Martee Saldaña Pierson isn’t afraid to admit she’s made mistakes. In fact, she believes that mistakes have led to her greatest successes.
A proud Puerto Rican, she was born in Elizabeth, Louisiana and grew up in Ft. Worth. Martee got a degree in English and Secondary Education at the University of Texas at Austin and began her career as a teacher. But after a year, she realized her calling went beyond the classroom walls. It was at a fashion show in Houston that opportunity presented itself. There she met Stanley and Lawrence Marcus, owners of the glamorous Neiman Marcus department store, who urged her to enter the marketing field.
“In those days, marketing for a woman meant serving cups of coffee at board meetings,” recalls Martee with a laugh. “But they promised me that wouldn’t be the case.”
Not only did the Marcus brothers offer her a job, they became her mentors and launched her trailblazing, thirty-plus year career as a strategic marketing professional. Along the way, she worked for a number of companies besides Neiman Marcus, including Aeromexico, and earned two master’s degrees in communications and marketing. In 2007, she joined Liberty Tax. Based in the company’s headquarters in Virginia Beach, VA, Martee serves as the Director of Diversity Programs and the Executive Director of the Una Familia Sin Fronteras Foundation.
Liberty Tax is the fastest growing retail tax preparation company in the industry, founded in 1997. To date, the company has prepared over 12,000,000 individual tax returns. But what impressed Martee most was Liberty Tax’s goal for their Hispanic outreach program.
“Often, Hispanic programs and diversity programs in general, are created by well-wishing professionals who really do not understand the experience of the Hispanic immigrant,” she said. “Always ahead of the rest, Liberty appreciated that personal understanding allows for much more vested program plans that will resonate with the Latino target group.”
Martee spearheaded efforts to ensure that Liberty Tax offers Latino customers access to bilingual tax professionals. The company has over 4,500 offices led by more than 2,000 franchisees with deep ties to their communities. Each office offers audit assistance, a money-back guarantee, and free tax return reviews. An elite group of Hispanic Services Seal of Excellence Certified offices provide assistance in Spanish and many other services free of charge. According to Mauro Amador, a Liberty Tax franchisee in Austin, “[Martee] is truly an innovator who is passionate about the Latino community and works diligently to provide them with the right information and tools so they can achieve their American dream.”
These efforts have not gone unnoticed. Martee is widely sought out as a speaker by organizations such as the Hispanic Leadership Forum and the American Red Cross, to name just two. In 2011, she received the Marian Palmer Capps Award from the Virginia Urban League for her contributions to inter-racial cooperation. In 2012, she was a keynote speaker at the LatinVision Banking and Finance Conference in New York. Most recently, she was tapped to coordinate and participate in exclusive roundtable discussions by Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, working with the U.S. Dept. of Education promoting their FAFSA program, and Senator Mark Warner of Virginia to address immigration and education issues for Hispanics.But for all these accomplishments and accolades, Martee is equally proud of her role as the Executive Director of the Una Familia Sin Fronteras Foundation. This unique outreach initiative was started by Liberty Tax to empower the Latino community through financial education. “Liberty has focused on ensuring that we provide special services that are very much needed by our new immigrant communities,” says Liberty Tax Founder and CEO John Hewitt. “We believe that information provides options, and options provide empowerment. Our Una Familia Sin Fronteras Initiative and Foundation were created specifically to bring these much-needed values to our Latino neighbors across the U.S.”
Martee explains that the Foundation accomplishes this through free bilingual seminars, workshops and community events held around the country. Participants learn everything from tax eligibility to opening a bank account to applying for a Tax ID number. Many who attend are recent immigrants with little knowledge of the U.S. financial system. “We want to stop people from being abused by fraudulent tax services and bad information that cause unnecessary legal problems,” says Martee.
The Foundation has established over 400 alliances with private, public and non-profit organizations such as school districts, Head Start programs, Hispanic Chambers of Commerce, YWCAs, and Mexican Consulates. Martee has been instrumental in forging an alliance with the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics. In addition, the Foundation airs weekly 30-minute television and radio broadcasts in Spanish helping Latinos start on the path to financial wellbeing.
