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Global Columbus: Rocio Rodriguez


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Rocio Rodriguez

Place of birth: Mexico City

Date of birth: Aug. 16

Title: Executive director of human resources at Cummins

Duties: I provide human resources support for the Engine Business unit, the largest of the company’s business groups. I serve as a sort of liaison between the employees and the leaders of the various groups within the Engine Business. I deal with anything from employee engagement to reorganizations and promotions. Right now we are heavily involved with an employee engagement survey we will launch in April. We are trying to find out how high the desire is for the employee to stay and how connected they are with the company’s mission and values.

Education: Bachelor’s degree in psychology from the Universidad Iberoamericana in Mexico City; master’s in business administration from Instituto Tecnologico Estudios Superiores de Monterrey

Family: Single; two brothers and four sisters in Mexico; cocker spaniel, Dante

Community involvement: Incoming president of Columbus Area Multi-Ethnic Organization, former president of Latin American Association, president of the board of directors of Su Casa, Community Education Coalition, Caring Parents, tutoring

Hobbies: I belong to a book club where we read Latin American authors. I also like to plant flowers in my garden and watch movies, especially spy movies such as James Bond and the Bourne series or movie versions of the books we read in the book club.

What was your first job?

I had taken cooking classes in school, and my mother got sick and asked me to do the cooking for our family when I was 13. She paid me a little bit to do that

Q: What did you learn from doing that job?

I learned discipline, that if I wanted something I had to work for it, and it taught me to enjoy the fruits of my work. My sisters often laughed at me because I had to cook, but it provided me with some money to buy things, and it helped me to get focused. I was also helping my mother, which taught me that if you have a reason for your work, you can find enjoyment in it.

Q: When did you come to the U.S. and how did you come to be here?

I moved to Nashville, Tenn., to work for Cummins there in 2000. In 1993, a headhunter had offered me a job at Cummins in Mexico City, and I didn’t know anything about the company, but Steve Knaebel, who came to be my boss, convinced me by talking about the company, its products and its values. He told me to visit a production plant in Mexico, and I saw how happy the people were and how much pride they took in assembling engines, so I joined Cummins. I left Cummins February 1999 to join Sara Lee, but Knaebel said he would keep my job open because he thought I would come back. He was right. I rejoined Cummins in 2000 and moved to Nashville. Sara Lee was a very good company, but it wasn’t Cummins. I stayed in Nashville until I moved to Columbus in January 2008.

Q: What do you like best about your job?

I like coaching others and seeing people grow in their jobs.

Q: How did you adjust to life in the U.S.?

Before moving to the U.S. I had visited for vacation and training sessions, so I thought I was prepared to live here. I quickly learned that speaking English for a few hours with familiar business terms was a lot different than speaking English around the clock and living in a different country. Simple things threw me off. When I went to a grocery store and the cashier asked me if I was a member of the store’s club, I didn’t know what she was talking about. Also, I couldn’t properly explain the size of a comforter I was trying to buy. And I got a rental car but didn’t know how to pump gas. At the time I also had no support network in the U.S., no one to hug me and tell me that everything was going to be OK, so that was difficult and increased my anxiety. Then during the first snowfall, I really asked myself what I was doing here. I didn’t have a snow shovel and didn’t know what to do. My neighbor helped me, and the people I met really made the difference for me. But it took me several months to really adjust.

Q: How was business life different in Mexico?

In Mexico I dealt with mostly regional issues, but coming to the U.S. you start realizing that Cummins is really a global company where you deal with people in different time zones and with different accents. I had a tough time understanding some people, especially in conference calls where it’s difficult to repeatedly ask people to repeat what they said. The president of our business unit, Rick Mills, was very patient and understanding and made all of us feel comfortable. Idioms also are very difficult. I remember Rick telling me that I was pulling his leg. I got embarrassed and told him that I wasn’t. I didn’t understand what he meant. When he explained, we laughed about it. But those kinds of situations can be a big source of anxiety.

Q: What’s it like living as an international in Columbus?

I have felt very welcomed, and when people hear my accent and ask where I’m from, it often starts a conversation, so it’s almost as though my being different has made it easier for me to make connections here. I haven’t had any bad experiences in Columbus, but through conversations with people at Su Casa, I’ve learned that some people have not been so fortunate and have been the victims of discrimination.

Q: How can internationals make sure that they have an easier time transitioning to life in Columbus?

They should make sure that before they arrive they have someone who can help them, preferably someone who has gone through a similar experience. There’s nothing worse than coming here and feeling lonely. And if you have someone you know before you arrive, they can help you with figuring out how to open a checking account, how to pump gas or that you should leave your heat on if you go on vacation in the winter.

Q: How do you stay connected to your culture and how have you adopted U.S. culture?

All of my family is still in Mexico, and I go there at least once a year, for Christmas or family events, such as graduations or weddings. Columbus also has a fairly large Latin American community, and a group of women get together every Friday to hang out and eat food. I also watch Mexican TV channels and I follow Mexican soccer. But I’m also a Colts fan, and I get together with friends for the Super Bowl and for American holidays. I especially like Thanksgiving. I love sweet potatoes. Since my parents have passed away, and I became a U.S. citizen in 2011, I really feel that this is my home now and that I belong here.

Q: What’s your favorite city to visit and why?

Paris. It’s so classy, full of art and beautiful architecture. It has lots of fashion and good food. I just love it.

Global Columbus is a twice monthly Q&A with members of Columbus’ international workforce. If you know someone we should talk to, contact Boris Ladwig at 379-5712 or bladwig@therepublic.com.

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