Ralph de la Vega came to the US by himself, as a refugee from Cuba, when he was just ten years old. While he only expected to be away from his family for a few days, he spent the next four years alone in a new country, without money or the ability to speak English. After reuniting with his family, they continued to struggle, and he did his part to help, by taking a job sweeping floors in a factory, after school.
Despite the hardships he and his family endured, he aspired to do great things with his future. But his high school counselor had other ideas. Ralph says that when he told his counselor he wanted to be an engineer, the man replied, “Son, you should be a mechanic.” Fortunately, his grandmother, a former teacher, gave him the validation he needed, and he forged a path to college.
With the help of an HSF Scholarship, he earned a bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering from Florida Atlantic University and a master's degree in Business Administration from Northern Illinois University. He also completed the Executive Program at the University of Virginia.
Ralph then proceeded to parlay his education into a distinguished career in telecommunications, that ultimately led to the Vice Chairmanship of AT&T Inc. and before that, a stint as CEO of AT&T Business Solutions and AT&T International. Prior to that, he served as President and CEO of AT&T Mobile and Business Solutions, and before that, President and CEO of AT&T Mobility.
He held numerous other executive positions throughout his career, including the roles of Chief Operating Officer of Cingular Wireless and President of BellSouth Latin America, and he was responsible for the integration of AT&T Wireless and Cingular Wireless, following the largest all-cash merger in US history, at the time.
In 2017, after retiring from AT&T the prior year, he founded the De La Vega Group, where he continues to serve as CEO. The firm is a consultancy and advisory services group that focuses on investing in entrepreneurial startups. He is also on the boards of American Express Company, New York Life Insurance Company, Amdocs Corporation, Ubicquia, and the Latino Donor Collaborative.
Committed to investing in young people, Ralph served Boys Scouts of America as Chairman of the 2017 Jamboree, Chairman of All-Markets Committee, and Chairman of the Diversity Committee. He also served as Chairman of Junior Achievement Worldwide and is the author of Obstacles Welcome: Turn Adversity to Advantage in Business and Life.
His honors to date include being inducted into the Atlanta Business Hall of Fame and the US Wireless Hall of Fame and receiving the prestigious Global Innovation Award from Emory University’s Goizueta Business School. He also received an honorary doctorate from Florida Atlantic University and was inducted into HSF’s Alumni Hall of Fame, in 2008, receiving the Triunfador Award for “raising the bar.”
His message to students considering a higher education: “Dream big. Don’t let anyone put limitations on what you can achieve.”