After nearly a quarter century leading the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Wisconsin, president and chief executive officer Maria Monreal-Cameron will round out her final year at the organization as the 2013 BizTimes Woman Executive of the Year.
When Monreal-Cameron took over the helm of the chamber in 1989 after spending 17 years as a stay-at-home mother of three sons and three daughters, she admittedly knew little about the nonprofit membership organization. But with strong ties to the Hispanic community through her involvement in Milwaukee’s Mexican Fiesta among other organizations, she stepped in prepared to drive its mission forward.
Today, with 503 members primarily located in metropolitan Milwaukee – up from 62 members in 1989 – the chamber aims to foster business development among Hispanic enterprises and other small business ventures through education, advocacy efforts and networking opportunities.
In addition to her community engagement, the countless hours Monreal-Cameron spent as a teenager and young adult waitressing at her family’s restaurant, Monreal’s El Matador, prepared her to become a force within the small business sector.
“I knew about business, and I knew about the obstacles and challenges,” Monreal-Cameron said. “So I was intrigued by the idea (of leading the chamber).”
The Milwaukee native is one of 13 children born to Mexican immigrant parents and the first daughter behind seven sons.
“I think that this ranking helped me to be assertive, which is an important character trait,” Monreal-Cameron said.
Her compassion has been another important character trait fueling her leadership ability, according to those who know her.
To Rick White, vice president of corporate communications at Wisconsin Energy Corp. and We Energies, Milwaukee is “blessed to have” Monreal-Cameron among its leaders.
“Have you ever had the experience of meeting someone for the first time and knowing instantly you had just met a winner?” White said. “And you know if you listen to that person, they’ll help you be a winner, too? That’s what happens when you meet Maria Monreal-Cameron. She is a bright, articulate leader who cares deeply about her community and who has contributed to the success of many.”
Monreal-Cameron’s compassion extends beyond the boundaries of her work at the Hispanic Chamber. Throughout her career, she has served as an advisor on the committees and councils of organizations such as Make-A-Wish Foundation, Affiliated Home Health Care and Milwaukee Succeeds – Cradle to Career.
Her career has also been marked by dozens of awards, including the TEMPO Milwaukee Mentor Award, a Lifetime Achievement Award from the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce & Latina Style Magazine and the Lamplighter Award from the Greater Milwaukee Convention & Visitors Bureau.
Monreal-Cameron largely credits the chamber’s supporters, including political officials and corporations, for the organization’s success and her success in promoting the upward mobility of Hispanics in the community.
“I take great, great pride in knowing that we have played an important, significant role in connecting the community with opportunity in commerce, education and employment,” Monreal-Cameron said.
Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett applauded Monreal-Cameron as “a dedicated and respected voice” in the business and educational community.
“She has made a lasting impact in the City of Milwaukee by focusing on the creation and growth of Hispanic-run businesses and providing the training and educational resources necessary to be successful,” Barrett said.
At the end of September, Monreal-Cameron will step down from the chamber to catch her breath and explore new community pursuits. An interim executive director will fill in until the chamber’s board of directors has identified Monreal-Cameron’s successor through a nationwide search.
“I gave (the chamber) wings,” Monreal-Cameron said. “The next person will make it soar like I never even dreamed imaginable. It’s time now to step aside and pass the torch to somebody who can run faster, hold it higher and take it to the next level.”
Monreal-Cameron is still figuring out how the next chapter of her career will unfold, but she is certain she will remain attached to the chamber and the city she has always known as home.
“Every fabric of my being connects me to certainly my community and certainly to the city of Milwaukee,” Monreal-Cameron said.