Ralph De La Vega: finding opportunity in every adversity.

Author:Alter, Diane
Position:COVER - Cover story

Ralph de la Vega, Vice Chairman of AT&T Inc. and CEO of Business Solutions & International, has a rich and storied past, an unparalleled business presence, and a future that promises to be included in world history books. That makes knowing where to start when telling his truly amazing story difficult at best. Yet, as is often the case, the best place to start is usually the beginning. And so we begin.

Born in Cuba, Mr. de la Vega immigrated to the United States in 1962 at the age of 10. His parents decided to leave Cuba after the revolution of 1953-1959 and flee the Fidel Castro dictatorship. But as his family attempted to board a plane to Miami, border officials maintained that only Ralph's papers were in order.

"The militiamen said five words to me that would change my life forever," Mr. de la Vega told Latino Leaders magazine. "'Only the boy can go.' My father frantically started making phone calls and found a family in Miami that would take me in until my family could get to the U.S. He told me they would be there in a few days. It was four years until I saw my family again."

Young Ralph found himself in a new country with a new language, not a penny in his pocket, and living with an unfamiliar family. His first thoughts of America were ones of curiosity and skepticism. "I was given a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, along with a cold glass of milk. In Cuba, we drink warm milk often mixed with chocolate. Our traditional Cuban sandwiches are piled high with fillings and fixings. I thought, wow, I am in the greatest country in the world and they don't even put meat in their sandwiches," Mr. de la Vega shared with a reflective chuckle.

To be sure, those early years were piled high with difficulties. They also marked a pivotal point in Mr. de la Vega's life. Ever since then, he has looked at things differently. Overcoming myriad obstacles, he knew that whatever else came his way would never be as trying. Mr. de la Vega also knew from then on that he would try to do his best at everything.

"As I left Cuba alone, my mother said, 'make me proud.' I was determined to make sure that when my family finally arrived, they would be proud of me. From that moment, I have always set my bar high. What served me well then, and continues to serve me well today, is to always do things the right way. When you do things with integrity and credibility, you get great results."

Mr. de la Vega saw great results from and was inspired by the family who received...

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