of followed our personalities into these functions. Although, something I really appreciate is how we rub off on each other since we come at these problems from different angles. For example, I know finance is definitely not a strength for me, but just from speaking with my dad, I think he’s been able to teach me a thing or two. Similar to my dad, leadership is really important to me, so I’ve been able to connect with him there, learn and build my own leadership style.
Q: How did you make the decision of where to get your MBA, and Teo, what made you decide not to follow in your father’s footsteps and attend UNC?
Ted: We actually did a family road trip when Teo was a baby and visited all the schools I was interested in. As soon as we got to UNC, it felt right. It checked off a number of my boxes: It was a smaller class, which was important to me, and it wasn’t too cold there, which I knew could be a deal breaker for my wife as she was moving out of Puerto Rico for the first time. Walking around the campus, it just felt like home; we loved being in the buildings, people were so warm and friendly, and it was a place I felt our family could flourish.
Teo: Off the bat, I have to say, I bleed Carolina Blue through and through. Going to UNC for undergrad was probably the best school decision I could have made for myself. When I was thinking about where I would go for business school, though, I wanted to experience a new way of life, and my dad strongly encouraged that, which led me to the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth.
I probably have driven all of my friends crazy with this analogy because I use it so much, but I view Tuck as the ultimate training ground — which was just what I was looking for in my MBA. I love sports, so I tried to align my professional journey with that of some of the world’s best athletes, and what occurred to me was that some of our finest don’t spend their time training in the biggest cities. Many of the elite find themselves preparing in a place where they can focus on themselves, their teammates and their craft. For me, nestled in Hanover, N.H., Tuck is the perfect place where you can live and breathe the MBA 24/7; take the time to invest totally in yourself, your classmates and your knowledge; and ultimately push yourself to the highest levels of performance. We come out of Hanover tightly bonded as members of a strong community that is ready to take on any challenge.
Q: What has working in similar industries been like for both of you? What are the benefits and challenges?
Ted: We don’t talk about business too much in our house; usually Teo and I are talking about family matters, politics or sports. However, there have been times we have worked directly with each other, and I think we’ve loved it (unsure if Teo agrees?).
One of my biggest passion areas as a CFO is the role I play in developing our young talent. Throughout my career, I have loved connecting with young members in my organizations and tried to serve as a mentor for them as they navigate our business’ and their careers as a whole. Since I’m already so invested in mentorship, who better to mentor than my son? It’s been great! At the beginning, I think I had some internal concerns about the perception others would have of us working together. I never wanted people to think he was just benefitting from being my son; I wanted them to know he had earned any role or responsibility he had. That said, somehow he figures out ways to win people over pretty quickly, so that concern was relieved early on.
Teo: My dad hit the nail on the head in terms of our business conversations outside of when we work together. Echoing what he said, my dad is a really great coach for people, so I’ve been able to benefit a ton from working with him and just getting his advice. Ultimately, I love getting the opportunity to work with him. One thing that everyone needs to know if they want to get the most out of their relationship with my dad is that he will have high expectations of you at work and will hold you to those. Given that I was already familiar with that kind of relationship, I think I was able to maximize the experience. The challenge that continues to this day is people mixing us up in communications. I’ll never forget the fiasco that occurred once when some executives realized they were accidentally emailing the summer intern rather than my dad.
Q: What was/has your experience been like with The Consortium, and how has being a member of the organization contributed to your success? How do you strive to stay involved and help the next generation of business leaders?
Ted: Joining The Consortium was one of the best things that ever happened to me. Growing up in Puerto Rico, I never felt like a minority at all. I grew up as part of a multicultural majority. The Consortium was the first group that opened my eyes to diversity. It blew the doors wide open for me, starting with expanding my mind on race and then transforming me into a person who seeks out as many different types of diversity as possible.
The Consortium made me a better person, and when you become a better person, you’re able to become a better leader. Being involved and giving back to The Consortium has always been very important to me, and wherever I have worked, I’ve tried to be an advocate and spokesperson for the organization and its schools. Multiple times throughout my career, I’ve aligned my organizations to recruit from The Consortium or to expand recruitment to member schools. Going forward, I’d love to continue being involved and mentor members in some capacity.
Teo: The Consortium, I think, has served as an additional layer of connection for me between people at Tuck and people at other schools who are focused on living out its mission. Whether it was through OP last year or just by connecting with alumni, getting the chance to meet more members of this committed family has been incredible. My hope is that I can support The Consortium going forward by mentoring those who join after me, working to bring about its goals in the organizations that I start or join and supporting initiatives to drive effective strategies for how we recruit and cultivate talent focused on improving the workplace for underrepresented groups.