From a truck driver for the Coca-Cola Company in Mexico to president of the 11th most populous country.
by Jon Shakill
A man with strong passion, determination, and compassion for others, President Vicente Fox served as the President of Mexico from 2000 to 2006. His election to office was a historical one for Mexico, being the first person from the opposition party to win the presidency since 1910. He was also the first person in 71 years to defeat the dominant Institutional Revolutionary Party, as a member of the National Action Party.
President Fox’s rise to power started when he accepted a position as a truck driver for the Coca-Cola Company in Mexico, early in his career. As the President explains, the day he accepted that job, his only purpose was to become the president of Coca-Cola Mexico. With a strong determination and passion that can be felt through speaking with him, President Fox provides us with insights into how he achieved the unparalleled level of success that he did. Part of that success was to always have a driven purpose in every position and stage in life.
Years later, President Fox did indeed become the President of Coca-Cola Mexico, realizing an objective and dream that started with his first day at the company. But he wasn’t satisfied yet, and had still greater ambitions. Realizing that he could do even more for his country in politics, he left the private sector for his first campaign for the Congress of Mexico. Yet again, in the words of President Fox, the first campaign he ever ran for Congress, was also the first step in the campaign to become President of Mexico.
And of course part of the story already precedes itself, as we all know today that President Fox would again realize his objective and dream of reaching the highest leadership position in the country of Mexico, and becoming leader of the 11th most populous country in the world. On the way to becoming President, Fox also served as Governor and leader of his party, but those were never destinations – only parts of the journey.
It is a unique honor to be able to speak directly to a world leader, and to try to ascertain some pieces of insight that may not otherwise be possible. What makes a man like this tick? What makes a particular individual uniquely suited to lead a country of over 100 million people? More simply, what differentiates a leader of this stature from the masses? In the following interview we go into some depth on these topics, and gain first-hand the perspective of President Fox.
When speaking with President Fox, his passion is immediately palpable. He projects the kind of authenticity of a man who speaks from his heart, and means what he says. He speaks with purpose, and he is as self-assured as one would expect. Delving into the topics of leadership, charity, and what it takes to be successful, the President has many words of advice that one would be wise to heed.
His personal career is the story of a meteoric rise to leadership, in every position that he’s taken. With this great success, his compassion for others and desire to help his fellow man has always been at the heart of his ambition. In the following interview, we get the sense that the President has been able to achieve greatness not through simple selfishness and self-advancement, but through an inner compassion that runs through his core. He explains the power of working for others and helping others, in becoming a true leader.
Still today, in the post-presidential years of his career, President Fox places charity work at the forefront of his daily endeavors. His wife Marta and he run foundations, one called Vamos Mexico which provides wheelchairs for the handicapped, hospital visits for children with serious diseases, as well as food and shelter for the poor. They also run Centro Fox in Mexico, dedicated to training the next generation of leaders, among other endeavors. And yet another foundation, which is concerned with providing opportunities to underprivileged Hispanic and Latin American youth in and around the Los Angeles, California area. President Fox has also successfully opened the first Presidential Library in Mexico, providing for the advancement of history, culture, leadership, and charity work.
In addition to his charity work, President Fox regularly travels the world with his wife Marta, engaging in public speaking and world leader conferences, raising awareness and education about important world affairs. I had the privilege of attending one of these recent conferences, which was part of the World Leader Series in conjunction with the non-profit organization called “A Better L.A.” – which is headed by football coach Pete Carroll, and run by CEO Rowan Vansleve. This fantastic event was a friendly debate between the former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, and President Fox.
What better way to find out more about this interesting personality, than to sit down and listen to him speak through the pages of this interview. We now turn to the discussion with President Vicente Fox, including some lighter topics regarding his favorite cigars and spirits at the end of the discussion:
Jon Shakill: Mr. President, thank you for your time today. I would like to start off by talking about leadership. Being the prominent leader that you are, what do you think are the best qualities to have to be a good leader? What makes for a good leader and role model?
President Vicente Fox: The best qualities to make a good leader are first to find within yourself who you are, what is your purpose in life. Every human action must start with a purpose, and this is what leads you to discover the power that we all have within. Once we discover this, we can find how high and how far we can reach. The attributes of leadership include on the one hand, what you know and what you learn, being able to utilize resources, and your commitments, and also your intelligence and memory. But more so, on the other hand, what we have in our hearts, in our souls, what we have in our minds – our emotions, our character, our love for others and compassion, and our passion for helping those who are excluded from opportunities. The more we do for others, the more we commit to good causes, then the more we grow as leaders and the more we discover what we can do. We only use about 10 percent of our capacity, resources, and even our leadership ability. So when you have high aspirations, heroic aspirations to do things for others, then you are able to grow in an unlimited manner.
