Madison on the Move: Talent Magnet | MADISON MAGAZINE/Spectrum | January 2014
Madison fixture Ricardo González is no stranger to bold career moves. A graduate of East Central Oklahoma University majoring in political science and Spanish, the Cuban-born González landed in Wisconsin after Ripon’s Green Giant recruited and hired him in 1968. As a personnel manager overseeing a seasonal staff of fifteen, González says his exposure to the plight of migrant workers there awakened his sense of social justice. In 1972 he leaped into politics, running as a Democrat for state assembly. He lost that bid but gained an introduction to Madison, where he went to work for the state as an affirmative action officer. By 1973 he’d also fallen in love with Wisconsin’s “old country feel” and its tavern culture when he stumbled across what would become the Cardinal Bar.
“I made up my mind right then and there, that was what I wanted to do,” says González. “I quit my job and opened up the Cardinal on a shoestring and I’ve been there thirty-nine years.”
More than just a watering hole, the Cardinal has served as a political hotspot, live music venue-slash-dance club, celebration of Cuban heritage and hub for cross-cultural community building. Meanwhile, González served six years on the city council, the first openly gay Latino elected official in the nation.
González retired from the bar business when the Cardinal was at its peak in 2004—and perhaps his boldest career move came five years later when, the economy in shambles, the Cardinal’s reputation diminished and the competition downtown even more vigorous, González returned to the Cardinal’s helm in 2009.
“The perfect age to get into the bar business is like between twenty-five and thirty-five,” he laughs. “I was sixty-two.”
The newly reinvigorated Cardinal has an even stronger focus on live Latin music, and González has plans to reopen the tapas cafe Cortadito Express this year after a five-month run last year. For his work ethic and continued success he credits his ancestors, a “long line of people who have lost everything and rebuilt.”
“Life will always be full of opportunities and challenges. Follow your heart, do what you like to do and do it well, and you’ll see the rewards will come,” says González. “For me it’s about amor proprio, which means love of yourself. And if you do things well for yourself, it will be good for others as well.”
The well-known face of the Urban League of Greater Madison’s workforce and economic development efforts in recent years, Mark Richardson is now forging his own career development. With his new consulting company, Unfinished Business, Richardson aims to more efficiently and effectively connect employers and job seekers.
“If you had to put a blanket on it, you’d call it job coaching,” says Richardson. “But really it’s about preparing professionals to make transitions, assisting and helping them accelerate those transitions. On the organizational side, I help companies and organizations find and onboard talent.
It’s matchmaking, if you will. Sort of a corporate Cupid.”
The genesis of Richardson’s business name was a backyard conversation with a friend retiring from a government career but not quite ready to quit working; he had decades of public-sector experience but no private-sector contacts.
“We now have four generations working side by side in the workplace,” says Richardson. “Whether it’s the semi-retiree or the grad student who just came out with an MBA and wonders what can I do with it now, they all have ‘unfinished business.’”
If anyone has contacts, it’s Richardson; his career trajectory spans private, public and nonprofit sectors. Richardson worked for Charter Communications for almost a decade, then left to head up marketing and membership at the Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce. He served as Governor Jim Doyle’s deputy secretary of tourism, then as Division of Housing and Community Development administrator at the Department of Commerce before finally going to work for the Urban League.
“In a lot of ways, this is the culmination of twenty-five years of experience,” says Richardson of starting his own business in July 2013. “It’s scary and it’s energizing and it’s innovative.”
Richardson hopes to bridge the gaps he sees in current hiring processes, noting that today’s employers are tasked with sifting through dozens if not hundreds of applicants per position due to popular sites like Monster and Career Builder, often forcing them to rely on computer filtering software to recognize keywords to pare down candidates more quickly.
“There are very talented people in the mix that never get seen or even get a phone interview because a keyword didn’t pop or because they didn’t know someone,” says Richardson. “We’ve found great success in putting the right folks in a room together.”
Gaining in Translation
Imagine coming to the University of Wisconsin–Madison for the first time as a new employee, among 21,624 other employees on the sprawling 936-acre campus. Now imagine English is not your first language.
“Our goal is to help candidates or employees during their whole experience at UW–Madison,” says Carmen Romero González, director of cultural linguistic services of UW’s award-winning Cultural Linguistics Services, a unit that provided 2,600 hours of direct interpretation and translation services to UW employees last year alone. It also clocked 2,175 hours of additional English-language learning services such as workplace training and informational sessions in Spanish, Hmong, Mandarin Chinese and Tibetan.
But CLS’s goal goes far beyond language translation; its intention is to attract a diverse workforce to UW and give those employees a voice, empowering them both at work and at home throughout the Madison community.
A Seville, Spain, native, Romero González finds her current position to be the perfect intersection of all the educational and career paths she’s traveled thus far. She left Spain with a bachelor’s degree in labor relations, one for which she had to earn equivalency in America. She went on to collect a master’s in translation in English-Spanish as well as her MBA with a specialization in communication at Concordia University–Wisconsin and eventually parlayed this experience into a career at UW—one she never could have imagined as she was plugging along, following her various passions.
“After eight years in Verona [working as the translation services coordinator for the school district], I wanted to start working more with adults, because I realized the parents of these kids also had great needs navigating the system in Madison and learning how to access services,” says Romero González, who came to UW in 2008. “The work that I’m doing now surprisingly combines everything I have studied. And actually, our office, our department, is unique in the nation in the services we provide.”
Although many see difficulties with English as a barrier to furthering education or employment, Romero González says that with the assistance of programs such as those provided by CLS, English improvement not only happens simultaneously, it’s enhanced. Don’t ever stop asking questions, and never think it’s too late for more education, she says.
“In Madison, there are really good people, and they’re very willing to help you,” she says. “That’s what I’m trying to show people.”
The Madison Fire Department’s progressive recruiting techniques not only have earned the city national recognition for achieving and retaining a diverse workforce, they are catalyzing a slew of ambitious career changes.
“My dad was a fire chief at a small department so I grew up around it, but still I never really said, ‘I’m going to be doing this.’ Because there weren’t a whole lot of female firefighters,” says Stephanie Clary, a thirty-nine-year-old mother of five. “On the farm it was my brothers who got to drive the tractors. I was the one who milked the cows, prepared the meals, babysat the siblings, that kind of stuff.”
Clary went into coaching and childcare while working the family farm with her husband, but she says she always felt a calling to do something more physical and with her nurturing side. When she saw the MFD’s recruitment materials, she took a leap of faith.
“I just wanted to be out there helping people and saving their property,” says Clary. “It just intrigued me to do something more for myself and the community.”
Clary is exactly the type of person Chief Steven Davis and firefighter recruitment coordinator Liza Tatar aim to attract with recruiting initiatives that cast a wide net, not to fill any sort of racial or gender quota but to snag the best candidates for the job and to represent the community they serve. People who are caring and compassionate but also those who are athletic and competitive and thrive under pressure.
“Even within our traditional white male pool, we need people in that pool to value diversity so they can relate better in the community,” says Davis. “Madison is not a city of all white males.”
The department works with the university’s athletic and club sports programs as well as with community organizations such as Centro Hispano, the Urban League and the Boys and Girls Club, to expose fire service to previously unreached candidates.
“When you’re stepping into somebody’s home in their most vulnerable moment, you need to interact with them on a very personal level to get them the services they need,” says Tatar, a college soccer player who hadn’t considered firefighting at all until she moved to Madison and was approached by a female firefighter while working at a coffee shop. “The elements that will make that situation go as well as possible require that we be a diverse department, aware of as many possibilities that our community could want, need or desire.”
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