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Alumni Reflect on Success and the Role of Emotional Intelligence

April 17, 2015
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Speakers included (from left to right) Susset Cabrera (BBA ’07, MA ’09), CEO and founder of Peacock Public Relations; Stephanie Aoun (BBA ’08, MBA ’11), vice president of Goldman Sachs; Sylvia Arbesu (BBA ‘97), regional director of operations for Starbucks; and Beatriz Llorente (BBA ’98), attorney at law, Offices of Beatriz A. Llorente, P.A. Company.

Criminal defense attorney Beatriz “Betty” Llorente (BBA ’98) confides in her clients that her own father spent time in federal prison so that they know she understands their questions and fears. In the courtroom, she emotionally connects with jurors who will decide her client’s fate. She believes this skill of knowing how to immediately connect with people is the key to her success. “My LSAT scores were a disaster and I passed the Bar eventually, but I had a job when I graduated because of my emotional intelligence,” she said.

Llorente, along with three other business leaders and School of Business alumna, spent an April evening sharing tips with about 100 of the School’s students, prospective students and alumni on how to use emotional intelligence to relate to clients and colleagues, driving their success in the workplace.

So what exactly is this much sought-after quality?

“Emotional intelligence is your ability to manage cues and the emotional information you receive,” explained moderator Sheryl Alonso, management lecturer and academic director of the School’s Johnson A. Edosomwan Leadership Institute.

It’s comprised of five dimensions: self-awareness, self-management, self-motivation, empathy and social skills.

Susset Cabrera (BBA ’07, MA ’09), CEO and founder of Peacock Public Relations, remembers struggling with her self-confidence when she first launched her company. “I lived in a bubble at UM, where nobody would do sneaky things behind my back,” she said. “That was a wakeup call when I entered the real world. It took me awhile to build up my tough skin. I keep going and believe in myself.” 

   

It’s also important to actively listen to people and understand their motivations, said Sylvia Arbesu (BBA ‘97), regional director of operations for Starbucks. She counseled the audience to make accommodations when necessary. “When there’s an emergency, you can call them because you’ve been there for them,” she said.

Stephanie Aoun (BBA ’08, MBA ’11), vice president of Goldman Sachs, not only relies on emotional intelligence to understand her billion-dollar clients and the businesses they run but to work within the culture of her company to build relationships internally.

In fact, Aoun gives so-called EI so much credence that she believes, beyond a certain threshold, it’s more important than IQ. “At the end of the day, if you don’t have that ability to communicate what you’re doing, then your IQ and all of your work may be wasted,” she said. “There’s not a lot of opportunity out there for people who don’t have the ability to connect.”

Toward this end, the panelists said, they definitely gauge emotional intelligence during job interviews. “Any question a client would ask, we ask,” Aoun said. “I ask how they lead in a team. I ask for instances they’ve had to change things.” She recently hired a college basketball team captain without a strong finance background because of his excellent EI skills.

The panelists debated the idea that emotional intelligence is a teachable skill. Arbesu touted the benefits of her daughter’s Montessori education, where she learns to nurture the human spirit. But Cabrera expressed skepticism. “You can’t teach certain things. I’ve had students contact me, and they’re so serious. How do you change that?”

Cabrera recounted a time she summoned her emotional intelligence to avert a crisis. When a celebrity’s publicist expressed concern over working together again because of a misunderstanding about media attendance, “it was a slap in the face!” Cabrera said. “I could have easily have broken that relationship apart, but that publicist is friends with another publicist who is friends with a celebrity. I had to calm down quick because it could have been disastrous.”

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