Houston Hispanic Chamber of Commerce CEO Laura Murillo talks Covid challenges, new Fed advisory council appointment
Laura Murillo is celebrating her 15th year as the CEO and president of the Houston Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. During her time as president, she has worked to grow the organization as one of the largest and most influential Hispanic chambers in the nation.
Murillo, who received a Most Admired CEO award from the Houston Business Journal in 2018, increased membership from 400 to 4,000 members and created a radio and television show through local CBS affiliate KHOU. This past year, of course, she and the Houston Hispanic Chamber focused on helping businesses during the pandemic.
In December, Murillo was appointed as a new member of the Federal Reserve Board of Governors Community Advisory Council. She is one of five new members on the 10-person council. Murillo is the only Houstonian to ever be a member of this council, and she will serve a three-year term where she will provide information and advice to the board on relevant policy matters and emerging issues of interest.
Murillo spoke with the Houston Business Journal about how the pandemic affected the Hispanic business community and her new role as a Community Advisory Council member.
It’s been a year since the start of the pandemic. How has the Hispanic business community been doing, and what has the Chamber done to help? Like everyone, it has been devastating in terms of lost lives, lost businesses. Having said that, entrepreneurs are resilient. They have found ways to diversify their business. They have collaborated, they have been part of joint ventures, they are fighting every day. And the Houston Hispanic Chamber of Commerce has advocated for the American Rescue Plan, which got approved. Our chamber advocated for more restrictions on the second PPP, to make sure small businesses could in fact apply for that money. Along the way, the Chamber has put together webinars on how to work with the SBA, how to get this federal money, how to stay afloat, how to get rent relief.
What is the most pressing issue you see being faced by Hispanic businesses? Well, certainly, vaccinations. We know the path to getting our businesses back to business is through vaccination. And so the outreach that is going to be needed is part of what we are doing. We’ve been getting the message out to encourage people to get vaccinated and to continue to practice the CDC guidelines. We’re also making sure people understand all the resources that are available to them as we get through the pandemic safely and reopen Texas in a way that we can protect employees and customers.
Congrats on being a new member of the Federal Reserve Board’s Community Advisory Council. What will that entail? I was appointed to report to the Federal Reserve Board of Governors — they are appointed and confirmed by the president of the United States and Congress. And so I will be able to be that voice on monetary policy. I'm the only Hispanic woman, and only one of 10 people, on this particular committee that has great importance because of public policy regarding financial institutions, banking, housing. It’s a significant appointment for not only the city and state but for the region.
It’s a big deal because whatever I communicate to the board of governors, they take into account as they’re preparing for public policy, and they incorporate it into their speeches and whether or not they’re going to lower or raise mortgage rates. All the decisions that are made from the board of governors come, in large part, from these 10 voices that are speaking to them about what’s happening in their region.
In 2019, you wrote an op-ed about the need for more Hispanic leaders in boardrooms. Have you seen any changes in corporations over the past two years? If you look at Houston, the Hispanic consumer spending is $54 billion a year. So if you are a corporation and you don't have at least one Hispanic on your corporate board, then you're missing out on 42% of the market. You’re missing out on valuable potential customers, and we have still not made a big difference in that space. I think we’re seeing more conversations about diversity, equity and inclusion, and now we just need the corporations to just do it.
The Hispanic Chamber of Commerce has hosted at least 100 CEOs to have a conversation on diversity, equity and inclusion. They have joined us, they have come to the table, and we have presented them with data. They’re listening, and the next step for them is to actually do something. And that includes putting qualified Hispanic women, minorities on their boards.