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Enrique Ostalé didn’t have a career plan; it is his attitude and commitment to excellence which has taken him from his former position as a local Chilean retailer and academic to now Executive Vice President & CEO of Walmart Latin America, India, and Africa.

Ostalé initially wanted a career in corporate finance, which led him to pursue a degree in economics and business administration from the Adolfo Ibáñez University. He also knew that he needed a master’s degree to position himself in a competitive sector. “I had to apply for a scholarship because I didn’t have enough money to pay for a post-graduate degree.” He received a scholarship from the British Council, which allowed him to study anywhere in the UK. “I chose the London School of Economics because they had the best finance program,” he said.

Ostalé returned to Chile with his degree in hand and became an assistant professor of accounting, but there was another hurdle. “In order to have an academic career, I needed a Ph.D., but it was very expensive. So I had an opportunity to go into retail at D&S as manager of the finance division. At D&S I moved through different positions, including merchandising, systems, and logistics.

These series of lateral moves gave Ostalé a well-rounded knowledge of the business. In 2000, he left D&S to work at Emol, the online platform for El Mercurio newspaper. Between 2002 and 2006, he was dean of the Business School at Adolfo Ibáñez University before returning to D&S. Ostalé eventually became CEO at D&S.

In 2009 Walmart acquired D&S, and it became Walmart Chile. The transition to Walmart was challenging for Ostalé on a personal level, and he knew that his attitude on the transition was key. “Walmart was very supportive during the merger. They had learned from other experiences the value of the local management team.”

After three years as CEO Walmart Chile, Ostalé was offered his first international position as CEO for Latin America (LATAM). “I never had international exposure, but it’s been an incredible experience.” This year, Africa and India were tacked on to an already vast geography. Ostalé now has responsibility for most emerging markets except China. Now, his home and office are in Bentonville, Arkansas.

Ostalé emphasizes the importance of attitude. “To be an effective leader, you have to support the company’s mission. You have to be adaptable, guided by your values, experience, and principals; if you do that, at the end of the day, the decisions that you make will be the right thing for you as well as the business.”

That positive attitude transcends any worries about the future. “If I can add value to the position with my experience and professionalism then OK, if not, I’ll reinvent myself.”

Now that he has become a Latino living in the United States, Ostalé has become aware of the need to focus on diversity. He feels that overall we are underrepresented in the whole diversity focus. He believes that there needs to be more Latinos, women, and African Americans in the corporate pipeline.

While he has observed that it’s improving, an equal balance of those populations has not yet been achieved. “In order to get more Latinos in the C-suite, we need a critical mass at the previous levels, such as senior director and director because that’s how you develop talent to take over the following promotions,” he explains.

Ostalé sees his role as a way to bring in more Latinos at the manager level to get to that critical mass, be supportive, and to do mentorship. “Walmart is committed to moving the needle and going forward in a sustainable way. This can’t be accomplished only through human resource policy but through other programs that support this goal as well.”

Having the right skills for those wanting to have a corporate career is fundamental. In today’s global economy, language skills are essential. “My recommendation is not to lose your bilingual skills. Spanish is a great asset. Another is, be careful of double agendas and be the best professional you can be. Be committed to what you are doing at the moment, even if you are not expecting to be at a company for life.”

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