By any standard, Maria Elena Toraño is considered a significant force in the business community. On Friday, she received the 2013 Latina Pioneer of the Year Award from the Hispanic Women of Distinction Charity at Signature Grand in Davie. In her bold style, Toraño told The Miami Herald that she deserves the award and appreciates the recognition.
Toraño, born in Havana, has long been an advocate for Latinas. At 75, she is a Renaissance woman who is still going strong, paving the way for other women.
When Toraño started out in the business world, she recalls having few female role models, particularly Latinas. Yet, she realized early the advantage of being bilingual and of advocating for herself and her beliefs. Over the years, she has served as the founding chair of the National Hispana Leadership, an organization created to train Hispanic women for national leadership roles. It has graduated more than 10,000 Latina leaders.
In the early ’70s, Toraño served as Program Manager, Latin American Affairs for Eastern Airlines, a position she held from its inception. In 1980, Toraño founded her own consulting/public relations company, META, which represented large clients including The Rouse Cos. In 1987, she opened a Washington office to do work with federally owned companies, including the Resolution Trust Corp. “This company did very well but I got ‘bored’ and wanted to start something new,” Toraño says.
She went on to serve as founding president of the National Association of Spanish Broadcasters, which advocated for the first commissioner of Hispanic origin at the FCC.
Toraño’s achievements have spanned the public sector, too. She was appointed by President Bill Clinton to the U.S. Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy, by President George H. Bush to the Oversight Commission to the U.S. Small Business Administration and by President Jimmy Carter as the Assistant Director of Public Affairs for the Office of Economic Opportunity/Community Services Administration.
More recently, preparing for retirement, she increased her involvement with the Council of Foreign Relations and became a founding member of Frito Lay Hispanic Advisory Board, offering insight on how to become a partner of choice among Hispanics. Toraño has been married three times and says she now enjoys living alone and practicing Buddhism. However, she most enjoys being in the company of her sons and grandsons. Although she calls Miami home, Toraño maintains an apartment in New York.
Toraño considers herself content with her accomplishments and motivated to continuing to make contributions in the community.
Q. As a Latina pioneer, what do you now look forward to accomplishing in the next decade of your life?
I would like to build “A Woman Leadership Legacy.” This is a personal project which I hope to accomplish one day. It is part of my on-going self-imposed responsibility to continue sharing my story of challenges, difficulties, determination, success and hope with new generations of women, in order to help them realize their own dreams.
I want to pass on my wisdom and passion to others through this project. Basic professional skills, a solid education and experience are important, but what I believe will always be the most valuable asset a person can have in life is to feel passion in their quests. Those who can’t turn the ‘off’ switch in their brains about what they do will be winners in most anything they do. That passion is what’s always driven me to succeed in all my ventures. I want to pass that passion on and bring it out in others.