Category Archives: Leadership

Posts, articles, and insights on leadership

Summer in the Waiting Room: Chapter 4 – 360 Days (excerpt #28)

Standing on the porch at 48 Viewmont Avenue with my mom circa 2002 (García family photo)
Standing on the porch at 48 Viewmont Avenue with my mom circa 2002
(García family photo)

Blogger’s note: This is the 28th installment from my manuscript of Summer in the Waiting Room: How Faith, Family, and Friends Saved My Life. I post weekly excerpts every Wednesday morning. Check out the “About Summer in the Waiting Room” link at the top of this page to learn more about the story. To read previous installments, go to the “Tags” link and click on “Summer in the Waiting Room.”


Feeling nostalgic, I drove the familiar route that I used to walk as a teenager: right on White Road out of the school parking lot, left on Alum Rock Avenue through the Alum Rock Village, three blocks up Alum Rock Avenue, then a right on Viewmont Avenue.  Viewmont Avenue was different than it was when I was a kid, but in many ways it was just the same.

The families I grew up with were all gone with exception of the Ornelas family who lived across the street at 49 Viewmont.  Tony Ornelas was my godfather for Confirmation, his wife Marty served as godmother to my little sister Sisi for her First Communion, and I went to school with their kids.  Behind the wheel of a late model BMW sedan and wearing a business suit, I felt an enormous sense of pride and accomplishment as I slowly drove past the small tract homes of my childhood.

I continued through the east side on my way home passing more familiar places: right turn on Rose Avenue and left onto Dale Drive where the Alvarez, Moreno, Furlow, and Garcia families used to live and the Rodriguez family still lived.  Then I made a left on East Hills Drive driving past the elementary school I attended before turning right on Meadow Lane where my boyhood friend Rudy lived.

When I passed his house on Meadow Lane, I was reminded of how long it had been since I had seen him, or even talked to him.  We had spent many a day and night at that house drinking and partying without any concern for the future.  I drove on toward my house in the Evergreen Valley where the homes were bigger, the streets wider, and the roadways lined by trees, where many east side kids moved when they became more financially secure.

During the fifteen minute drive home, still feeling the warm glow of a busy day filled with accomplishment, I reflected on my life.  It had been a rollercoaster for sure, and now it was clearly on the upswing.

Several months after my triumphant return to James Lick High School’s graduation, the school board appointed me president of the board for 2010.  Once again, drive and ambition would dominate my life, and the New Year started at full throttle.  In my role as school board president, I could set the district’s agenda for the year.

A student group, Californians for Justice, had been lobbying the board for over five years to institute a policy to make graduation requirements parallel to college entrance requirements called the “A-G Initiative.”  Now, as president of the board, I had the ability to do that, and if successful, I could further solidify my chances to win the election in November.

The A-G Initiative became the centerpiece of my State of the District Address in January 2010, which I delivered to an overflow crowd at James lick High School.  In spite of the teachers union’s aggressive and underhanded behind-the-scenes fight against the initiative, I enlisted the support of the Silicon Valley Education Foundation to educate the community on the merits of the initiative and put together a coalition of students, parents, and public officials to campaign for its passage.

The upcoming summer would surely be challenging. The teacher’s union had recruited a disgruntled former district administrator to challenge me in the general election scheduled for November, so I needed to prepare for a full-blown campaign.  The final decision about what was left of my parent’s estate, a rental house they owned, created friction in our family.  The pressure and stress were almost unbearable, but this is exactly what I sought since returning to college, and I was having fun.

Sandra continued to express concern about how the pace was taking a toll on me. But I didn’t listen. I had failures to overcome, ambition, and energy.  Sandra was right though, I was exhausted and the only thing that carried me through each day was the adrenalin fueled by my drive to succeed and three Starbucks double lattes per day.

Later that spring, my political prospects got a boost. Steve Poizner, a millionaire Republican candidate for governor of California wrote a book denigrating Mt. Pleasant High, a school located in the district I represented in east San Jose.  In a detailed letter citing California law against using public school facilities for political purposes, I publicly chastised the gubernatorial candidate and prohibited him from appearing for a scheduled campaign stop on the Mt. Pleasant campus.

Poizner canceled his appearance at the school, but kept a scheduled book-signing at a local Barnes and Noble bookstore. With over 100 community members, Mt. Pleasant students, faculty, and alumni, I awaited the candidate’s arrival at the bookstore.  Surrounded by his entourage, Poizner entered the store through a side entrance to avoid the crowd.

