Esperanza Guerrero-Anderson brings a world of experience to a boardroom table. A banker in Nicaragua who fled the country in 1978 to escape the Sandinista revolution, she came to Minnesota to join her older brother. After establishing herself as a banker in the Twin Cities, she joined the Minneapolis-based Metropolitan Economic Development Association (MEDA) in 1982, becoming its president and CEO three years later. There, she advanced the organization’s mission of helping minority entrepreneurs succeed through one-on-one business consulting, leadership development, and other services.
While at MEDA, Guerrero- Anderson joined the board of National City Bank, which was acquired by Milwaukee-based M&I Bank in 2001. It’s a board she still serves on.
“Esperanza has a strong commitment to the communities we serve and frequently challenges us to provide the best service that we can,” says Brad Chapin, president of M&I Minnesota. “Once she gets involved in an issue, she doesn’t let it go—and she holds us accountable.” One way she’s helped maintain accountability was her service on the committee approving loans.
“I am passionate about the free enterprise system because I believe that wealth creation and accumulation is probably the best solution for our social problems,” Guerrero- Anderson says. “I also try to make the board more sensitive to the ethical side of a decision. I’m always asking, ‘This is legal, but is it ethical?’”
To Guerrero-Anderson, board service should be a form of community service. “I am totally committed to practice and preach the value of good board governance in Minnesota,” she says. “The ball doesn’t stop at the CEO’s desk—it stops at the boardroom.” The current economic crisis, she notes, has many people asking, “Where was the board?” It’s essential to the functioning of the economy that businesses maintain the public’s trust. Good governance, she observes, “benefits us all.”
While serving on National City’s board, Guerrero-Anderson found that MEDA’s assistance to minority entrepreneurs went only so far, so she resigned in 1989 to found Milestone Growth Fund, a Minneapolis investment fund that specifically targets entrepreneurs of color. She considers the fund to be her crowning business achievement. “Many of my clients became millionaires, hired a lot of people, and were role models in the community,” she says.
Besides expanding her business knowledge and network, serving on boards has added to Guerrero-Anderson’s personal perspective. “People who are on boards of directors come from all kinds of experiences and backgrounds, so the conversations and discussions enrich me and give me new ways of looking at the same issues,” she says. “I’m a better professional and a better person just from the quality of the conversation at the board level.”
Guerrero-Anderson is now passing on that knowledge to her clients. In 2007, she left Milestone to start a one-person consulting firm that works “with privately owned companies that want to have an exceptional board of directors,” she says.
As a consultant, Guerrero- Anderson continues to mentor young business professionals. “It’s the next generation, and I look at each of them as the replacement for myself or for other leaders in the community,” she says.
Guerrero-Anderson also serves on the board of the Bush Foundation, the Minnesota chapter of the National Association for Corporate Directors, and Wisconsin-based Great Lakes Educational Loan Services. She’s been a director for Leeann Chin, St. Paul–based Reell Precision Manufacturing, the Center of the American Experiment, and the Walker Art Center, a position she recently relinquished after 20 years.