Education

CEOs credit Columbus High’s lessons in leadership values

CARL JUSTE

Business and integrity don’t always go hand in hand, but a trio of Fortune 1000 CEOs say the values instilled by their alma mater made them better leaders.

“An important trait is compassion,” said Jose Mas, president and CEO of MasTec and a 1989 graduate of Christopher Columbus High School, an all-boys Catholic school in west Miami-Dade. “In Columbus, you learn to be competitive, to want to win, but at the same time you learn compassion and to be humble.”

More than 200 Columbus students and alumni gathered Thursday evening to hear Mas, of Miami telecom infrastructure firm MasTec; Carlos Rodriguez, president and CEO of New Jersey-based payroll services firm ADP; and Robert Sanchez, chairman and CEO of Miami-based logistics management firm Ryder recount how they carried values like integrity, respect and simplicity from the Columbus classroom to the corporate boardroom.

The panel was part of the school’s “Columbus Connects Leadership” lecture series, a networking program developed in 2008 by school board chairman J.B. Aleman to reconnect graduates with the school.

The concentration of so many large-company chief executives in a single high school with a student body of about 1,500 puts Columbus in a rare field. “It is highly unlikely for a high school to have one Fortune 500 company CEO in its rank,” said Menachem Wecker, former education reporter for U.S. News & World Report.

So what is Columbus’s secret CEO recipe?

“It’s a Catholic school, so they focus on humility, respect, kindness … and those are important attributes,” said Ryder CEO Sanchez. “If you learn those while you’re at Columbus and you try to incorporate them into your life, they become extremely valuable.”

Rodriguez, CEO of ADP, credits his success to Columbus’s rigorous academics, supportive environment and emphasis on hard work.

“In today’s world — I sound like an old guy — we tend to kind of ignore old-fashioned elbow grease,” he said. “I was a hard worker, and I learned that from my family, but I also learned it from my school. It served me well.”

Years after graduating, Mas continues to emphasize the importance of hard work through the Mas Family Scholars Program, an accelerated studies track that seeks to challenge Columbus’s most highly motivated students and groom them for success.

Alumni donate more than $1 million a year to Columbus to fund scholarships for qualified students who otherwise would not be able to attend.

“Columbus played a big part in my becoming a successful person and enhanced my success later on in life,” Rodriguez said. “Frankly, I really wanna say thanks to the school.”

Amanda Rabines contributed to this report.

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