Waiting for him at the door of the side entrance, I demanded that he respond to the negative stereotypes about Latino kids, the east side, and Mt. Pleasant high school described in his book as news reporters and their cameras covered our brief exchange. The episode made statewide news, and the east side community recognized me as a defender of the community. That evening left me with a greater sense of ambition and inspired me to worker harder.

Latino Thursday: Luis Valdez Leadership Academy


I was in the office at Luis Valdez Leadership Academy (LVLA) waiting to interview Founding Director Jeff Camarillo for today’s post. As I sat down, a student walked out of Mr. Camarillo’s office and his assistant poked her head into the door carrying several messages for him. Before she walked out of his office, he was on the phone taking a call.

I could hear Mr. Camarillo energetically brainstorming solutions with a colleague. He hung up, and before I could even see him, he enthusiastically welcomed me to the academy. Walking out of his office he greeted me with a big smile and hug, Latino style. It was about 2:30 in the afternoon, right around the time that most people start feeling the after-lunch blahs. Not Mr. Camarillo, he was a bundle of energy.

The LVLA is a new charter school located in east San Jose. It’s the second high school chartered by the National Hispanic University Foundation. As the education community grapples with the Latino academic achievement gap and debates over the most effective way to close it, institutions like the NHUF are seeking out-of-the-box solutions like their flagship school Latino College Preparatory Academy and LVLA.

Charter schools are proliferating in Silicon Valley, especially in east side Latino communities. For the past three years, I’ve studied charter schools and their impact on Latino students and neighborhoods. Charters are publicly-funded schools that operate without being handcuffed by the constraints of traditional public school rules. This offers advantages to be sure. But the jury is still out.

There’s no real data yet on their long-term effect on Latino student success. In Silicon Valley, the chain charter schools, derisively called “McCharters” by opponents, have been criticized for questionable recruiting tactics in Latino neighborhoods. Their source of financial support also raises eyebrows. High-tech contributors stand to profit from the chain charter reliance on computer-based “blended learning.”

LVLA isn’t a chain charter school. It’s an innovative concept. Education leaders serious about closing the Latino academic achievement and college attainment gaps should pay attention to the formula developed at LVLA.

Let’s start with staffing. Director Camarillo is an Ivy League and Stanford educated son of a distinguished Stanford professor. The Dean of Instruction also studied at a prominent Ivy League university. The team of teachers includes many who are first in their families to go to college, so they will have an intimate and culturally conscious understanding of their students’ experiences.

The savvy staff will work in an environment of a college-going culture. Nearly all of the 95 incoming freshmen that represent the Founding Class just completed a two-week summer bridge program where they were introduced to the school’s vision. The program included events and activities at Stanford and U.C. Santa Cruz. A trip to visit East Coast universities is in the works.

When students walk through the doors on the first day of school on Monday, they will have a rigorous schedule of classes. The “A-G Checklist” that’s required to gain acceptance into the University of California and California State University systems is the default curriculum at LVLA. So the college-going culture isn’t just a feel-good tactic, it represents the core of daily academics.

Rather than focusing on computer-based learning, LVLA will implement the tried and true strategy of individualized teaching and guidance. Teachers are committed to getting to know each student and students will have an advisor that follows them through the four years they prepare for college. Add a visual performing arts program created for LVLA by the famed El Teatro Campesino and you have a robust curriculum.

The legendary playwright Luis Valdez was on hand for the ribbon-cutting ceremony last week. The self-proclaimed “east San Jose homeboy” delivered keynote remarks that took the audience on an inspiring journey from the Latino struggle for civil rights nearly a half century ago to the innovative Silicon Valley school that now bears his name.

During my 20-minute interview with Director Camarillo, I could hear the passion in his voice and see the determination in his eyes as he described his vision for the future. As we were talking, from the corner of his eye he caught a mom and her son looking for the campus office. He jumped out of his chair, opened the window, and guided them to the office in Spanish. The mom smiled warmly knowing that her son was in the right place.

The vision, staff commitment, academic rigor, and extracurricular enrichment are all in place to make LVLA a great school. Now Mr. Camarillo and his team have to execute. After attending the school’s opening and spending a few minutes with the person who’s charged with leading the effort, there is no doubt in my mind that they’ll succeed. I walked off campus feeling confident that something special is happening on the east side.

