We chat with IMBA alum Lizbeth Álvarez about her time at IE University, her career shift to HR, and what advice she’d give current and future students.
Lizbeth Álvarez, an alum from the IMBA at IE Business School, hails from my small town of Aguadilla, Puerto Rico. Lizbeth studied Industrial Engineering at the University of Puerto Rico and worked in the finance industry for several years. Later, she enrolled at IE Business School, where she graduated from the International MBA. Recently, she added human resources to her resume as a Global HRIS Project Manager for Milicom (Tigo).
Lizbeth and I share a first name and a hometown, but most importantly, what we share is that we both enrolled in a master’s program during a time of uncertainty. Lizbeth enrolled in 2009, just after the financial crisis. In our conversation, she talks about how ten years later, she still reaps the benefits of her time at IE and how it’s important to keep dreaming and stay authentic.
So, first things first, tell me about your background.
Hi there! I’m from Aguadilla, a small town on the northwest coast of Puerto Rico. I have an undergraduate degree in Industrial Engineering from the University of Puerto Rico (Mayaguez Campus). After working for five years at the leading financial institution on the island, I decided to pursue a master’s degree, and that’s how I earned my IMBA at IE Business School in May 2010.
What are you up to these days, professionally?
Currently, I’m the Global HRIS Project Manager for Millicom, a global telecommunication company with a leading presence in Latin America, better known as Tigo for our customers in the region. The HR global team is located in Miami. However, due to the pandemic, we are supporting our LATAM region remotely with the same commitment and collaborative spirit that our strong organizational culture promotes in every interaction.
I remember speaking to you before I enrolled at HST about your experience as an IE University student. From what I recall, it was a positive recollection. Can you share what your biggest takeaways are from your time at IE?
I LOVED my time at IE University. The academic experience itself was enriching and exciting. However, in my opinion, the global community around me added a great deal of value to my time there. That was the first time this small-town gal was exposed to an international community. For me, it was an eye-opening experience in which I was able to develop a sensitivity for cultural diversity and inclusion. My classmates quickly became my friends, and after almost 11 years of our time at IE, I can testify they have become my familIE.
What is your favorite memory of your time at IE University?
There are so many, I can’t choose one! There was our short exchange to Singapore, where I met my dear friend Julia Sanchez, now the Head of Global Alumni Relations at IE. Or the Global Village in Pinar Building where we shared a little bit of reggaeton and added some Puerto Rican flavor to the mix! Road trips around Spain… My 30th birthday celebration… Tons of fun memories that I treasure and cherish dearly!
If you could go back in time, is there anything you would change or do differently?
No, I wouldn’t change a thing. I was lucky enough to embark on that journey with one of my best friends from Puerto Rico. We found our piso after our first week in Madrid, we lived the whole experience together, and it was amazing to share it with her. All the friendships we made thanks to that experience are priceless.
I definitely feel that there is a mark of “before and after” as a result of my time at IE University. I have such fond memories and I wouldn’t be where I am today without my master’s degree and all the learnings I gained. The career advancements I have been able to build and achieve based on my degree have helped me fulfill my professional goals. That’s why I will always candidly recommend the experience!
How do you believe that IE University prepared you to be where you are now?
I’m at a global company in a global role, so having an open mind, being accepting, respectful and sensitive about cultural diversity is extremely important. It was actually an important aspect assessed as part of my interview process for the role. I could tell that it was important for the company because the organizational culture promotes it, therefore the fit must be there. Since I came with the “chip” based on my experience at IE, I was able to hit the ground running.
Are you still in touch with other IE alumni?
Yes, indeed. From my intake, we try to meet every year and we have been very good in doing so, one way or another. In 2020, we were supposed to celebrate our ten-year anniversary. However, due to the current pandemic, we were not able to go back to Madrid to celebrate all together. Hopefully, we will meet soon.
To continue strengthening the alumni community in the USA, I decided to join the board of the IE Alumni Club in New York City from 2017-2019. Then, I was invited to be part of the board of the IE Alumni Club in Miami where I served from 2019-2020.
On the topic of your career, how did you transition from being an Operations Manager to an HRIS Director? Did you always see yourself transitioning into an HR area?
As an industrial engineer, it might not seem like an obvious career path to go into HR. However, when I started my career at Banco Popular in Puerto Rico, the leading financial institution on the island, I was very curious to explore an opportunity on the human resources team. However, it was not until I was working in New York for a nonprofit health care company, in which I was offered the opportunity to become an HRIS Director, when I jumped at the challenge right away. Since I had previous experience in system implementations, it seemed like an organic transition for me.
What’s next for you? What’s in store for your professional life?
I would love to continue my development in HR. It’s exciting how the HR function has become a strong strategic partner and no longer just a support area. I believe that the current pandemic has contributed greatly to this shift. Not only has it forced the digital work environment, but also has highlighted the importance of HR in driving digital transformation, work-from-home strategies, wellness programs, and culture and engagement campaigns, among others.
Your career path is quite unique, and you’ve come very far! Can you share any advice for students and young professionals?
I remember that when I did my IMBA, the HR professor asked who would like to pursue a career in HR. It was no surprise to me that only a handful of people expressed interest, since the IMBA student profile, generally speaking, aspires to have a career in consulting, finance, or entrepreneurship.
However, I was one of the few to express interest, and I believe it was because of the people factor. I’m a people person, and at the time, it seemed like a good fit with my personality. With the ever-evolving role of HR in digitalization, I’m excited to be part of a key strategic role.
Therefore, my advice to young professionals is to capitalize on their strengths, take the time to discover their talents, and have self-awareness. Clearly identify your likes and dislikes and make that work in your favor. Search for opportunities that seem like a natural fit with your career aspirations, your passion, and your personality. I strongly believe you need to bring your whole self to the workplace. Hence, look for job opportunities and companies that are best suited to your aspirations and goals.
Anything else you’d like to share? Any last piece of wisdom for your readers?
Don’t ever compromise your leadership style or work ethic. Be true to yourself. Your reputation will always precede you. Be patient and take your time to find that company that values your style and empowers you to succeed and supports both your professional and personal goals. I cannot stress enough how important it is to bring your whole self to the workplace. At the end of the day, we should find harmony in everything we do, and since we dedicate plenty of our lives to our professional careers, isn’t it better if everything has balance?
Hailing from Aguadilla, Puerto Rico, Lizbeth Álvarez studied Industrial Engineering at the University of Puerto Rico and worked in the finance industry for several years. Later, she enrolled at IE Business School, where she graduated from the International MBA. Recently, she added human resources to her resume as a Global HRIS Project Manager for Milicom (Tigo). You can get in touch with Lizbeth Álvarez on LinkedIn.