Evy Garcia speaks both Spanish and English fluently. But this summer she was working hard to add some German to her repertoire. Garcia, second vice president, advertising and international relations, for Pan-Am-erican Life Insurance Company, was preparing to take 150 top agents to Austria for their President's Club incentive meeting in September.
"I love languages," Garcia says. "I love going to different countries and being able to speak with people in their language." In fact, among her responsibilities at Pan-American Life, based in New Orleans, is acting as interpreter for En-glish-speaking senior executives traveling to Pan-American Life offices in Latin American and for Spanish-speaking execs traveling to the U.S.
Connecting Countries Garcia sees the company--and her own role within it--as building a bridge between cultures. The 86-year-old company was founded to provide life and health insurance to U.S. citizens working in Central America in the early part of the century. Over the ensuing decades, Pan-American Life has become licensed in 43 states and has offices in eight Latin American countries.
Last year, for the first time, the company's U.S. agents and its Latin-American agents gathered at the same incentive meeting, held in Rio de Janeiro. It meant that everything had to be examined, from meal times (Latin Americans like to eat late, people from the U.S. like to eat early) to tour and recreational activities. "We had to compromise a lot," Garcia says. "We had to decide how best to attend to the needs of two different audiences so that it was not a shock to either."
But there were things to consider long before the first attendee checked into his room. Garcia and her staff of two created two sets of promotion pieces, one in English and one in Spanish. Then they had to sit down and decide who would get what. It wasn't as simple as mailing the English pieces to all the U.S. addresses. For example, some Hispanic agents in the U.S. would have been perfectly comfortable receiving English-language promotions; however, because the mailings were going to agents' homes, Garcia considered what language each agent's spouse would prefer.
This year, Garcia streamlined the system. "Everything is printed in both languages." That decision made things simpler, while also serving as a symbol. "It says we're integrated, we're all Pan-American Life," Garcia says. "We're presenting the image that we're an international company, and we're a family."
Another welcome change: An interpreter will attend the business meetings. Last year, Garcia herself stood up at the sessions and translated the presenters' words. "It was tough," she says, remembering all the other things she was thinking about (Is the photographer taking the photos I want? Are the awards ready?) while trying to focus on the interpretation at hand.
Despite differences in culture and language, both groups of agents are interested in the same topics at business sessions, Garcia says. In fact, they have a lot to share with one another. "At the last meeting, some of our people from Ecuador were talking with some people from Washington state, with one of us serving as impromptu interpreter," she says. "They felt they had a lot in common and could learn from each other." That kind of interaction was encouraged at the meeting, and home office staff in particular were attuned to facilitating communication.
Born in Puerto Rico 35 years ago, Garcia moved to the U.S. in 1980, when she started college at Marquette University in Milwaukee, WI. She majored in broadcast journalism, something that anyone who grew up with her could have predicted. "I've always been a communicator, and I've always been into writing," she says.
Garcia was the editor of her high school's newspaper in San Juan--a bilingual paper that won awards in competitions with newspapers from U.S. schools. "We took it very seriously," she says.
The skills she learned as a teenager are skills she uses even now, as editor-in-chief of Pan-American's Spanish-language magazine, which goes to home office staff, to all employees and agents in Latin America, and to some government officials. It's just one element of a diverse job that, in addition to meeting planning, includes sales pro-motion, advertising, and media relations.
Adventure on the Side After earning her B.A. in 1984, Garcia moved to New Orleans for what she thought would be "a couple of years." Some 14 years later, she is a long-established resident with a husband of six years. A maritime attorney, he also travels on business. "Sometimes we meet at the airport," she laughs.
But despite the time she spends boarding and disembarking, Garcia still has a yen for travel. "There are many places in the world I haven't seen--places I wouldn't necessarily take a group," she says. "Last year, after the meeting in Rio, my husband and I went to the Amazon. I like that kind of adventure travel, being secluded with nature." It was a bit unnerving at times, with snakes suddenly appearing in her path and more tarantulas than she had bargained for. Nonetheless, Garcia would love to go back. "One day my husband and I were alone with a guide trekking through the jungle," she says. "It was like being in a National Geographic special.