Latino Thursdays: The Art of Being a Professional


I was 29 years old when I attended my first fundraising event. The guest of honor was a candidate for mayor of Los Angeles.  I volunteered to help at the event that was held at an upscale art gallery in downtown San Jose. All I had to do was sign in attendees and collect donations, nevertheless I was anxious and a little intimidated. I had never been to a fundraiser or an art gallery.

As a kid, I remember that my dad used to say that every man should own at least one suit and a sports coat with a pair of slacks, so I had something handy to wear. I wore a gray two-button business suit, light blue dress shirt with dark blue tie, and cordovan penny loafers. The reason I remember what I was wearing so clearly is because it was the only dress clothes I had other than a tweed sports coat and navy wool dress pants.

The gallery was long and narrow. Modern art paintings hung on the walls and interesting sculptures sat on pedestals. White linen tablecloths topped tall cocktail tables and a small bar was staffed by a man dressed in a tuxedo.

A jazz trio softly played soothing tunes as men in business suits and professionally dressed women deposited checks into pre-printed envelopes, ate from small china plates, and chatted with other guests. It was like watching a well-choreographed dance.

After about an hour, the trio stopped playing and the event’s host introduced politicians and other VIPS to polite applause from the 40 or so guests. A few speakers enthusiastically praised the candidate, the candidate made brief comments, and the whole affair was done. Less than 15 minutes later, the gallery was empty.

Coming from a working-class Mexican American family, the only receptions that I knew about before that evening were related to weddings. The evening starts with mariachis entertaining guests, then dinner is served followed with a night of dancing. After the dance, family and close friends go to the home of the bride’s and groom’s parents for a nightcap. They all return for menudo the next morning. Total time: about 24 hours.

So here I was at the art gallery, 29 years old with a college degree, and I had just witnessed something that was completely out of this world for me. I was intrigued with the rhythmic nature of the event and fascinated that everyone knew how it worked. Since then, I’ve attended hundreds of receptions, breakfast events, luncheons, dinners, and cocktail parties. It was on-the-job training on how to conduct myself on a professional stage.

I’ve learned that choice of attire, how you stand, sit, move about the room, and shake hands all send messages on your credibility as a professional. Nobody is watching, yet everybody is watching. The impression you make on others could be the difference in getting the dream job, earning a promotion, or landing that lucrative contract.

More Latinos than ever are graduating with college degrees. That’s a good thing. Armed with an education and a valuable piece of paper, we’re making inroads into the offices of corporate America, government, and education. Taking the next step into management is another proposition. According to the 2010 U.S. Census, just 8.5% of Latinos who work are in “management occupations.”

Most of those management positions are in the service industry. The percentage of government and education administrators is less than 7% and Google recently disclosed that only 3% of its workforce is Latino. I can’t imagine Google, or any other Silicon Valley tech firm, employing more than a handful of Latino managers.

So what does this mean?

Racial stereotypes play a major role in how managers look at their Latino employees. They expect us to be service employees, blue-collar workers, domestic help, landscapers, construction workers, and so on. Latinos may not even register with executives when developing a management team. But we can’t let these facts keep us out of the executive suite.

Unfortunately, many of us lack the confidence it takes to be considered for advancement. School systems don’t teach critically important skills like confidence, poise, and how to conduct oneself in a professional setting. For many working-class Latinos, our first job out of college is our initial exposure to the white-collar world. While we’re educationally prepared for the work, we don’t understand the subtle protocols of advancing through large professional organizations.

So what do we do about this?

As a corporate executive, I’ve learned that those of us who have attained management positions need to actively seek out talented Latinos and mentor them on the nuances of “climbing the corporate ladder.” Leadership programs focused on Latinos in business and education are popping up across the country. As a professional community we need to support these efforts.

Professional Latinos also need to share their time and wisdom at school career days. Our kids shouldn’t have to wait for a college degree and a job before they learn how to dress, stand, sit, shake hands, and speak as a professional.

Latinos are smart, talented, and ambitious. More times than not, ugly racial stereotypes get in the way of advancement. That is what it is. We need to overcome those obstacles. Those of us who have been blessed to have experienced professional success are obligated to make sure that the next generation walks into that first art gallery reception with poise and confidence.

The Cesar Chavez Legacy


On Friday, President Obama released a proclamation that read in part,

“I, Barrack Obama, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim March 31, 2014, as Cesar Chavez Day.”

In commemoration of Cesar Chavez Day, I share one of his most important speeches, “1984 Address to the Commonwealth Club.” In that speech, Cesar describes how the farmworker movement gave hope to a Latino community seeking fairness, justice, and true equality.

