It happened again. While scrolling through the channels on TV a few weeks ago, I noticed that one of my favorite movies had just started playing.
It was Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, and not the awful Johnny Depp reboot, either. It was the 1971 version with Gene Wilder, who in the words of The Atlantic, oscillates “between sincerity and deadpan sarcasm with unnerving grace” as he seeks a successor to run his beloved and surreal candy factory.
I love everything about this movie: the Technicolor, the fantasy, the not-so-obvious lessons, but lessons nonetheless, and, above all, the characters.
Growing up, I was most intrigued by Veruca Salt. For those who have seen the movie, you’ll know Veruca is perhaps not everyone’s first choice. Bold, brash and obnoxious to many, she’s the brat who wants everything (“And I want it now!”).
Back then, I couldn’t put my finger on why I liked her. I supposed I loved the name because it sounds fierce. Veruca. Veruca Salt. Like a volcano about to erupt. But perhaps more than anything, I saw—and still see—a girl who knows exactly what she wants and isn’t afraid to demand it, something which remains a faux pas for many women today. She was snotty no doubt; but I also thought she was ambitious and strong. So what if she was salty? Maybe she needed to be.
Of course, Veruca doesn’t meet with the happiest of endings. If I’m ever asked how I want to “go,” falling down a garbage chute into a furnace with my parents wouldn’t be my first choice. Certainly there’s a lesson there about the price one might pay for being so self-interested.
And there are other lessons evident in other characters that I didn’t pick up on as a kid.
At first, for instance, I didn’t gravitate towards the story’s protagonist, the timid and diminutive Charlie. (Does that make me terrible?) Don’t get me wrong. I could relate to the poverty and the immense respect for his elders. But deep down, I used to think he was too humble, too nice and always playing it safe—a pushover. Looking at Charlie now, I appreciate his sweet, abiding honesty and integrity. It’s what earns him the trust of Willy and ultimately the keys to the factory.
(An aside: in my latest viewing, the first thought I had when Willy handed the factory over to Charlie was, “That’s a bad corporate succession plan!” Then it struck me as an extraordinary bode of confidence—and a calculated risk—in a new, promising generation, and how audacious and marvelous that is.)
Coming from your CEO, this message might feel like a bit left field, but I’m not the only one who sees meaning in this movie.
Take “Five Leadership Lessons from Willy Wonka.” It’s a pretty good read. Among the points in the article: “It’s okay to make mistakes.” That checks out! Another one: “Creation or destruction is up to you.” In other words, we can control, or at least strongly affect and influence, our destinies even though it’s not always easy. And the one that seems least likely in the context of our careers: “Embrace silliness.” In other words, lighten up and open up and have some fun.
On this last point in particular, I sometimes need to remind myself to take a chill pill. I can be so serious and intense sometimes—OK most of the time. But it’s only because I’m so passionate about and committed to SHPE, our mission, and the future of the Hispanic community; and I have a sense of urgency to level the playing field for Hispanics in STEM. (Like Veruca, I want it all. I want it all for SHPE, and much, much more for our Hispanic Community, and as soon as possible). And so in my CEO Corners, I strive to share with all of you who I really am – a sometimes melodramatic, big softie with a sense of humor, to those who know me personally.
So why do I share my all-time favorite movie? To me, it tells a very important lesson in connection to our theme for our 2019 National Convention: The Power of Transformation.
What is that lesson? The power of the individual.
Often we think of transformation as this grand, sweeping thing. For example, part of my grander vision of the future, with SHPE as the catalyst, is to make workplaces and leadership of all organizations just as diverse as the people living in this county – full representation. Imagine: more Hispanics in STEM; more Hispanics in the C-suite; more Hispanics in the centers of power. That’s a major shift. It’s so big, in fact, that it might very well be hard to imagine a single person, or even an organization like SHPE with more than 10,000 members, making it a reality (though it is happening, albeit slowly).
Why I love this movie: it reminds us that something as simple as the ability, and ultimately the power, of an individual to dream is vital to changing and improving our society and the world – for the better.
To borrow a verse from “Pure Imagination”, perhaps the most famous song from Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory:
If you want to see magic lands,
Close your eyes and you will see one.
Want to be a dreamer?
Be one, anytime you please.
And please save me one.
Can you now see why Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory remains one of my favorite movies? It’s so complex and yet simple. Can you see how it pertains to SHPE? Imagine the extraordinary things we can do together as an organization. As one familia. As one cosmic race. This classical movie is really a gem among gems. And if you haven’t seen it, I invite you to, just skip the Johnny Depp version. It’s just not the same.
Or, you can find inspiration somewhere else altogether. But whatever you do, please don’t stop looking. Inspiration is everywhere. It’s in you, it’s in the people around you, and it’s most definitely at SHPE and in the Hispanic community.
Imagine the limitless possibilities.
Raquel Tamez, CEO