In a way, Martee has come full circle as an educator. But instead of teaching in the classroom, she and the Foundation are educating the community. “Education is a key component to the growth and economic strength of our Latino communities in the U.S.,” she says. “At Liberty Tax Service we plan to continue pushing forward with this important initiative as we work together for the betterment of this ‘emerging majority’ that is our Hispanic population.”
Let’s take gender, color, race, disability and creed out of the Diversity equation and what do you have? Very simply, you have people. Whether it’s internal intelligence or clients, the bottom line is people working with people successfully, and diversity should play a major role in the progression of your business.
So, why are some companies more successful in their efforts than others? Reciprocity could be the missing component to their business plan. And with the emerging majority that is the Hispanic population, reciprocity plays a key role.
If you want to catch a trout, a nice juicy fly works better than a steak! No business can be all things to all people. We Hispanics culturally require a certain level of trust before we embark on a lasting relationship with any company or vendor, and even more so for service providers. Consequently, if a company wants to be a successful partner with the Latino population and positively impact their financial solvency, including Latinos in their core planning and management intelligence is no longer an option, but a requirement.
Bottom line … people enjoy working with someone who understands their culture, as well as the unique communication that results from this knowledge, including language. Otherwise, how can you understand and cogently enter the folkways of the Latino population? Hispanic management and staffing must be key to any company that wants to create a lasting alliance with our emerging majority. Think about it…internal diversity draws external diverse groups to your product or service. And, in today’s reality, Hispanics are in the driver’s seat of change and diversity expansion in the U. S.
Unfortunately, with some companies, diversity is treated more as a buzz word of the times than the outstanding opportunity it presents. It is undisputable that the Latino market is viewed as a prime resource for business growth. However, hiring practices do not always reflect this opportunity. A company’s commitment to the Hispanic community cannot be superficial or it will not be embraced by the marketplace and certainly, not by its stakeholders. Diversity must be woven into the fabric of your company to keep it healthy for your employees, exciting for your culture and satisfying for your clients. It’s time for corporations to eliminate the buzz words from their vocabulary and start “walking the talk” of diversity. In today’s reality, it is foolish to ignore the impact that Latino internal intelligence will make on business.
The Hispanic population in the U.S., particularly the new immigrant, needs to see good faith efforts by any service provider before they will embrace the long-term relationships and referrals that are key to business success. A company should look inwardly at their core competency and create programs that will help the community prosper. The goal should be to provide our diverse communities with services that will enhance their lives, promote their success, and ultimately, help move them from just “surviving” into “thriving”.
At Liberty, we saw our core competency not just as tax preparers, but as financial and fiscal educators since so many of our Franchisees are CPAs, accountants, bookkeepers and even retired teachers. Focusing on the new immigrant’s need for information, we created a series of FREE, Spanish-language workshops that easily explain financial and fiscal concepts such as “How to start your own small business”, “First time homeownership” and approximately 40 other basic life skills and civic-related topics – and no sales pitches or sales collateral are allowed! We even provide these courses in Haitian Creole, as well as various Oaxacan dialects so that our underserved neighbors can learn vital information that will make a difference in their lives. Through alliances with over 400 Hispanic outreach programs and institutions nationwide that include nonprofits (large and small), school districts, churches, libraries, ESL & GED schools, the Mexican Consulates and their Plaza Comunitarias, other Latino Consulates and even the U.S. Dept. of Education (we promote the FASFA program in high schools and to parents) and the White House Initiative on Education Excellence for Hispanics team, we have been able to reach hundreds-of-thousands of Latinos across the nation – a testament to the credibility of our “free education with no sales pitch” commitment. The Hispanic community will respond. And ultimately, they will prove to be your anchor clients!
So rather than only focusing on selling to Latinos, companies should work to provide them with free, pertinent information that will allow them to make more informed decisions and clearly understand the options available to them, so they can move forward with empowerment and self-esteem. We must invest in the community to help it prosper and view this effort as a long term investment. Incorporating the values of reciprocity into your business plan should be a priority. Diversity will continue to be evolutionary, and we must understand and embrace the value of the cultural impact this evolution will provide.
By Martee Saldaña Pierson
Director of Diversity Programs
Liberty Tax Service