With one powerful quote, he lays out the future of Latinos in the United States:

“Like the other immigrant groups, the day will come when we win the economic and political rewards which are in keeping with our numbers in society. The day will come when the politicians do the right thing by our people out of political necessity and not out of charity or idealism.”

I hope you take a minute to read the entire speech by clicking on the following link:

Let’s Start a “Courageous Conversation”

Book cover for "Courageous Conversations About Race" (courtesy of Google Books)
Book cover for “Courageous Conversations About Race”
(courtesy of Google Books)

Recently, I had the opportunity to visit a kindergarten classroom at a school on the east side. I was able to see an excellent teacher at work. Just holding the attention of energetic five-year-olds seemed like a tall order. The teacher was engaging and positive as she led the students through a math exercise. Some kids were attentive, others were restless, and most were somewhere in between. What impressed me most was that the teacher worked hard to involve each student.

I witnessed the teacher practicing what educational equity experts call “meeting students where they are.” In other words, the teacher didn’t expect every student to be the same and she made adjustments for each student’s strengths and weaknesses. On the other hand, as an education blogger and former school trustee, I’ve heard many other teachers express frustration that students don’t come to school ready to learn.

So what does “ready to learn” mean? Essentially, it describes the model student: conscientious, organized, and prepared to learn every day. This must start at home, the argument goes. With that reasoning, some educators believe that high academic achievement could become a reality because the school system would be able to do what it is designed to do: teach.

Unfortunately, that’s just not real life. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if everyone was conscientious, organized, and prepared? That would eliminate most of the world’s problems for sure. The reality is that students, like all people, come in all colors, cultures, sizes, intellectual abilities, and social classes. Despite this diversity, every student can succeed if school systems truly understood and accepted that everyone is different.

In their insightful book about equity in education, Courageous Conversations About Race, Glenn E. Singleton and Curtis Linton use meticulous research to demonstrate that society, school systems, education leaders, and classroom teachers more times than not prejudge students based on race, cultural background, and socio-economic status. This results in practices that marginalize students of color and sets them on a course that discourages a future college education.

All too often the school system and educators dismiss kids of color with the cop-out that “college isn’t for everyone.” In response to my post last week, several readers shared with me their own experiences with this discouraging phrase (click on to read last week’s blog). One reader recounted how her son’s high school counselor encouraged him to be a truck driver because he could make good money without a college education.

In his 2009 report on closing the achievement gap, former California State Superintendent of Schools Jack O’Connell recognized this problem and recommended culturally relevant professional development as a solution (click on to read Superintendent O’Connell’s report). Unfortunately, few school districts have attempted to develop a comprehensive and systematic approach to implement this recommendation.

Why is this? To even start thinking about implementing a culturally relevant professional development program, school systems must first acknowledge that racial and cultural bias actually exists.  Singleton and Linton write that talking about these biases is “a difficult conversation, one that clearly troubles educators and can make everyone downright uncomfortable.” It’s hard for good people to believe that they hold such biases.

One would think that in a place as diverse as Silicon Valley, having this conversation would be easy. But it’s not. I’ve discussed this issue with several superintendents who have implemented equity and culturally relevant professional development programs in their districts. In those initiatives, teachers, staff, and the school communities were skeptical and resistant to even begin the conversation. Although long-term relationships were tested and challenged, the end results for students were good.

School leaders may be reluctant to venture into the wilderness of starting that difficult conversation.  It will take conviction, courage, and commitment. Nevertheless, we need to have these discussions as a community for us to ensure that all students have an opportunity to achieve and succeed.

So, I suggest that we support our education leaders and start a “courageous conversation” right here on East Side Eddie I want to hear about your experiences with racial and cultural bias as a student, parent, teacher, school administrator and how it impacted your decision to continue (or not continue) a higher education? If you don’t feel comfortable posting publicly, but want to share your story, please feel free to e-mail me confidentially at

Let’s be bold and start talking!


Eddie is available to speak at your next event or conference.  To learn more about speaking services click on the “Speaking Engagement” tab under the banner on this page.

To schedule Eddie for your next breakfast, luncheon, or dinner event, e-mail, or call 408-426-7698.

Leadership Lessons from a Hall of Fame Coach

Coach Percy Carr (right) on the night of his 800th victory at San Jose City College.
(photo courtesy of City College Times)

When walking into the basketball gym at San Jose City College, the first impression is that the place is literally spotless. If you show up around 3:00 PM, you’ll likely see Coach Percy Carr sweeping the floor, as he has for the past 38 years. It doesn’t matter that custodians probably just swept it; Coach Carr wants to make sure that the floor is in perfect condition for practice.

