From Humble beginnings in Honduras to Head of Diversity Consulting at a Global Leading Bank
Editor's Note: The “Under 30” stories chronicle the struggles and accomplishments of Latino pioneers who have blazed a trail in Boston. It is probable that without their efforts, we would not have today our Latino 30 under 30 list. The El Mundo Boston Latino 30 under 30 is presented by Hennessy VSOP Privilege.
By TIM ESTILOZ
As a teenage visitor from Honduras in the 1980’s, Paul Francisco had no idea what a profound impact the city of Boston would have on his life and professional career.
Possessing little knowledge of the city - except for it being home to extended family members - and no fluency in English, Francisco faced personal challenges that most people would find incredibly daunting.
However, fortified with a solid foundation of confidence, strength of character and determination rooted in strong family values, Francisco embarked on a journey that would enable him to take full advantage of the amazing opportunities that the city of Boston had to offer him.
Today, Paul Francisco is the Head of Diversity Consulting and Sourcing at State Street, the second oldest financial institution in the United States and a global leading bank. He is also a powerful force, leader and participant in a multitude of professional and community outreach organizations designed to open doors to young Latinos and professionals; doors that were not readily available to those like him when he began his own career.
Paul Francisco’s road to personal and professional achievement had its genesis amid very humble beginnings in his native Honduras where his work ethic was developed.
“I grew up in a very modest household,” said Francisco.
“I was raised by parents who were working professionals, but we were not considered part of the middle class. We were of very modest means. We had an outhouse as a bathroom. We had running water, but the electricity would be sort of in and out. However, I grew up in a very loving, healthy and almost innocent environment where I didn’t have to worry about drugs or about crime. I grew up in a community where I felt I was loved and surrounded by many people that cared about me and I was raised by a village... my aunts, my cousins, my uncles. I felt protected.”
“Because of that”, Francisco continued, “I wasn’t aware of what the rest of the world was like, so I was very sheltered in a way.”
While Francisco benefitted from a solid family upbringing at home in Honduras; he also learned a great deal about becoming a man away from his family unit when at age 14 he attended La Escuela Normal Centro America (ENVCA), an all-male boarding school.
“It was a very rigorous school where things were rigid,” said Francisco. “We had to wake up at the crack of dawn and part of the education was to work the fields... [where] we would grow our own vegetables. We would do all kinds of things designed to help mold us into men.”
According to Francisco, it was during this period in his life away from his family that he found his personal voice, who he was inside as a young man and set him on the path towards a successful future.
“Everything I learned at that boarding school really prepared me for my later life,” said Francisco.
“I became independent and I became confident about who I was as a person. I started to travel because I was on the basketball team. We became pretty good and would go around the country in tournaments. That’s when my curiosity about the rest of the world got awakened. I realized I did not know a lot of people and I needed to expand my horizons and become more aware about the world and how other people lived.”
In 1986, Francisco came to Boston for the very first time to visit extended family. It was a visit that would unexpectedly change the course of his entire life.
“I originally thought I was coming to Boston for a two week vacation from Honduras,” said Francisco smiling with fond recollection.
“I stayed in Boston for many reasons. Boston is the mecca of education and I had family here. I found myself personally and professionally interested in staying here. Boston has become my home and it's become the home for my family. It’s a thriving city and it’s an innovative city. It’s a city that has a lot of opportunities for our people. It’s a place where I feel I’m someone that’s special and can succeed here. Boston has been a great place to develop myself professionally and personally.”
For the young Paul Francisco, his arrival in Boston also created some deeply personal and emotional connections to the city.
“I had my grandmother here [in Boston] who prior to coming to this city I’d only met once," said Francisco. “To be able to reconnect with that part of my family... was huge for me."
"The second emotional connection I had before I even came here were Boston’s sports teams. I was a huge Red Sox fan, even when I was in Honduras. I was also a huge Celtics fan. I love basketball and the star players in those days were Larry Bird, Kevin McHale and Robert Parish. So, during those early days in Boston when I was feeling bad I could sit back and watch a Celtics game or Red Sox game and it brought me joy and it gave me a sense of belonging.”
Francisco applied himself academically upon his arrival in Boston, ultimately securing a scholarship to Boston University where he received a BA in Political Science. It was at BU where Francisco’s life took an unexpected turn which would lead him to a career in the NFL.
“A lot of people may not know that I grew up playing soccer in Honduras, as well as baseball and basketball,” he said.
“When I came here, I had never played American football. So, when I was asked to join the football team, I showed up in my soccer gear because I thought it was the kind of football [soccer] I played in Honduras.”
Francisco was a natural, and eventually his skills on the field led to several years playing professionally for the New England Patriots, Miami Dolphins and finally the Baltimore Ravens.
“I don’t talk a lot about football because it was another part of my life; but the skills I learned on the field are the skills I use today in the corporate world,” said Francisco.
“It taught me leadership and it taught me teamwork, collaboration and perseverance; a lot of the things that we [as] Latinos are known for. When I was in the NFL, I was the only player from Honduras and one of the very few Latinos in the league.”
Similar to his experience in the NFL, Francisco has found that there are far too few Latinos in executive roles in the corporate world.
Through his current position as an executive at State Street and the outside organizations of which he is an integral part of, Paul Francisco is afforded an opportunity to interact with a variety of young Latinos and help put them on a path towards leadership. It's an opportunity he relishes.
He encourages these future leaders within the community in Boston to build their personal and professional networks as they move forward to build their career. He also believes Boston is an amazing city filled with opportunities for young Latino professionals and others ready and willing to seize them.
“I get joy out of being able to change someone’s [life] trajectory and being able to do for others what was done for me,” said Francisco.
“Being able to give someone the confidence to say, 'I can achieve more than what was expected of me.' Being able to provide that coaching and mentoring. I’m passionate about changing the circumstances of people in our community to let them know that if I can make it; they can make it as well.”
Francisco is also deeply passionate about the city of Boston and the opportunities it provides for all people including his own family.
“I’m proud to have raised [my daughters] in the city of Boston. My wife and I made a conscious decision to stay [here] rather than move to the suburbs; because we love the city. It’s a vibrant community and we want our kids to grow up in a diverse environment.”
That’s not to say Paul Francisco believes his beloved city of Boston is perfect. He believes there is still much that can be done to improve the city even further.
“I get concerned about the lack of economic opportunity for some versus others”, said Francisco.
"I have concerns about the fact that certain area codes and zip codes are less privileged than others and being able to bridge those gaps. I’m passionate about pursuing equity so that people can be able to earn an income and a living wage, and passionate about promoting diversity, equal access to education, economic inclusion and community building.”
Even with these challenges, Francisco has great confidence in the ability of Boston and it’s growing Latino presence. He believes the next generation of young Latino professionals in Boston have much to be excited about and hold the power to help solve the issues that face the city.
“When you look at financial services, when you look at government, or IT, or entrepreneurship; the opportunities are there”, said Francisco. “You have to go out and get them. There is no excuse to say 'I’m Latino and I can't do this.' It’s actually because you’re Latino, that you can do this. I would be highly disappointed if we have any young people who are running around Boston who are Latino, or otherwise, that don’t think this is a place filled with opportunity.”
“If a kid from Honduras, who came here at 17 and didn’t speak English can do it, who are they to say that they cannot?”