Jon Shakill: I can feel your passion come through when you speak about this. What advice can you give to the next generation of people who aspire to be leaders in business and in the community?
Pres. Fox: My best advice would be to look within yourself. Give yourself five minutes in silence every single day. Pose questions to yourself, like the ones I just mentioned, and evaluate how you’re doing and how much more you can do. Ask yourself if you’re happy with what you’re doing. By doing this exercise every day, you will learn the answers. Then you have 24 long hours in order to make things happen – and this is the case of the commitment to leadership. Once you come out of the five minutes in silence, then you go and meet your challenges, and make good use of those 24 hours. You go out and reach people and give to them – give them a smile, give them good advice, and you will be happy and others will be happy.
Jon Shakill: Let’s now talk about some of your charity work. You recently did an event with Prime Minister Tony Blair. Tell us a little bit about it, and also the cause that it went to support?
Pres. Fox: This is part of the celebrity series that we’re running here in L.A. and that we’re running also at the VFW in Texas. The event with Prime Minister Blair was the second event, after the one we did with Secretary Condoleezza Rice. The reason we do the series, is to bring cultural events to the city that educate people on what’s going on in other parts of the world. Tony Blair is the kind of personality that can accomplish this. He travels around the world, is committed to helping Africa, and he is very knowledgeable on the European crises and what it means for Europe and the United States.
Another purpose is to raise funds; people are able to buy tickets through www.worldleaderseries.com. Everybody can come and enjoy these events. The funds go to a good cause, with the money reinvested in the L.A. area, in order to bring in the programs of Centro Fox. The programs go to teaching kids and everyone about leadership, and making sure that Hispanics and Latin Americans have the opportunity to receive scholarships and participate in Centro Fox programs. It teaches them about self-esteem, and that they have a purposeful life, and that they can do great things if they stay in school and work hard.
Jon Shakill: I understand that you’ve also done things like holding a special raffle, where people who buy tickets will have the chance to sit down with you for dinner. Can you tell us which charity and explain more about these events?
Pres. Fox: This is another way that we are inviting people to collaborate, to donate, and to understand the fact that coming together for good causes is the sure way to happiness. What we’re doing in this case – and everybody that’s reading this can go to www.omaze.com, or text FOX to 80888 – with that you have the opportunity, by doing a very small donation that will bring happiness to your heart and do good things for the poor, to have dinner with me here in L.A. with plane tickets and hotel paid for.
We have two foundations; one of them is to work with Hispanics on education, health and all kinds of support in L.A. The other foundation we have is in Mexico, and we do things like provide wheelchairs for every single handicapped person who needs it, we have donated thousands of them. We also provide food and shelter to those who need it. We also provide sick children with cancer and other challenges trips to the hospital. That’s done through Vamos Mexico, which is presided over by my dear wife Marta and me.
Jon Shakill: It’s so great that you do so much charity work. A person of your stature, you have the ability to just retire and enjoy the good life and not worry about too much perhaps, so what is it that drives you to continue doing the great work that you’re doing?
Pres. Fox: Well there’s nothing better to keep yourself young than by working hard. There’s nothing better than to have challenges every minute of the day, every day of the month, and all months of the year. When you have that, you stay alive and you feel happy and you have joy in your heart. And this is what Marta and I have – not only do we share love and the dream, but we share operating these foundations, we share being together and sharing life, and doing things together for the benefit of others. This is something I recommend to everybody who wants to keep themselves young – be active, challenge yourself, and do things for others.
Jon Shakill: Speaking now of you personally, you started out at the bottom of Coca-Cola Company in Mexico as a truck driver, and you eventually rose all the way to the top, and of course eventually became President of Mexico. Can you tell us what drove you to accomplish this?
Pres. Fox: I would say that it’s commitment, it is passion, and it’s the will to do things for others. This moved me to work for the great corporation which is the Coca-Cola Company and to be successful. But in every occasion, I have purpose. When I joined the Coca-Cola Company as a truck driver, it was my purpose to become president of Coca-Cola!
When I moved from the private sector into politics, that very same day it was my purpose – that if I was going to participate and campaign to become a congressman, at the same time my purpose was to become president of Mexico. Once you have this kind of purpose in life and set up objectives, you’re going to be surprised by how much you grow every day! There is no limit to raise you there.
This is what we do in Rancho San Cristobal in Mexico – where the first Presidential Library outside of the United States is located – we bring in 75,000 kids from poor communities to tell them that you can be the President of Mexico, that you can be a virtuoso of the violin, you can be a great architect, that you can be whatever you want to be in life if you have purpose and commitment, and have passion and compassion. This is all in my life.