In 38 years at SJCC, Coach Carr has won over 800 games, the most in California history, and led his Jaguars to 34 playoff appearances, 12 conference championships, and 8 state championship games. Despite this success, there are no banners hanging in the gym trumpeting his accomplishments.  That’s just Coach’s style.

In addition to his success on the floor, Coach Carr founded the Creative Athlete Retention Response (CARR) program at San Jose City College. The CARR Program offers athletic and academic advice to all SJCC athletes. Ninety-seven percent of SJCC basketball players go on to a four-year university. In 1998, Coach Carr was inducted into the California Community College Basketball Hall of Fame. I was fortunate to sweep the floor right next to him as one of his assistant coaches from 1989-1991

Throughout my career, I’ve been around some amazing leaders, and Coach Carr tops that list.  Working for Coach was one of the most inspiring experiences of my life. The lessons I learned from him have helped form the core of my own leadership journey. This season, Coach welcomed me back to the Jaguar family as the public address announcer for home games. Watching him working up close again has reminded me of those lessons.  I call them the “Four Be’s of Leadership.”

  1. Be Excellent

Many of the players that come to play for Coach Carr are from inner-city neighborhoods with few positive role models. Coach provides these young men with the highest quality of equipment and facilities. The locker room resembles a facility usually seen only at top-notch Division I universities. He’s a stickler about personal grooming, good manners, and study habits. He gives and expects excellence from his players outside and inside the gym, 24/7.

  1. Be Prepared

Early one Sunday morning, Coach called me from the airport after visiting legendary UNLV Coach Jerry Tarkanian and watching his team play. Coach Carr learned a new technique to help players on defense stay a step ahead against speedy opponents. He asked me to meet him at the gym when he arrived in San Jose to demonstrate the move and prepare for the next day’s practice. Monday’s practice was seamless, and the Jags defense led the team to 28 victories that year.

  1. Be a Teacher

When young men first arrive on campus at SJCC, they have little experience managing life on their own. During my two years there, I watched Coach teach them how to navigate the financial aid bureaucracy, shop for groceries, and conduct themselves in public as respectable young men. He taught them how work effectively in a team environment.  And for a couple of hours a day, he taught them how to play basketball.

  1. Be a Winner

This year’s team is a classic SJCC Jaguar squad. They’re big, fast, and very talented. The team is also young, which resulted in a rocky start to the season. The team would take early leads in many games only to succumb at the end. They couldn’t find a way to win. Coach didn’t give up. He made adjustments, tried different line-ups, and convinced the young players that they could win. The Jags started to play like a well-oiled machine and sent Coach to the playoffs for the 34th time in his career.

Although it hasn’t helped my March Madness brackets, I learned a whole lot about coaching basketball from Coach Carr. Like his players, I spent only two years at SJCC, but left with a lifetime of leadership lessons. Working to be excellent, preparing for each assignment and project, being a teacher to those under my care, and striving to be a winner have guided me as a father, husband, community leader, and executive.

At the end of the day, Coach Carr’s leadership isn’t about basketball; it’s about inspiring young men and giving them the tools to be successful. His former players are now lawyers, doctors, teachers, coaches, and businessmen.  I’m sure this year has been an incredible experience for the players and the young coaching staff. They went to the playoffs, Coach is a step closer to 900 wins, and most important, the young men he leads are headed for a successful life.

California Can Have World-Class Schools Again


The other night I was relaxing and listening to The Beatles Magical Mystery Tour album when I heard the familiar sound of a recorder, a flute-like woodwind instrument, on the song A Fool on the Hill (hear Paul McCartney on the recorder at 1:25 – The high-pitched melodic sound of the recorder brought back memories of elementary school. Readers from my generation will remember the recorder as the public school system’s introduction to music education.

Every student was issued a basic plastic recorder that taught us how to read music by belting out old standards like Twinkle Twinkle Little Star and Mary Had a Little Lamb. Some students were inspired to take their musical interests to the next level by joining the school band. I tried the saxophone and quickly learned that there was no way I could ever earn a living as a musician.

I was lucky to grow up during a time when California had the best public school system in the nation. With voter approval of Proposition 13 in 1978, everything changed. The anti-tax law slashed school budgets to provide only the basics. The result has been three and a half decades of limited resources and opportunities for working-class kids. With courageous local leadership, the state’s new Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) could change that.

