Mildred J. Franco was born and raised in Caracas, Venezuela. She attended McGill University in Montreal, Canada, and graduated with a degree in mechanical engineering. Franco worked in areas of oil production, oil trading and technology in Caracas and New York City. She co-founded and co-owned a technology company in Pine Bluff, where she now resides. She joined Go Forward Pine Bluff in the fall of 2017 to lead the effort to design and build an innovation hub as a driver for economic development. Franco serves on the board of directors for EAST Initiative, Women's Foundation of Arkansas and the Arkansas Arts Council.
What experiences most shaped your path as a leader?
I have been blessed to have wonderful experiences over the years. As a leader, I want to inspire, motivate and empower others as we work towards a common goal and to do it with integrity, gratitude and empathy. I remind myself every day that life happens to all of us when you least expect it.
The past year has been tough for small business, but has also spurred creativity and innovation. What is it about a crisis that brings out the best in entrepreneurs?
The need to collaborate to get things done became more critical during this past year. I was amazed at the resilience that so many exhibited during a difficult time. I saw people and businesses coming together to help each other and others. In my community, there are still lots of businesses that are not doing well, but I see people every day wanting to help and support those in need. This is inspiring!
What has been the highlight of your career so far?
I have had many careers. My path has not been linear. Each career has its own highlight. In my current role, the highlight has been being able to help businesses access the resources they need to survive and thrive, especially during the past year.
Who has been the biggest influence on your life and career?
I have been fortunate to have many good influences in my life and my career - but I would have to say my mother, my husband and my daughter. My mother always told me that I could achieve anything if I worked hard. My husband has been my partner and friend and my biggest cheerleader– he just believes in me. My daughter, who keeps me young and inspired every day.
Tell us the most meaningful piece of career or life advice you have received.
As an engineer, we are expected to complete projects successfully. My first boss told me, “Don’t focus too much on failure, focus more on what you can learn from it.” I have learned that failure is part of life. What matters is how we bounce back and what we learn from it.
How do you like to de-stress after a difficult day/week?
After a long day at the office, I love to go home and cook a good meal. I grew up in a family of great cooks, so cooking is part of my DNA. Meditation before I go to bed, a cleaning of the brain. I had planned to be an architect, but life had other plans for me. So, on weekends, when I have time if I am not reading, I binge on TV shows/series that deal with building/renovating houses.
What advice do you have for encouraging teams in a traditional business environment focused on innovation and pushing for change?
Don’t dismiss the ideas that may seem too outside of the box. Innovation flourishes when ideas are welcomed and supported through collaboration. Without collaboration, it will be extremely hard to implement ideas and to create value.