Right after the Presidency, Marta and I discovered that there are new challenges in life, and that there are things we can do every minute of the day. We are very active, we travel 70% of time, we do 45 conferences a year all over the world to raise funds for the foundations, and we do events like the one with Tony Blair here in L.A., all for the same purpose. We keep ourselves active, we do things for others, and we contribute to a better world.
Jon Shakill: When you are faced with a very difficult decision, whether it is personal, in business, or in politics, what do you rely on to come to the right conclusion?
Pres. Fox: Any successful leader needs to have physical strength and has to care for their body. We have to eat healthy and be in good shape. Number two, we have to have a brilliant mind. A brilliant mind has to do with exercising yourself on the concepts that I have mentioned. But even more so, it’s spirituality. That’s the real strength and the real source of our leadership, that’s the real power that we have within – is spirituality. When we put ourselves in the shoes of others and understand his problems, we understand when he’s sad and try to bring joy to his life – being in the shoes of others is the key to being strong, powerful and successful.
So a combination of this is what really takes the leader to the altitude and the heights of where others don’t go. So please don’t live your life in mediocrity! Discover yourself, empower yourself. Be self-assured that you can do great things like Nelson Mandela did, like Martin Luther King, Jr. did, like Jose Hernandez the first Mexican Astronaut did. By working with passion and commitment toward your objectives.
Jon Shakill: I would like to now transition to talking about cigars. When is your favorite moment or time of day to enjoy a cigar?
Pres. Fox: Right after a good substantial meal is the best moment for me to enjoy a cigar – either after a good lunch or dinner. But let me tell you about lunch in Mexico, we have four courses where we have enchiladas and we have meat and then a tequila, and then it’s the perfect time for a cigar. That to me is the very best moment for a cigar. Although – I have a good friendship that I’m proud of, with Mr. Barron Hilton – and he likes to start with a cigar early in the morning. A cigar has a very special taste before you have eaten, that’s another great moment. I also learned this from Diego Fernandez, who smokes three or four cigars per day – he is a relevant politician in Mexico. He starts before breakfast, and so I realized that a cigar is very tasty and rich at that moment.
Jon Shakill: What type or brand of cigars is your favorite?
Pres. Fox: Well I recently found out about Dignity cigars which I enjoy. But my favorite has to be Montecristo.
Jon Shakill: Why is it that you enjoy cigars?
Pres. Fox: When you sit down and relax with a cigar, it can bring clarity to your mind. Of course it’s a good moment. It’s also great to share with the family. When I’m at home in Rancho San Cristobal, where the Presidential Library is, where my grandfather came back in 1895 from Cincinnati, Ohio, where we’ve been for five generations – we’ve had lunch every Sunday for those five generations. Sixty to 80 of us get together, and it’s a great moment. We have conversations and share memories of the family, and usually at that moment we share a cigar. That’s when I have my weekly cigar, during our Sunday family gathering.
Jon Shakill: Have you ever shared a cigar with another world leader or business leader?
Pres. Fox: I spent a few splendid nights with President Castro of Cuba. There were long nights where he would invite us for dinner at 8 pm, and we wouldn’t leave until 10 am the next morning. We would drink Bufala milk, which he really liked, we would drink Rioja wine which he really loved, and we would have cigars. Finally at 10 am when going back to the hotel, I would bring 10 boxes of Cohibas with me that Castro gave to me.
Jon Shakill: Speaking of spirits now, do you ever like to enjoy any spirits while you smoke a cigar? What is your favorite?
Pres. Fox: I really prefer red wine while I enjoy a cigar.
Jon Shakill: Do you have a favorite tequila? Tell us a little bit about the importance of tequila in Mexico.
Pres. Fox: There are many good types of tequila. Today most of them are high quality and have really good flavor, because now each and every one uses pure agave. In the past, they were not so pure, but today they are pure. That’s why they are so digestive, they don’t create bad hangovers, and you can enjoy the taste. I actually grow agaves myself, and it’s a great tradition and culture in Mexico.
Lincoln Salazar: Mr. President, just to wrap up, what would you like to leave with us today regarding cigars and spirits and what they mean to you beyond just products?
Pres. Fox: I think it’s a great industry that has to be protected because it generates a lot of jobs and it generates wealth for many families. But like everything, you have to do it with prudence and you cannot abuse cigars or spirits. We have to take care of our health, but at the same time enjoy the pleasure of a good spirit and a good cigar.
Jon Shakill: Thank you so much for your time today Mr. President.
Pres. Fox: No problem, thank you.