From the 1950s to the late 70s, California’s stellar public school system was a symbol of the state’s role as an economic juggernaut during our country’s longest period of prosperity. In 1968, the year The Beatles released A Fool on the Hill, 58% of the state’s funding went to education. According to the California Department of Education website, public school funding is only “40% of the state’s General Fund for 2013-14.”

So what did working-class families get for that extra 18%? In addition to the plastic recorders, there were regular field trips, art, music, and physical education. Today, music, art, and P.E. are considered “enrichment,” not basic education, and parents have to dig deeper into their pockets for fields trips and other “extras” like pencils, paper, and crayons. With the heavy emphasis on science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM), we’re no longer educating our kids; we’re putting them through basic job training.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing, especially in Silicon Valley. Our tech industry badly needs a trained pool of workers, and students need job skills that help them compete in today’s economy. But let’s call it what it is, and not call it a well-rounded education. Putting all our public school resources in the STEM basket leaves few options for students from working-class families with leadership qualities and an aptitude for written and verbal communication or the humanities and arts.

State education policy analysts estimate that the LCFF will add $2,700 per student to local school district budgets for the next five years and even more in the future. At the East Side Union High School District, that means an additional $5.5 million next year. School boards should resist the temptation to use all of the new dollars on technology and STEM-related applications.

I’ve written in previous posts that education leaders need to allocate some of those extra dollars on developing systematic and comprehensive educational equity. Resources also need to be earmarked for student readiness projects and a gradual return of arts and humanities education. Unlike affluent families that are able to fund their children’s “enrichment,” the public school system is the only place that kids from working-class families can get a shot at a well-rounded education.

California schools have been in a perpetual state of budget-cutting for over 35 years. With the annual economizing, school leaders have been on an obsessive quest to run schools like a business. Treating kids like widgets in a factory has resulted in a system that prepares students to merely take standardized tests; rather than educating them.  That’s a shame.

I’m not saying that STEM and standardized tests aren’t important elements of the school system.  I’m saying that they shouldn’t be the ONLY elements of public education. As the Information Age continues to expand, we’ll need people who can read, write, and think critically; as well as people who can program a computer and write code.

During the 1950s and 1960s, California Governor Pat Brown created and funded a well-rounded, word-class public school system.  A half-century later, his son Governor Jerry Brown has developed an education funding mechanism to provide more funding than local school districts have seen in decades.  Let’s hope our local leaders use that extra funding to inspire another era of word-class education in the Golden State.

NEW FEATURE: Speaking Engagements

Speaking to a group of community leaders
Speaking to a group of community leaders

I’ve written about failing at my first try at college and suffering a health crisis that nearly took my life 25 years later. Both episodes resulted in life-changing transformations. I eventually earned a degree and had a dynamic career in executive management and public service, and after that awful summer in the hospital, I got the gift of time to reflect on my experiences. In the reflection process, I found purpose in life.

Growing up in a working-class family, coaching basketball at my high school alma mater, serving as board president of a large school district, working as a vice president of a major U.S. company, and serving as senior staff to public officials have provided me with a treasure trove of stories and anecdotes. These stories are my inspiration for writing East Side Eddie

Along the way, I’ve learned a few life lessons about failure, despair, hope and the power of perseverance. The purpose behind creating East Side Eddie and writing Summer in the Waiting Room is to share these stories to inspire others to achieve their dreams and aspirations. With that in mind, I’m now available as a motivational speaker at conferences, corporate meetings, school activities, and community events.

For my talks, I draw from a broad set of experiences to engage audiences with inspiring, amusing, and colorful stories. My signature keynote address is called, “From Working-Class Family to Corporate Executive, Life in the ICU, and Beyond.”  In this speech, I share the inspiring story of persevering through failure, a life-threatening illness, and hopelessness to find success and redemption.  I’ve also developed a series of talks on the following topics:

  • How to Navigate the Executive Office and Achieve Success in the Corporate World
  • Creating Educational Equity to Provide Leadership for Diverse School Systems
  • Organizing and Empowering People for the Good of the Community
  • Be Your Own Advocate: Managing Personal Healthcare in the 21st Century

In addition to being an engaging keynote speaker for any breakfast, luncheon, dinner, or fundraising event, I’m available for presentations as a panelist, seminar presenter, or moderator specializing in corporate, non-profit, and education conferences.  My areas of expertise include:

  • Education Policy and Leadership
  • Executive Leadership
  • Healthcare from a Patient Perspective
  •  Coaching Athletics
  • Organizational Development

Speaking fees are reasonable and negotiable in order fit any budget.  I’m also available to speak to middle and high school students at no cost.

