Valle del Sol Profiles of Success Honoree: Benito Almanza

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We’ll talk to Benito Almanza, Bank of America President, the recipient of the Hall of Fame Award at the 2012 Valle del Sol’s Profiles of Success Hispanic Leadership Awards.

Jose Cardenas: Valle Del Sol, a nonprofit organization, provides behavioral health, human service, and leadership development programs to build strong families. Last month they honored 11 Hispanic leaders at their annual "Profiles of success" Hispanic leadership awards. One of the honorees was Benito Almanza. Almanza was the recipient for the hall of fame award. Joining me is Benito Almanza, Bank of America president. First of all, congratulations on your award and thank you for joining us on "Horizonte" to talk about it. It was the hall of fame award. Recognition of your years of leadership in this community. Before we talk about that, let's talk about your back ground growing up and going to school.

Benito Almanza: Great. Well, I would say first of all it's an honor to be here. Certainly from the standpoint of just sort of sharing how this particular this award was to me. Thank you. I grew up in the central valley of California, small farming community called Hanford. There the population was less than 5,000 people at the time. And it was predominantly an agricultural community. Everything that was tied into the community was based on agriculture. So my family were farm laborers in the community. And we, it goes back all the way through to the when my grandparents came over from Mexico. And they settled along the California, or they settled in California, went through the valley where there was a lot of fruit production and basically followed the fruit as migrant farm laborers throughout the season. And so that's how my grandparents worked. That's how my parents met each other. The two families were, would work together side by side in camping. And my wife and I met that way as well as our families met in working together out in the field.

Jose Cardenas: But that's not where you ended up.

Benito Almanza: No, it's not where we ended up. One of the big things that was important to my parents was the fact that we get an education. So irrespective of the fact they didn't have an education, it was real important to them that their children get an education. So they went out of their way to really focus us on education. You know, I tell the story of when I was in high school, I wanted to go to a dance and my father said, oh, go ahead. You can go to the dance. So I went to the football game and went to the dance. And then come 4:30 the light goes on in my room, and he said, it's time to get up. First and only time I went to the dance. Because it was just when I learned a lesson right there early on was, I could do whatever I needed to do but it was important that I was going to focus in on work and on education and that was a big thing for my parents.

Jose Cardenas: Tell us a little bit about your formal higher education.

Benito Almanza: Well, like I indicated, I started out at Hanford high school and the interesting; I will take a step back right there because I think this is real important. And it really shares a little bit about me, who I am. But I went in to, as I said, my parents were real big about school. And I went in and I was at a Catholic high school, or a Catholic grammar school with small group of people. And when it came time to coming into high school, my parents were very focused on me going into college. And so when I got into that high school, I was given a noncollege prep counselor, which really helped -- in those days for us really determined the classes that you would get. I wanted the same classes that my friends that I went to school with took and they got into the college prep counselor. I didn't get into it. And so one of the things that was, I went home and told my mother that I wasn't going to get the college prep counselor. And then she went to the principal at the high school. And in her way and style, told him that I want, she wanted me into the program and that I was going to go to college. Well, she didn't get me into the college prep counselor, but she got them to agree to allow me to take the classes with my classmates. So with that, they were -- I was allowed to be able to continue on with college prep classes that prepared me and my formal education is I went to Stanford and went to University of Santa Clara. And then after graduating from school, I started with the Bank of America and it's now been 35 years starting from that time frame working at Bank of America.

Jose Cardenas: Now, Benito, you have received many, many awards during your time here in Arizona. As anybody who reads the paper would know. Why is this one special? You indicated that just a moment ago.

Benito Almanza: Well, to me, José, it's about what this award represents. Certainly from the standpoint of the community. It's a very important organization for the community, the work that Valle del Sol does on the healthcare front in terms of helping individuals is very important. That work but it's also the leadership that they provide. And for me to be recognized with the individuals that have passed on before me who have been, who have received this kind of recognition was to me very compelling for me to accept the award. And especially when I looked at the class of people that I was coming in with, I was very humbled when I saw the list of individuals and wondering whether or not I was, I really should be in with that group of individuals because to me I look at people I am with to see how to gauge myself. And I saw who they were, and what they have done in the community and I was just humbled. And honored to be part of that group.

Jose Cardenas: Just to be clear you got the hall of fame award. There were others but you got the hall of fame award. Well deserved. You talked about the importance of education in your life. And I know you have been very involved in education efforts here in the valley. Item us a little bit about that.

Benito Almanza: Well, certainly I think education is great equalizer in terms of anything that happens with an individual. And I look at my particular situation. And the importance education provided for me. And I remember going back and the individuals that I went to school with, there was a number of them that were smarter, just as smart as I was, and they just didn't have the ability to take it on to that next level. And I think part of it was just the circumstances that we were, that we had.

Jose Cardenas: You and I have talked before, and I mention this because we are almost out of time but about as the kids at Carl Hayden whom you have taken a special interest who haven't necessarily had the special advantages have done very well despite that.

Benito Almanza: That's one of the true great stories of our community. Is you have a school that's predominantly Hispanic, and predominantly low-income population in that particular school district, and what they have done is, they have really rallied around the robotics area, and what they have done is, in 2004, they decided they were going to establish a club and they were going to go out and they wanted to compete. And a year later, they went and they competed against some of the top colleges, Harvard, MIT and they beat them in the robotics challenge. And so you fast forward a couple of years now to lately, and now what they are really focused on is the world. They had just completed a competition against 32 Universities and schools across the world. And the top schools being China and India and their idea is they want to beat China and India. They are not really focused on the United States schools but really on China and India and they have a three-year plan. This first year they came in fourth on the just the technical document. And then they came in 12th in terms of the actual robotics.

Jose Cardenas: I'm sorry to say we are out of time. We will get you back to talk about that and your involvement in the program. Again, Benito, congratulations on your very well deserved award. Thanks for joining us.

Benito Almanza: Thank you.

Jose Cardenas: That is our show for this Thursday evening. From all of us here at "Horizonte," I'm José Cardenas. Have a good night.

Benito Almanza:President, Bank of America;

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