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When José Gutiérrez ’90 began his MBA at Kellogg, he looked at the accomplished students and esteemed faculty around him and worried that maybe there had been a mistake. Of course, he was indeed in the right place, but for Gutiérrez, arriving at Kellogg represented the American dream, so a piece of him couldn’t help but feel like he was imagining everything.
“Getting accepted and becoming part of Kellogg was very important to me because it was the first time I felt that I was really making it here in America,” recalls Gutiérrez, who left his family and life in Madrid, Spain to attend the University of Missouri in the 1980s. “I sort of became the poster child for the American dream by attending a top business school and becoming a top executive with one of the largest corporations in the world. It's a testament not so much to my capabilities, but a testament to this country,” he says, modestly.
However, Gutiérrez’s success has everything to do with his capabilities. After discovering a knack for mergers and acquisitions while at Kellogg, he took an M&A position at Southwestern Bell in his wife’s hometown of St. Louis. “I remember telling my wife, Diane, not to get too excited about the position since it was a telephone company so, really, how many companies could they buy?” he laughs. “I was totally wrong, of course, because we ended up acquiring literally hundreds of companies and eventually we bought AT&T.”
Gutiérrez leveraged the close proximity to Southwestern Bell’s executive leaders that the M&A group afforded him in order to forge strong relationships and receive mentorship from executives. That initiative paid off, and during his tenure with the company he served in several top executive roles, including as CEO and president of AT&T Southwestern Bell, president of AT&T Global Enterprise Solutions and CEO of AT&T Advertising Solutions. During his tenure, AT&T became the largest and most admired telecommunications company in the world. Throughout his career, Gutiérrez enjoyed developing cohesive teams that always strived for excellence.
Even as he ascended professional heights, Gutiérrez knew he didn’t want to be a late retiree. “I’ve watched people grow old in the company and retire only to experience health issues,” he explains. “Perhaps it’s my Mediterranean philosophy, but I always felt that I would step back in my mid to late ’50s. It was very important to leave on my own terms and leave on a high. And I was very happy and very content with what I had done.”
Stepping away from his executive role hasn’t diminished his activity, though. Gutiérrez now shares his business knowledge as a board director and member for several organizations, including the Denny's Corporation, Dr Pepper Snapple Group, the University of Missouri, the Cotton Bowl and the Thompson Foundation for Autism and Neurodevelopmental Disorders.
Gutiérrez also devotes a significant amount of time to his lifelong passion for long-distance hiking, even blogging about experiences on the trail. “During hikes I’ve learned a lot about myself and about life and I’ve applied those life lessons to my personal life and to my business life,” he says. Recently, Gutiérrez launched Notiehiking.com, an inspirational venture.
For Gutiérrez, the future is still bright, though it’s very different than the uncertain future he was considering when he entered Kellogg. “You get to my age and life becomes more about giving rather than taking,” he says. “I'm way too active and curious to just sit around and do nothing. So the corporate boards are a great platform for me to draw upon my experiences and provide guidance to the company and the management team. It's still very important and I still feel very relevant, yet I don't have nearly the stress that comes with an executive role.”