By Princess Jones Curtis
Dallas, TX — Twenty-three years ago, Nina Vaca started Pinnacle Group in her living room with $300. The company has evolved from a one-woman IT staffing business into a team of hundreds. As Pinnacle Group’s Chairman and CEO, Vaca still wears many hats each day, including the roles of providing strategic vision for the company’s ongoing global expansion, setting the tone for fostering a culture of diversity, and spearheading numerous charitable initiatives.
As a committed civic leader and philanthropist, Vaca’s particular interest lies in females working in the STEM fields. As a public speaker, she has shared her story across five continents and advocated for women entrepreneurs. Named one of the most influential Latinos in the US for the past ten years, Vaca also serves as Chairman Emeritus of the United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.
Color Magazine: You founded your company over two decades ago. How has the industry changed in that time?
Nina Vaca: When I started Pinnacle Group in 1996, it took hours of manual searching and scouring through job boards to find a good staffing match. Today, within seconds, I can get access to millions of candidates matched to my client’s specific needs using Pinnacle’s world-class machine learning technology.
As a tech-based industry, the talent acquisition space shifts, changes, and evolves constantly, as new and more powerful technologies become available. What was a standard industry practice a few years ago is now completely obsolete. This is what makes it so important for companies in this space to embrace new technologies and adjust their business models based on the constantly shifting landscape. Pinnacle Group’s approach to this challenge has been to continuously invest in new technologies, as well as in our people, ensuring a long-term trajectory of success and leadership in our industry.
CM: What motivates/inspires you?
NV: My family and my husband and our four children have always been a source of motivation and inspiration for me. They give me the strength to be brave and work hard to achieve my goals. I also want to be a strong role model for them and children everywhere – especially females and minorities who don’t see a lot of leaders who look like them.
Helping foster the next generation of diverse leaders and providing the resources they need to transform their communities has been a source of motivation for me personally, and it’s also the tone I’ve set for our company.
CM: In your opinion, what skills are necessary to be an effective leader?
NV: Effective leadership is less about concrete skills, and more about mindset and work ethic, grit and determination, and your ability to lean in and double down when the going gets tough. I learned this watching my parents achieve their American dream through entrepreneurship. They faced a lot of obstacles. Regardless, they chose to be resilient and persevere. For me, this is what true leadership is all about.
CM: If you could give advice to your younger self, what would it be?
NV: It would be the same advice I often give to other women today: “Don’t beat yourself up. Somebody else will gladly do that for you.” We must remain true to who we are and confident in our own abilities. We are all human, and no one is immune from making mistakes. It’s important to understand this.
CM: What makes a good public speaker? What mistakes should a public speaker avoid?
NV: Confidence, passion, and authenticity. If you are not confident in what you have to say, you might as well not say it at all. It’s OK to be nervous, but you must believe in what you say – otherwise, why should anyone else?
It is also important to be passionate about your subject. Without passion, you won’t be able to engage your audience and motivate them to listen to you.
Two common mistakes new public speakers make are not practicing their speech enough or trying to memorize it verbatim. It’s important to practice your speech multiple times to feel more confident and relaxed. However, you shouldn’t try to memorize your speech word for word; it will make you sound less authentic and more likely to stumble if things don’t go exactly as planned.
CM: What can we do to get more women into STEM industries?
NV: To tackle this issue, I started doing advocacy work for STEM education and career placement for women and minorities. Part of my strategy is to create a pipeline that would help bring more women and minorities into STEM fields.
One of the ways I was able to accomplish this was by partnering with the Pathways to Technology Early College High School (P-TECH) Program by Dallas Independent School District and Dallas County Community Colleges District, which allows traditionally underserved students–most of whom are minorities–to graduate with both a high school degree and an associate degree.
Many of these students will then go on to receive internships at companies like Pinnacle Group and other prominent companies in the Dallas region. These local programs are very effective at addressing the gap in STEM career opportunities for women and minorities. Sometimes, to do something big, you have to start local.
CM: What do you want your legacy to be? What does it mean to you?
NV: I believe it’s not enough to achieve a certain goal, like being the first woman or Latina on a certain corporate board. Once you get your seat at the table, you have to do something with it. The most powerful people are those who empower others. I want my legacy to be one of empowerment. I don’t want to be the last, or only, person of color who achieved the things I’ve achieved. I want it to be commonplace for a Latina to be a CEO, or on a corporate board, or in a C-suite position. I don’t want it to be unique that a woman is in a STEM field, I want it to be normal! My legacy is the success for others who come after me.
CM: What does it mean to be a person of Color in 2019?
NV: This is the best time to be a person of Color in this country’s history. Of course, there are still many challenges, and we have a long way to go. However, there are more opportunities and representation than ever. Doors have been opened to so many different roles previously not available to people of Color.
That’s why this is such an important time; we need to work hard to expand those opportunities even further. We must take advantage of the momentum that has been created over the last few decades and use it to expand the opportunities for everyone. We have created a ripple effect that will, hopefully, continue to expand outward. That’s exactly why I so value the work we are doing with P-TECH and other organizations. Giving people, who traditionally have been overlooked, a step up, to reach that next level of success is so valuable, and it’s so rewarding to see lives and futures changed through these programs.