The Harmony Maker

This Latin Grammy executive embraces a multitude of musical and business styles

By Katrina Brown Hunt

Davina Aryeh acknowledges that the latest initiative at the Latin Grammy Awards could not have come at a more appropriate time. The new Leading Ladies program, which Aryeh helped launch as the chief marketing officer for the Latin Recording Academy, honors women making a difference in the very male-dominated Latin music industry. “It stemmed from everything you’re seeing in Hollywood right now, even before the discussion of abuse,” says Aryeh, who’s based in Mexico City. “It was about looking at the (gender) disparity in the Latin music industry and asking, How do we chip away at that culture?” The 2017 winners included recording engineer Marcella Araica, “Despacito” co-songwriter Erika Ender, and Univision executive Jessica Rodriguez.

Aryeh knows plenty about making her way through a male-dominated industry, having cut her teeth in sports marketing—working both for men’s professional tennis, with the ATP, and for the NBA.
Diversity Woman spoke with her about her own path, the essence of sales, and tapping into the power and diversity of Latin consumers.

Diversity Woman: When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?
Davina Aryeh: I was born in Costa Rica and grew up mostly in Miami, then in the New York area. I wanted to be—or thought I wanted to be—a foreign news correspondent. I studied political science and language in college, and wanted to do something very international: see the world, meet interesting people, and make a difference. Ultimately, and ironically, when I had my first internship in journalism, I realized I was more interested in what people on the business side were doing.

DW: Who were your biggest mentors along the way?
DA: My parents served as my first mentors, even professionally. My dad was very entrepreneurial—he taught me the importance of networking, of making human connections and treating everyone equally. He worked in finance, and seeing him do his business was very important, and that can be transferred to any industry. My mom gave me the aspect of passion. She’s very socially driven, very philanthropic, and she drove that home for us—doing everything you do within your own ethics. That’s so important today, when we see lines being blurred.

DW: What kind of music influenced you the most growing up?
DA: My mom is Costa Rican, my dad is Persian and Swiss, and I grew up in the States. When I was growing up, music and cultures ranged from Latin music with my mom to great rock ’n’ roll and hip-hop in the States to awesome French and Italian music from my dad. I then had a stepdad who introduced me to jazz and bossa nova. But I always had an affinity for the Latin space. It’s an exciting time for Latin music, and it’s becoming much more global, ranging from Ricky Martin to Pitbull and Maluma.

DW: What is your main mission these days with the Latin Grammy Awards?
DA: To position the Latin Recording Academy as a leading brand for companies and corporations to align themselves with, and to reach, this very valuable consumer—the Hispanic and Latin consumer who has strong purchasing power, strong opinions, and strong values. We’ve seen the blessing of aligning ourselves with Fortune 500 companies—McDonald’s, Walmart, Mastercard, and luxury brands that have never explored marketing to the entirety of the Hispanic community: Mexicans from Mexico, Spanish from Spain, Portuguese, and Brazilians. Music is something that represents the culture and values, and it’s a passion point for Hispanics.

DW: Is it tough to market to all of those different cultures at once?
DA: The exciting thing is just that—the richness and the diversity of the cultures, and those differences. Just from a musical standpoint, the countries all have their own histories and genres—it’s so fascinating. This allows a brand, instead of just doing an endorsement, to align with us and how we represent the cultures. For me, coming from a sports background, it’s like the Olympics—bringing all the sports together and culminating in one event a year.

DW: With the Leading Ladies initiative, what professionals did you want to honor, beyond well-known performers?
DA: At the top level, C-level positions, you have very few women, even though there are many women in the industry—they’re just stuck in lower administrative roles. So we decided to honor six women who are trailblazers in the industry in a very diverse area—to look at the women in business and STEM, like music engineering. That is the most male dominated, but you find women who have risen through the ranks, like the CMO of Univision to a music engineer who has done mixing for Madonna. These are Hispanic women whose stories are not being told, but there’s also a tangible takeaway, where we could put the profits from the event into a scholarship for young women who wanted to pursue careers in the music industry.

DW: When you started out, were you optimistic or pessimistic about working in the traditionally male sports industry?
DA: I knew I would need to work harder, and the standards would be higher, and I had to be careful with my reputation and the perception I created—indeed, like a men’s sports league. But on the flip side, you can turn your obstacle into an advantage, like David and Goliath. Sometimes when you have an advantage, it’s actually a disadvantage—people expect more from you. As the underdog, you can come in and be innovative and stand out.

I also had a strong mother who gave me self-confidence and who told me I could do anything my brother could do, from an early age. Now that I am a mom myself, it’s important to instill that in our kids because it manifests itself later in your confidence—that you actually think you are equal and that you treat everyone equally.

DW: What makes a good salespersonóis it sheer talent, or can it be learned?
DA: It’s probably a mix. There is definitely some natural inclination, something innate in some people, that gives them an edge—maybe being an extrovert and not being afraid to ask for things—but then there are people who feel strange asking for money. Many times the person who knows how to listen and understands timing and keeps up in a different way with their contacts and creates strong relationships is the one who does well. One of my biggest lessons from business school is that sales shouldn’t be a zero-sum game; it should be an opportunity for us to provide a solution to a client, and for the client to gain that solution—finding a win-win.

DW: What object in your office says the most about you?
DA: I think it’s the picture of my family—we have two kids, ages three and four—which reminds me that I’m this complex person with two aspects of my life. I can be a professional and a supportive mom and wife. Millennials are pushing us to create more balanced lifestyles, and having become a mom, I strive to find an opportunity to do both in a way that allows me flexibility and to be present in both areas.

DW: What was your first job as a teenager and what did you learn from it?
DA: I wasn’t even a teenager—I was 12 when I organized a babysitters club in my classroom. I organized about 14 of us, and we babysat younger kids. We charged $2.50 an hour, and we went as a team, two babysitters at a time. It was an exciting project—it was a small school, and the younger kids wanted the older kids to babysit them. We learned how to make money, manage money, and create a schedule. It was fun and it also taught us about working as a team. It was cool—my first foray working with a group of women. DW

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