To learn more about speaking services and to schedule a speaking engagement for your next event or conference, click on the “Speaking Engagement” tab at the top of the East Side Eddie page, e-mail, or call 408-426-7698.

Leadership Lessons: Reaching Out to Rivals

President Obama and Cuban Leader Raul Castro Shaking Hand at Nelson Mandela's Funeral (file photo)
President Obama and Cuban Leader Raul Castro shaking hands at Nelson Mandela’s funeral. (file photo)

When President Obama reached out and shook hands with Cuban dictator Raul Castro last week at Nelson Mandela’s funeral the Republican leadership in Congress rushed to the television cameras to criticize the president.  The GOP’s shameful response to the president‘s display of graciousness during a solemn ceremony in honor of someone who epitomized forgiveness is exactly why Congress lacks the leadership skills to get anything done in Washington.

Had President Ronald Reagan declined a working relationship with Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev, the world could have been consumed by nuclear holocaust.  Perhaps the most famous example of leadership by reaching out to rivals is President Abraham Lincoln.  He appointed campaign opponents to cabinet posts; then extended his hand in peace to Confederate rebels promising a post-Civil War America, “with malice toward none, with charity for all.”

One of the most difficult challenges for effective leaders is to be able to bury the hatchet with opponents to benefit those they serve.  True leadership embraces conflict and bridges differences for the common good.  When I served as a trustee on the East Side Union High School District, overcoming differences with a rival led to the approval of two of the most important district initiatives during the past half dozen years.

The district’s board of trustees appointed me in 2006 on a 3-1 vote.  Trustee Frank Biehl was the lone dissenter who vigorously argued against my appointment, so our relationship started off on the wrong foot.  Adding to that dynamic, he and I are from different worlds.  Frank is white, I’m Latino.  He’s the oldest son from a successful family business.  I’m the youngest son from an east side working-class family.  He’s pragmatic, I’m passionate.  On the board, we rarely found common ground.

Two years later, Frank was again the sole “no” vote on my reappointment to the board.  That term we started off on two wrong feet.  I broke the cardinal rule of leadership; I took Frank’s opposition personally.  Instead of looking for common ground, I sought out conflict with him.  The result was a lack of productivity on my part.

When the board took a preliminary vote to eliminate after-school sports, we again were on opposite sides of the fence.  As a former student-athlete I understood the value of athletics and proposed a plan that would restore funding to the programs.  After Frank’s initial vote to eliminate sports programs, he reconsidered and unveiled his own plan to save sports.  I didn’t like his ideas and prepared myself for a long fight.

My personal issues with Frank had trumped doing what was right.  Rather than fighting for student-athletes and their families, I realized I was opposing Frank’s plan because he had opposed me.  It was a valuable on-the-job lesson.  I learned that leadership shouldn’t be about me, it should be about those I serve.  I reached out to Frank and expressed my concerns about his ideas, and he did the same.  With his pragmatic approach and my passion for student athletics, we compromised and saved sports programs.

He supported my candidacy for president of the board a year later.  When I announced an initiative to make college entrance requirements the default curriculum for all students, Frank and I shared ideas and worked together for the good of students.  I spent that summer in the hospital and he came to visit me.  A personal rivalry had turned into friendship.  That fall, Frank and I joined a unanimous board in passing a historic policy that ensured that every East Side graduate can to go to college.

I learned a valuable lesson.  Leaders must overcome personal differences in order to make decisions that benefit those they lead.  Whether you’re PTA president, on the Little League board, a supervisor at work, or President of the United States, these three simple rules can help you avoid the pitfalls caused by personal problems:

  1. It’s not about you.  Your role as a leader is to serve others, not the other way around.  Your decisions will impact, negatively or positively, those you lead.  So make decisions with them in mind.
  2. Keep Your Eye on the Prize.  Why did you seek out a leadership role in the first place?  Probably to make things better or to make a change.  Don’t let personal issues get in the way of accomplishing what you set out to do.
  3.  Find Common Ground.  Rival leaders may share your vision to make improvements or change, but have different notions on how to get there.  Listen to what they have to say.  You may find that you have more in common than you think.

Leaders are like the rest of us replete with biases, emotions, fears, and dislikes.  Yet unlike the rest of us, they must overcome those personal barriers to ensure the common good.  Just imagine what kind of world we would be living in if President Lincoln didn’t have the courage to embrace his rivals to keep our nation united or President Reagan and Premier Gorbachev let personal philosophies keep them from the Cold War peace table.

