By Ronald D. White
Los Angeles Times
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) In 2004, Tracy Hernandez was named the first female publisher of the Los Angeles Daily News. Although she would eventually be squeezed out of the job in a 2006 downsizing, she’s moved upwards and onwards. She is now the Chief Executive of the LA County Business Federation where she shares her experiences as a prominent leader in the community.
The gig: Tracy Hernandez is chief executive of the Los Angeles County Business Federation, a nonprofit business advocacy group that she helped get off the ground in 2008.
BizFed is a coalition representing more than 160 business groups, 325,000 employers and 3 million jobs. Members include chambers of commerce, trade organizations and individual companies.
Broad mandate: BizFed was modeled after the Los Angeles County Labor Federation, the powerful union coalition that has chalked up some significant political victories in recent years, including a minimum-wage increase in the city last year, which BizFed opposed. “We want to be engaged at every level, every working group, every white paper, every board meeting, and contributing and helping shed light so decision makers can understand what all these impacted business sectors deal with,” Hernandez said.
Learning early: Her parents, Ray and Barbara Sabala, were driven to succeed, Hernandez said. He sold real estate and trained employees. She was a teacher and a community activist. Hernandez grew up thinking problems could be fixed.
“They just made everything happen,” Hernandez said. “You just see what you need to do and you carve it out.”
Multiple paths: Planning for just one kind of work never made sense to her father. “You should be trained and prepared in two different careers,” Hernandez recalled her father saying. “‘In case the economy falls out of one industry sector you have a solid fallback position.'” Hernandez chose drafting at the College of Southern Idaho while working at a local newspaper, never dreaming how prophetic her father’s words eventually would be (although her drafting credentials never got a workout). “When I finished the drafting program … that same week, the newspaper offered me a promotion, at the ripe old age of 19. I had both of them in front of me and I said, ‘I’m gonna take the here and now, and this is where my passion is.’ I stayed in the newspaper business.”
Journalism first: That first management job put her in charge of classified advertising. Some of her workers had been in their jobs longer than she had been alive. By 23, she was tapped to be general manager of a newspaper in suburban St. Louis. She said she succeeded by listening to her veteran workers and her readers. “The market, the town or the region, you need to listen to it. It speaks up,” Hernandez said.
Tough business: So began a succession of increasingly more responsible newspaper jobs. In 2004, then known as Tracy Rafter, she was named the first female publisher of the Los Angeles Daily News. “I was there for a lot of gigantic, substantial changes in an industry that pretty much was the same as it had been for the prior 200 years,” Hernandez said. “It was tough, constantly hard.”
Pink slip style: Hernandez was caught in a 2006 downsizing at the Daily News. She felt horrible, but she walked through the entire building, visiting every department. “I just encouraged everyone to fight on,” Hernandez said. “I told them, ‘This is going to be good for the long term. You’ll be all right.’ And that’s how I exited.”
Layoff advice: “Listen to people and to be open,” Hernandez said. “Be curious. What is the next step because there’s no pre-cast next step, so it can be anything. Open your eyes, look at what’s out there. What’s in the market? Know your market, learn it.” Hernandez opened a business advisory firm called Impower Inc.
Helpful mentor: Prominent Los Angeles attorney David W. Fleming had been one of the first to call and congratulate Hernandez when she became Daily News publisher. He would be instrumental in bringing Hernandez to BizFed.
Hernandez recalled Fleming telling her, “‘It’s so crazy how a business voice just gets beat kind of at every turn. Why don’t we take a page out of organized labor? They’re organized, they get on message, they mobilize, they have impact. Their policies are adopted by our elected officials and community leaders. Why don’t we do that for business?’ He had that dream.”
Combined voices: “The primary goal is easy: It’s to strengthen the voice of businesses from our region,” Hernandez said. Existing business groups have accomplished much on their own, she said, but “collectively they’re much greater. We have now 163 chambers of commerce, industry trade groups, minority business groups, business districts, all in this one federation.”
Leadership style: “I think there’s a lack of decisive, inclusive leadership. Be clear and concise and make a decision. I think people appreciate that.”
Personal: Hernandez, 51, is newly remarried, which accounts for the name change. Her husband, Randal Hernandez, is a bank executive. There are two teenage daughters and a 20-year-old son in the household. “We love to snowboard in the winter. We love to travel so we’re always into all these family adventures,” Hernandez said.