20 Apr CEO Woman: Game Changer? Try Life Changer
Longtime corporate executive Lourdes Mola forged her own path—and is thrilled with the results
Prior to launching Lourdes Mola Solutions, she served in leadership positions for 25 years, working at Fortune 500 companies. She also led one of the largest chambers of commerce in the country—the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Metro Orlando.
Mola cut her teeth in leadership roles at Royal Caribbean Cruise Line and Celebrity Cruises in Miami, then moved on to Walt Disney World, where she served on the opening team of the Disney Cruise Line. In her 20-year tenure at Disney, she led several areas in sales, marketing, public affairs, minority business development, and corporate citizenship, where she was exposed to a wide range of significant local and international businesses, nonprofits, and professional associations.
A self-described lifelong learner, she received her undergraduate degree in marketing from Nova Southeastern University and earned her MBA from Stetson University. She resides with her family in Orlando, a place dubbed the City Beautiful.
Here, Mola shares with DW her thoughts on best practices for launching one’s own business after a corporate career, on overcoming obstacles as a Latina, and on leadership development.
Diversity Woman: What inspired you to leave the in-house corporate world to launch Lourdes Mola Solutions?
Lourdes Mola: It’s remarkable how sometimes the most innocuous comment made in passing can have a profound impact. I was so struck by a statement from a good friend who mentioned that where you spend your time is what you value most. I could not get the thought out of my mind, which prompted a lot of soul searching. It led me to a recalibration of all my priorities. After almost 20 years at Walt Disney Company and 10 at Royal Caribbean and Celebrity Cruises, I decided to depart corporate life and take control of where I spent my time. Although without question my family is the most important thing to me, my actions were not aligned.
In hindsight, my entire corporate career provided the stepping stones I needed to go out on my own.
Through the various corporate positions held, I was able to pick up new skills, sharpen the skills I already had, continue my education, and learn entrepreneurship and leadership traits that serve me to this day.
In the final analysis, the most compelling motivating factor for me was to have the kind of work-life balance that I needed.
DW: What was the biggest obstacle you faced in your first year?
LM: The greatest challenge for me that year, and likely for the rest of my life, was learning to say no. When you are the captain of your own ship, you have to be very wise in deciding what you accept and what you decline. Also, I learned quickly that you can’t do it all. Soar with your strengths and outsource the rest. A great lesson for me was that no is a complete sentence.
DW: What do you love about working for yourself?
LM: Controlling my time, setting my schedule, making time for my family, and having more success in achieving that ever-elusive work-life balance we all seek. It also gave me the platform to contribute to the causes important to me, such as sitting on nonprofit boards and advisory committees to improve our community.
DW: Was it scary to go off on your own? How did you overcome obstacles, both those in your mind and those external?
LM: Absolutely it was scary. We always fear the unknown. But you have to push through the fear and be clear on the “why.” That was always front and center for me. I was blessed to have the support of many friends, colleagues, my beautiful family, and my relationship with God, which reassured me any time I doubted my decision and lifted me up throughout the journey.
DW: Where were you raised? What was your upbringing like?
LM: I am the daughter of Cuban immigrants. I am proudly the product of their sacrifice, courage, work ethic, and love of the opportunity this country afforded us. As a result, I live comfortably in the dichotomy between arroz con pollo and chicken tenders, mojo and ketchup, salsa and pop music. And I wouldn’t change a thing!
Miami wasn’t always easy for us. I grew up in a mostly non-Hispanic area. My classmates teased me about the lunches my mom packed for me—typically Cuban leftovers. My clothes were lovingly homemade by my grandmother. This upbringing served to make me stronger. It taught me how to communicate with others, overcome and celebrate differences, and find common ground.
As a Cuban American, I had the importance of education instilled in me at a young age. I distinctly remember my parents saying, “Castro took away our possessions, but he could not take our knowledge and education.” I obtained my bachelor’s degree while working at Royal Caribbean Cruise Line, traveling the world and experiencing myriad cultures—a degree in itself. These experiences shaped my life and allowed me to think openly and embrace differences.
My parents will always remain my heroes, because they instilled the values that are the foundation of my life, values that still hold true. My husband and children further shape the person I am today and want to become in the future. In our lives, we meet so many people with varying life experiences and points of view. Every new experience influences us to think deeper, examine the reasons folks act a certain way, think, live, and even dress differently.
DW: Describe a leadership lesson you have learned.
LM: After over 30 years of leading teams, I’ve found that one thing is clear: you never stop learning, because life never stops teaching. Early in my career I learned to lead by example, to walk the talk and have integrity and courage. These are hallmarks of leadership. But ultimately, it comes down to how critically important it is to be humble enough to admit you don’t have all the answers.
DW: What are some insights about leadership that you gained more recently in your career?
LM: A big lesson in a post-COVID era is to be adaptable to change, diversify your business, have a plan, and collaborate with other businesses. I learned so much about myself and my team throughout the pandemic, how strong and resourceful we are, and that nothing is impossible if we are willing to roll up our sleeves and get to work.
DW: What career advice would you give ambitious new Latina college graduates? Or an aspiring midcareer woman?
LM: A bit of advice that I have shared in many forums is that if you don’t see someone who looks like you in top leadership, don’t go to that company. However, if you do decide to invest your time in that company, know that the climb will be harder and the obstacles will be greater. Take heart, as there always needs to be a first. And if you do find yourself in the position of being the first, make sure you are not the last.
DW: What are you most proud of in your business career?
LM: As the only Hispanic in many of my roles, I am proud to have opened doors, paving the way for other minorities to grow in their career journey. In 2009, when I was a leader of HOLA, the Disney employee diversity group, we launched a mentoring program called Mano a Mano to help grow and retain diverse talent at Disney. I am extremely proud that this program is still in existence over a decade later, creating cultural competence in leaders throughout the enterprise and increasing awareness of the importance of diversity in Corporate America. Today, I continue my work with the Women’s Business Enterprise Council Florida, certifying women-owned businesses and ensuring they have a seat at the table with corporate and government partners, so we can bridge the wealth gap and level the playing field. DW