Success in the U.S. is Obtained With an Education and Hard Work

Cuban American Ibi Fleming, senior vice president and general manager, Herbalife North America, shares her story with EFE News

By Ivan Mejia - EFE News Agency
Published on LatinoLA: December 7, 2011

Success in the U.S. is Obtained With an Education and Hard Work

Inspired by the difficult conditions endured by her refugee family, Cuban American Ibi Fleming set out to get an education and is currently the senior vice president and general manager for Herbalife's North America region.

"When Fidel Castro declared communism, my father requested the Cuban government to leave the island and go to the U.S., but instead he was forced to hard labor in a government camp for two years before being allowed to leave the country," said Fleming.

"My family in Cuba had a bakery. At the time all of us who left the island got a stamp on our passports labeling us as 'worms,' so that we would not return; all this only because my father wanted to move to the U.S. to provide a better life for us," she stated.

Born on March 9, 1964 in Havana, Ibelis Fleming came to the U.S. with her parents Gladys and Bernardo Montesino, when she was four years old, and her family relocated to Los Angeles where she had family that had previously migrated to the city.

"My parents started working at a factory that manufactured airplane parts. I grew up in Inglewood, my younger sister was born here and since we're Catholic, my parents always worked hard to pay for good private Catholic schools," said Fleming.

"This is the reason why I went to school at Saint John's Chrysostom, in Inglewood, and high school at Saint Bernard's in Playa del Rey; subsequently I studied business administration at National University," she stated.

After working for several clothing retailers in Beverly Hills, such as Louis Vuitton and Giorgio Armani, she was informed by a friend that there was an opening for an administrative assistant for a vice president at Herbalife.

After applying for the position 14 years ago, she later worked her way up to an executive position for the nutritional supplements company, where in addition, she also had the responsibility of training other employees.

Currently, she is the senior vice president with the longest seniority in the Latin market and general managing director for North America.

"I was promoted to this position in January (2011) and prior to being appointed to this, I was vice president of the Hispanic market for the company, which I started in 2005. At that time, the Hispanic market segment in the U.S. represented approximately 35% of sales; today, our Latin market segment represents approximately 65%," said Fleming.

"To be successful in a position like this, I believe you have to study and be bold. You have to not be afraid of working hard, and also need to show humility with your customers," revealed the executive, who also explained Herbalife's business model as a person to person type of business where people invite their friends to talk about the virtues of the these natural products.

Herbalife was founded in 1980 by business entrepreneur Mark Hughes and it is a publicly traded company in the NYSE. Its 2010 revenue reached $2.7 billion.

Among some of the products the company markets in 78 countries are the nutritional, weight management shakes, herbal energy drinks and skin care products.

Fleming explained that the properties of all the botanical ingredients used in Herbalife's products are verified by medical experts that comprise the company's Nutrition Advisory Board, which includes 1998 Medicine Nobel Laureate Dr. Lou Ignarro. Another member of this board is David Heber, faculty professor at the School of Medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA).

"The position I currently hold represents a dream come true for my parents, after seeing me grow up in the U.S.," stated the executive, who has three children and is married to Joseph Fleming, athletic director at Saint Anthony's school in El Segundo.

"What I am today I owe to my parents; all of the sacrifices they made to come to the U.S. they did for me, and this is why I have always tried to do the things that would make them proud of me," she concluded.

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