Ralph de la Vega
Ralph de la Vega, President and CEO of AT&T Mobility and Consumer Markets received the Global Innovation Award Sept. 13 at Goizueta Business School. PHOTO: Tony Benner

Ralph de la Vega, President and CEO of AT&T Mobility and Consumer Markets has been named the 2011 recipient of Emory University’s Global Innovation Award.

A native of Cuba, Mr. de la Vega received the award Sept. 13, 2011 at a private event hosted by Goizueta professors Jeff Rosensweig and Jagdish Sheth.  He was also honored as a member of the 2011 Dean’s Leadership Speaker Series at Goizueta.

Speaking to a group of students and business leaders from around Atlanta before the ceremony, de la Vega stressed the importance of planning and education in achieving goals.

He also spoke of a learned ability to treat problems as chances to succeed. Several other ideas from his book — “Obstacles Welcome” — were discussed in an hour-long interview with Rosensweig.

“Sometimes people miss opportunities because they’re disguised as problems,” he said.

Immigrating alone to the United States at age 10, de la Vega lived with family friends for four years before his parents made the trip to South Florida. He was inspired by entrepreneurial spirit. Later, while pursuing a career as a mechanic, his grandmother told him to follow his dream and become an engineer.

“I hit several key points in my young life and career where I was just at the right place at the right time to experience [people] and everyone gave me a boost to learn more about myself and my business and to succeed,” he said.

Mr. de la Vega was named to his current role in October 2008. Today, he leads all consumer marketing, sales, content, converged services and customer care for the company’s wireless and wired businesses. Previously, he served as President and CEO-AT&T Mobility where he was responsible for AT&T’s wireless business since October 2007. He has also served as group president-Regional Telecommunications and Entertainment with responsibility for overall leadership in AT&T’s regional wired business, including consumer and regional business sales and network. He was appointed to that post in January 2007, after the close of the AT&T-BellSouth merger, which consolidated ownership of Cingular.

Before joining Cingular in January 2004 he served as president-BellSouth Latin America, with overall responsibility for BellSouth’s operations in 11 countries: Argentina, Uruguay, Colombia, Venezuela, Chile, Peru, Ecuador, Panama, Nicaragua, Brazil and Guatemala. While there, his group overcame political and economic turmoil in several countries and — through innovation — turned a profit.

“You were running a modern-day telecommunications company with 100 year old technology,” he said. “There were no rules; there was nothing you could do but use innovation to survive and thrive.”

He is one of only four to earn the Global Innovation Award, which is given by Goizueta Business School’s Global Perspectives Program.

Award winners demonstrate consistent, innovative global leadership over a significant period of time, says Rosensweig. Past recipients include well-known media executive and philanthropist Ted Turner, former Delta CEO Gerald Grinstein and Sheth – the only professor to receive the award.  

“The Global Innovation Award is given to a principled leader who is recognized worldwide for sustained excellence,” said Rosensweig. “Mr. de la Vega is a noteworthy recipient with contributions that are truly global in nature. His efforts are both productive and creative and impact the evolving world of international business.”

Mr. de la Vega also is extensively involved in nonprofit and community organizations. He is the chairman of Junior Achievement Worldwide and the chairman of Hispanic initiatives for the Boy Scouts of America, and serves on the board of the Georgia Research Alliance. He recently was inducted into the Hispanic Scholarship Fund’s prestigious Alumni Hall of Fame which honors select Hispanics for their personal achievements, contributions and service to America.

“In Spain the youth unemployment rate runs about 45 percent,” de la Vega said. “In Greece it’s 38 percent. In the U.S. it probably runs about 20 percent. The next generation of young people are dealing with things we never had to deal with…

“We’re not teaching kids just to fill a job, we’re teaching kids to create jobs.”