Marcela Manjarrez learned the importance of personal accountability from her parents, particularly her mother, as she grew up in Mexico City.
She has fallen back on that throughout a career that’s included 15 years at the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis – where she started out as an economic research analyst and got promoted all the way to vice president of external communications, industry relations and public outreach – and more than seven years at the Centene Corporation, where she retired as the company’s executive vice president and chief communications officer. She now runs her own company, M Strategic Communications Consulting, where she provides strategic counsel to CEOs and C-level executives.
“The first lesson in leadership starts with you,” Manjarrez said. “So what are you going to do as you lead yourself over the years? Do the right thing. Even if you don’t get caught – and most people, if not all, do get caught in the end – you have to explain things to yourself, right? And sleep at night.”
Manjarrez was the latest presenter in a six-part Alumni Conversations series put on by University Advancement and the College of Business Administration and held in the E. Desmond and Mary Ann Lee Theater at the Blanche M. Touhill Performing Arts Center.
The series is centered around the theme of “Ethics: A Foundation of Success” and is sponsored by UMSL alumnus Joseph Stieven, the chairman, president and CEO of Stieven Capital Advisors, L.P., along with his wife, Mary. It was created to engage students with UMSL alumni and provide an opportunity to gain insights from speakers’ professional and personal experiences.
Manjarrez was open about both.
She began her address with a definition of ethics, and then offered some advice.
“To have ethics at the core of everything you do, I think, is the solution to 99 percent of the issues that we all face,” she said.
Manjarrez then highlighted some of her favorite books on ethics, leadership and personal growth, identified social leaders she’s looked to for inspiration and provided some of their quotes, including one used by her mother, Irma; “No hagas cosas buenas que parezcan malas, ni cosas malas que parezcan buenas.” Translated, the quote means, “Don’t do good things that seem bad, or bad things that seem good.”
Manjarrez also pointed to conversations with Michael Neidorff, former CEO of Centene and her mentor, who passed away last year. She referenced him throughout her talk.
Neidorff, who would close out executive meetings at Centene with a report, and he’d start with an important message.
“When I wake up every morning, I say to myself, my most important goal today is to do the right thing,” she said, quoting Neidorff. “That was his anchor for himself. At the end of the meeting, I would always reflect on the messages and the lessons that Michael had for us, and they were all around ethics and values. He wasn’t talking to me about how to run communications. That was my expertise. He wouldn’t talk to the CFO about how to manage the balance sheet, etc. He had his principles. But again, the focus of that meeting was actually to continue to develop us as leaders because each one of us was truly running a large organization in itself.”
Another principle Manjarrez emphasized was trust. She referenced her time at the Federal Reserve in St. Louis as an economic researcher, citing that the organization had to instill trust in the community in order to assure the public that it would do whatever possible to ensure a stable financial system. She actually transitioned into communications by helping the public relations department at the Federal Reserve with messaging to the public. Having personal trust was another point Manjarrez discussed.
“As you generate jobs or do partnerships, how do you lead yourself and your partnerships?” she asked the audience. “It’s important that people know they can rely on you and trust you.”
Manjarrez wove professional experiences with personal observations throughout her address. One realization she shared was that she too, at the age of many of the students in attendance, didn’t know what to do with her life after graduation. She wasn’t sure of her path or herself.
“I remember as a student, thinking, ‘Oh my God. I don’t know anything, and I’m not from this country,’” she said. “So besides not knowing the economics, the finance, etc., I have cultural things that I had to wrestle with and figure out and understand. So part of it is trusting yourself, right? You don’t have all the answers.”
The event ended with a question-and-answer session, and one student asked what Manjarrez would tell her younger self.
“I would have told myself to relax a little bit because, as you can tell, I’m a very wired person, and I took things so seriously all the time,” she said. “It wasn’t the end of the world. So I would tell my younger self to have a little bit more fun and relax a little bit.”
Other students including Grant Ebert, a sophomore majoring in accounting, took away an important lesson from the event.
“Talking about the shadow that you cast and how your reputation really is perceived by others and how the decisions that you make today do impact the future of your career and your education and everything that your career will hold,” Ebert said.
Another student Brett Paubel, a graduate student studying accounting, also found the talk inspiring.
“I really enjoyed it,” he said. “And I think one thing I really liked is just how they’re all UMSL alumni, and they want you to be successful. The one thing that really stood out to me is that your dreams are in reach.”
Alumni Conversations will continue to be held during the fall and spring semesters through 2025.