By Wayne Jebian
The state Department of Economic and Community Development (DECD) recently tapped a Latina with a strong private-sector background, Beatriz Gutierrez, to head the state’s international business development efforts. Hers is a high profile position at a visible agency, one that has made news lately with Governor Malloy’s trip to China, the state’s “Still Revolutionary” campaign, and the “First Five” program, aimed at attracting employers to Connecticut.
Her tenure at DECD began as something as a trial by fire, and she jumped right in, starting with Governor Dannel P. Malloy’s trip to China. This high-stakes sales call for Connecticut manufacturers and other businesses sent a group of state and private-sector officials from Sept. 8 to 16. They visited multiple sites in the world’s most populous nation and number two economic power, and did it for only $20,000 in state funds.
“The China Trip was interesting because I came to the agency on July 27, and then on [July 30], we had the first meeting about going to China,” she said. “It required cooperation between many players in the state. I brought together private industry, academia – Yale was part of it, Jackson Labs was part of it, UConn – also the China Council, the Department of Commerce, and CCSU provided translation services.”
Gutierrez called the role of her office as the “concierge” for the China trip, which is how she envisions her ongoing mission to foster business development in the state. “When people are looking to invest in Connecticut, they can come to us, and we will open up opportunities and direct their investments to help them grow here. The direction that I have from the commissioner is to really focus my efforts on foreign investment in this state, and to facilitate any opportunities for Connecticut companies to export.”
U.S. Native, Colombia Raised
Born in the United States to Colombian parents, and raised in Colombia, Gutierrez returned to the U.S. to study electrical engineering at Marquette University in Milwaukee, WI, graduating in 1990. After college, she went to work for Allen-Bradley, a division of Rockwell Automation, a Milwaukee-based technology company with a global presence. There, she specialized in business-to-business marketing for controls and automation products. “That was the time of NAFTA,” she recalled, “so I spent a lot of time doing business development in Latin America.”
Highly ambitious, Gutierrez went back to school in 1994, to the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business while continuing her employment with Allen-Bradley. She received her MBA in 1997 and shortly thereafter came to Connecticut to work for General Electric. In addition to working as a product manager and a marketing manager, she spent two and a half years as a “Six Sigma Black Belt.”
Six Sigma is a business management strategy popularized by then-Chairman Jack Welsh, who implemented it at GE in 1995. Gutierrez described the program this way: “It’s a whole methodology to bring process improvement and eliminate waste. It brings both products and people into the equation; it gives you a really good tool set, not only to measure improvement but also to create a culture of change.”
After General Electric came Genworth Financial, then Gerber Scientific. “Then I decided to make a change, and I went to Central Connecticut [State University] to teach,” she continued. “I’ve been teaching there for three years, both as a full-time professor and also as an adjunct. I taught marketing, marketing strategy, and service marketing.” She also had her own consulting business where she helped smaller companies with marketing strategy, business development and Six Sigma.
Then came another big change: the chance to work for DECD. “This opportunity appeared,” she said, “and I think it’s a great place to bring that background: the manufacturing piece, the quality piece, and international business development, to help the state look at business from a business perspective, not necessarily from an institutional perspective.”
Developing Strategic Plan
Gutierrez’ office is currently putting together a strategic plan for Connecticut to compete in international markets. Also under her umbrella is domestic recruitment – looking at companies in other parts of the U.S. that are looking to expand – and having them consider Connecticut as a place for that expansion. One rationale for hiring a person with her level of private sector experience is for a competitive edge; other states are trying to attract these same businesses, and Connecticut needs top talent in order to market itself.
As far as international business development, China was just the beginning. Gutierrez is helping to organize trips to Germany, England, and South Korea, for starters, to showcase products made in Connecticut. “Brazil is a major focus, being the largest economy in South America,” she said, “and Mexico is ready for business. They’re growing and they have a lot of investment coming in. Colombia is another big one.”
Her message to companies in the U.S. and around the globe is that there is a new spirit of entrepreneurship in Connecticut. In addition, there is a historically grounded expertise in industry and manufacturing, plus a talent pool with the academic and technical capabilities to help businesses succeed.
By Wayne Jebian