La Directora: A Genuine Latina Leader

Hon. Carlos Ponce Martínez, Consul General of Mexico, (pictured with Directora Sandra García) visits Adelante Academy to plant a ceremonial friendship tree on Mexican Independence Day
Hon. Carlos Ponce Martínez, Consul General of Mexico, (pictured with Directora Sandra García) visits Adelante Academy to plant a ceremonial friendship tree on Mexican Independence Day

Blogger’s Note: The following post is about my wife Sandra García.  I was initially reluctant to post it because Sandra is uncomfortable with the spotlight.  I post it at my own risk.


Sandra García was always a good student.  She was 6th grade class president and student body president in high school.  Her mom once told me that she has always known what she wanted.  She wanted to be a teacher, then a principal; and she accomplished both.  Throughout her life, this east side girl has quietly exemplified what it is to be a leader.  On December 5th, she will be honored by the San Jose Silicon Valley Chamber of Commerce as the Outstanding Principal of the Year in the Silicon Valley

Sandra comes from a family with strong Latina role models.  Her maternal grandmother was a young widow who raised nine children teaching them the values of hard work and perseverance.  Sandra’s mom taught her daughters the value of education by participating in their school life during an era when the place for a Latina mother was in the home.  These two resilient women forged the foundation of Sandra’s leadership journey that complements her skill, talent, and experience.

I’ve written about how Bob Williams built a team of east side kids into a shoe selling machine at Kinney Shoes during the late 70s and early 80s.  I’ve shared with you how Chris Boyd provides the tools his team at Kaiser Santa Clara Medical Center needs to save lives.  Raised in a hard-working family with strong Latina role models, Sandra is a genuine leader who brings her own brand of compassion and determination to the leadership table.

A little more than a decade ago, Sandra, several colleagues, and a group of parents dreamed of building a Spanish-English dual language school on the east side.  After putting together a design team and getting approval from the school board, Adelante Dual Language Academy opened a year later with three teachers, and 60 kindergarten and first grade students.  Sandra has served as principal for all but the first year.  Her leadership style comes from the fortitude and nurturing handed down by her grandmother and mother.

Sandra is a stickler for high standards (how she ended up with me begs that question and is fodder for another post).  From the smallest household project to gigantic dreams like creating and building a school, she expects the best from herself and those around her.  Anything less is just unacceptable.  Her passion for Adelante and its success is displayed on a daily basis whether she is coaching a teacher to reach higher, encouraging a student to achieve, or picking up an errant wad of paper littered on the ground.

For her, getting the job done is simply a function of good old-fashioned hard work.  I joke with friends that I didn’t realize how much Sandra worked until I stopped working.  If the girls and I really need her, we know where to find her.  On any given night, Adelante is teeming with students and parents on campus for a book fair, “Reading Under the Stars,” a sporting event, or a Dia de los Muertos student exhibit.  The Directora, as her students and parents affectionately call her, is on campus as well supporting her school community.

Like all leaders of a complex organization with many stakeholders, Sandra has had her share of problems and challenges at Adelante.  To overcome these challenges, business guru Patrick Lencioni says that leaders must have a “rallying cry” that keeps organizations focused on what really matters.  Adelante’s rallying cry is centered on student success, parent participation, and community cohesion.  With dignity and grace, Sandra ensures that all involved stay on course on a daily basis.

She’ll be the first to say that the honor bestowed by the chamber of commerce belongs to the students, parents, and faculty at Adelante.  And, she would be right.  Just walking around campus, you can see that students come to school every day ready to learn.  The level of parent support is unequaled for a public school and the teachers are passionate about their students.  Under her leadership, Adelante has become a bona fide east side institution.

All of this is reflected in the school’s academic performance.   Adelante is among the highest performing schools in the district as its standardized test scores have increased phenomenally during the past several years.  Its students have reached the finals in the state Mathematics, Engineering, Science and Achievement competition and the National Spanish Spelling Bee.  What started as a school of 60 students housed on another campus, now serves nearly 600 students on a campus of its own.

With the rise of charter schools and the launch of a new national curriculum for public schools called Common Core, education policymakers are once again grappling with the Latino academic achievement gap.  They could look at the Adelante formula of high standards, good teachers, and engaged parents.  At the helm is a genuine Latina leader who, like her grandmother and mother before her, expects excellence, isn’t afraid to toil tirelessly, and maintains her laser-focused eye on the prize.