By: Zach Baliva
Eight years ago, Luis Maes made his foray into the corporate world to work with leading companies like Walmart, Nike, and EA. He’s traveled the world and done many things, but the lifelong learner tells The Alumni Society about how a common thread—a love for people, new experiences, and service—connects his career from start to finish.
Could you talk about some of the experience, both personal and professional, that has helped impact you as a leader and performer in your space?
First and foremost, I’m a proud husband, father, son, and brother, and I am super passionate about making the world a better place.
For me, my passion comes from my origin story. I was born in Colombia, lived in an orphanage and was later adopted by American parents from New Mexico, and raised in a bicultural and bilingual home (Spanish and English) in Arlington, Virginia. I’ve always known my story, and there is not a day that goes by that I’m not grateful for the opportunity I got to come to the US. So, I knew from early on that I wanted my career to be based on giving back to others.
Growing up Latino in northern Virginia in the ’80s, I saw and experienced some things that fueled me to better understand the dynamics around economic opportunity and really dedicate my career to learning about and addressing key community development and social justice challenges. I thought it was odd when on the first day of school in third grade, the teacher looked at me and my mom, and the first thing that she said was “Will Luis be needing to enroll in English as a Second Language?” Enough said!
Throughout my career, I’ve tried to be as intentional as possible about gaining diverse community impact experiences to better understand the nuances of how to achieve impact in different industries, countries, and cultures. Of course, the common thread through all of it has been (and I’m stealing the words—not the sentiment—from my former employee Nike) maximizing human potential.
For example, my journey started as a Peace Corps volunteer in the Dominican Republic, where I first started working with some of the most marginalized youth in the country facilitating small business and junior achievement workshops. I also “coached” soccer and baseball in my spare time and learned so much about the transformational power of sport. I then worked at an international NGO where I worked with youth and other underrepresented groups across Latin America that were interested in making a difference in their communities by running for elected office. Next, I had the great fortune of working with the US government in Latin America where we focused efforts on creating alternative pathways for kids in gangs. Finally, I’ve spent the last eight years in the corporate world with Walmart, Nike, and EA, where I’ve lead teams that are driving diverse community impact portfolios centered on economic opportunity, sport, and play.
One of the most enjoyable and rewarding parts of my all my jobs has been building lasting relationships with my teams, community partners, and stakeholders. I am naturally curious about others and enjoy listening and learning from other people’s experiences and perspectives. It’s what has led me to live in different countries, work in different industries. The people part of my job has always been really important for me.
How does your ethnicity and heritage help you be successful?
Growing up Latino, in my case with a distinct New Mexican flavor (literally and figuratively), I had a seemingly endless supply of primos, tios and tias that I always felt comfortable around. Of course, I always felt like I had people to talk to and there was no shortage of wisdom being thrown around by los viejos (they called themselves that) at dinners, picnics, family reunions, etc. I was probably only one of the only jovenes that enjoyed hearing all the wisdom being imparted and it really drove home how little I actually knew about things—life, school, friendships, etc. In my life, there is always more to learn. Humility is a key value that I’ve drawn on from my ethnicity and heritage that has helped me to keep listening and learning.
Another value that comes from my heritage that is important for me is passion. As a leader, if you are not passionate about your work and the outcomes/impact you are driving, I think it’s more difficult to get other people to follow you. Both of my parents were very passionate about the things that they cared about—whether it was social justice, education, sports, or dancing. They became really knowledgeable and good at these things while inspiring many others to also get excited about the areas they cared most about.
Could you talk about some of the D&I initiatives you’re working on in your role at EA and what those have looked like from your perspective?
At EA, we believe that young people of all backgrounds should be inspired to explore the possibilities they could pursue in the world of STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics). We’re passionate about helping the next generation develop the necessary skills and knowledge to pursue and succeed in a future career in STEAM.
The STEAM skills gap is a key issue that the EA Social Impact team continues to address, with a focus on under-represented groups given that the gap is even wider for these populations. So, to give you an idea of some of the partnerships we’ve made in this space, we were proud to partner with the Girls Who Code Summer Immersion Program for the eighth consecutive year in July 2022. This is an incredibly important program that can be transformative for everyone who takes part. Not only are the team at Girls Who Code aiming to build the largest pipeline of future female engineers globally and to close the gender gap in tech, but they’re helping to spark meaningful change through their marketing and advocacy efforts.
Another program that we recently launched was the $5 Million John Madden Legacy Commitment to Education. EA committed $2.5 million to support programming over the next five years for the following four nonprofit organizations focused on STEAM education: College Track, Mission Bit, StreetCode Academy, and Girls Who Code.
These organizations are established and proven partners committed to equipping students confronting systemic barriers with the tech skills, mentoring, and development support needed to succeed in college and beyond. The remaining $2.5 million of the John Madden Legacy Commitment to Education will go toward the creation of the EA Madden Scholarship in partnership with the United Negro College Fund, which will support students at twelve historically Black colleges and universities to graduate college prepared for the next step in their career.
What kind of work have you done to pave the way to develop future leaders, and what importance do you place on doing this work?
Paying it forward is extremely important as I continue to benefit from the wisdom and expertise of people whom I’ve had the pleasure of leading, working with, and working for. If we want mas de los nuestros in leadership positions in every industry and facet of our society, we need to share our best practices, learn from and advocate for each other. One of my most rewarding experiences of paving the way for future Latino leaders was serving as the cochair for the Latino and Friends Network (LAFN) at Nike. It was an incredible experience where I focused a lot of my efforts on renewing LAFN’s leadership with more early career professionals. It paid off as we added a group of young, new leaders to the organization who have since taken it to new heights.
I also recently just finished an appointment to the Board of Directors of both the Duke University Hispanic and Latino Alumni Association (DUHLAA) and the Duke Alumni Association (DAA), where we worked tirelessly to recruit more Latinx students and professors to the university as well as elevate the issues important to our community. I’ve also served as the cochair in two separate occasions over the years of the University of Virginia’s Bolivar Alumni Network (UVA’s Latinx Alumni Group), where we had a similar remit to the work I did with DUHLAA.
I serve as an official mentor through EA’s corporate mentoring program to a young Latina and as an unofficial mentor to many other from our Latinx community that are wanting to crack into the corporate social impact/purpose and environmental, social, and governance (ESG) space. In fact, I block out two hours a week to speak with young leaders and guest lecture at schools.
What is next for you, your profession, and your industry?
Next for me is continuing to learn how to be the best husband, father, son, and brother I can be. I’ve got three kids under the age of ten, so life is really fun, fulfilling, and busy right now!
In terms of my professional life, I want to continue to learn and grow into the best purpose and enterprise leader I can be. At some point in the not-too-distant future, I’d like to start teaching college or graduate school courses about social and community impact/purpose/ESG with a focus on underrepresented students as I think our space could use a lot more diversity.
For our industry, I think the future of social impact and philanthropy is going to be in both the physical and virtual worlds. I can’t tell you how much I’ve learned at EA, where we create virtual worlds where over six hundred million people engage. There is great potential impact we can have in creating these worlds and curating experiences for how people will interact with each other, as well as fomenting different types of altruistic and inclusive behaviors. Finding ways to leverage these virtual worlds to make a positive impact in society is what our team and many others in this space are working towards and already showing progress against!
Finally, how do you relax?
Que es eso?!? Nah, just kidding. I love to read, play golf, and watch sports!