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Alfonso Cornejo
Person

Alfonso Cornejo

President Hispanic Chamber Cincinnati USA Cincinnati, Ohio Appointed by the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland Board of Directors Sector Representation: Nonprofit Business Groups Current term ends December 31, 2023

To hear Alfonso Cornejo tell it, becoming president of Hispanic Chamber Cincinnati USA was meant to be a temporary fix.

He was a member of the chamber’s board of directors in Cincinnati, Ohio, when the then president, Roberto Peraza, lost his son in the attack on the Twin Towers on September 11, 2001. Not long after, Peraza approached him with his plan to retire to Florida to spend more time with his daughter and grandchildren, asking if Cornejo would take on the role of board president. His reply? “I’ll look for a replacement for you.” Nearly two decades have passed, and Cornejo says he’s still searching.

Some things have changed, while others remain the same

In the meantime, he’s putting in “only half days” at the chamber, from 7 am to 7 pm. While his usual days would be spent sprinting from meeting to meeting or to a social gathering or gala at which he would cultivate support for the chamber’s work and partners, the pandemic has him working mostly from his basement-turned-home-office in Cincinnati. However, it’s clear that while his method of meeting may have changed, it’s not slowed him, or the chamber, down. He still spends his days interacting—now via video calls—with the heads of other local chambers of commerce, companies, and hospitals.

The chamber’s dual focus is on helping institutions engage with Latinx- and Hispanic-owned businesses in the Cincinnati tri-state area and on fostering the professional growth of Cincinnati’s Latinx and Hispanic residents. As leader of the chamber, Cornejo is also part of the Eight As One group, which brings regional heads of chambers of commerce together to brainstorm ways to entice international businesses and residents to the area. And growth is more essential now than it has ever been, Cornejo says. Overall, Ohio is teetering population wise, and he’s concerned about what that might mean for Cincinnati’s future standard of living. One solution “is to bring more Fortune 500 and Fortune 1000 companies to the city.”

Cornejo says that the pandemic has been particularly tough for Cincinnati’s Latinx and Hispanic microenterprises, companies that comprise one to five employees including the owner. Many of them have sought out the chamber for assistance with filing for Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans, which are backed by the US Small Business Administration and supported by the Federal Reserve. Securing such loans involves a lot of necessary paperwork and recordkeeping, and while the chamber can help with the application process, the recordkeeping is up to the individual business.

Cornejo says that the pandemic has been particularly tough for Cincinnati’s Latinx and Hispanic microenterprises, companies that comprise one to five employees including the owner.

“This guy can handle people”

Cornejo didn’t necessarily envision a professional future so steeped in navigating human nature. He started as a chemical engineer at Procter & Gamble in Mexico. On the path to becoming plant manager, he says, “you have to do some union negotiations. So I was in charge of the negotiation with the union on behalf of P&G. And I guess they liked what I did with the union, so they said, ‘This guy can handle people.’” Cornejo landed the job as plant manager and then, after a while, moved over to head human resources in Mexico.

He’s worked for a handful of big-name companies: Procter & Gamble in Mexico and then in the United States, Clorox in California, then Chiquita Brands, another company headquartered in Cincinnati at the time. It was Procter & Gamble that first brought him to Cincinnati 33 years ago. He left the corporate world for a short while to lead his own small consulting firm before joining the chamber.

Human natures are more difficult than chemical issues.

Thinking about problems he helped solve in his former life in engineering, he pauses and says that “human natures are more difficult than chemical issues.” Humans are far more complicated, and they see things through multifaceted lenses. It was Cornejo’s ease with people that brought him to the attention of LaVaughn Henry, at that time the regional officer of the Bank’s Cincinnati Branch. Cornejo was serving as a member of the Cleveland Reserve Bank’s Cincinnati Business Advisory Council when Henry asked him if he would like to move over to the branch’s board of directors. Cornejo agreed.

One of his favorite parts about being on the board is that he’s always learning from the economists and other board members, he says. One thing he really admires about the board is that people can have different interpretations using the same data depending on their own backgrounds or life experiences, and it’s the discussions about the data that bring real insights. “The input that our board members provide balances the perspective for the Federal Reserve in the rest of the country,” he says, particularly because other areas of the country have economies growing or contracting at different rates.

He believes it helps to have regional perspectives. “The world and the economy are very complex, and whoever tells you he knows everything, forget about it. He’s lying to you.”

Fast Facts

A hobby he can do from anywhere

Cornejo says that his hobby is “work, work, and work”—but also eating. His wife has a wide-ranging culinary repertoire, including dishes from countries in Africa and from Poland, France, Mexico, Peru, and beyond. “I’m blessed,” he says. His absolute favorite dish is Peruvian ceviche, raw shrimp or octopus left overnight in the refrigerator to marinate in lemon or lime juice and spices. The acid cooks the meat, leaving it tender and tangy.

Courting before email

In 1970, Procter & Gamble Mexico experienced a serious maintenance issue with a water well, and employees were told to take a week off while the issue was corrected. It was a stroke of excellent luck for Cornejo. He and a friend headed to Acapulco for some time on the beach, and within a few days, Cornejo met the San Francisco-born woman who would later become his wife.

Courting long before the widespread use of computers and email, Cornejo and Marilyn exchanged letters. A year and a half after that fateful meeting, they married and Marilyn moved to Mexico, becoming a Mexican resident. After 19 years, they moved to the United States when Cornejo transferred to P&G Global Headquarters in Cincinnati.

Family life

In 1970, Procter & Gamble Mexico experienced a serious maintenance issue with a water well, and employees were told to take a week off while the issue was corrected. It was a stroke of excellent luck for Cornejo. He and a friend headed to Acapulco for some time on the beach, and within a few days, Cornejo met the San Francisco-born woman who would later become his wife.

Courting long before the widespread use of computers and email, Cornejo and Marilyn exchanged letters. A year and a half after that fateful meeting, they married and Marilyn moved to Mexico, becoming a Mexican resident. After 19 years, they moved to the United States when Cornejo transferred to P&G Global Headquarters in Cincinnati.