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Latina Hurdles Obstacles, Climbs to top of Business World
Sharlene Ramos-Chesnes has faced many challenges in her life. She is the youngest of six siblings and was born in the west-side of Cleveland, a place she said back then was known as “little Puerto Rico.” Her parents migrated to the U.S. in the early 1950’s from Yauco, Puerto Rico and was raised by her mother Elba, who became a single-mom when Ramos-Chesnes was two-years-old.
In her home they spoke Spanish. In fact, her entire community spoke Spanish. She said she only ate Hispanic food; spoke Spanish at church and the stores she bought from were all Hispanic-owned. It wasn’t until she left for college that she actually ate something other than Hispanic food.
Starting from humble beginnings did not deter Ramos-Chesnes and now, as CEO for all of the InterChez family of companies, she leads a large and fast growing organization that offers direct and integrated supply chain and logistics solutions both nationally and internationally.
“It was great to live within my culture here in the U.S.,” she said. “But it was also inspiring to see what my mom and grandparents endured when learning English by watching television in order to find work.”
She especially attributes her passion and driving spirit to her mother.
“I grew up with a strong matriarch role-model,” she said. “I watched her work full time while also raising six children by herself. She truly is my inspiration who makes me continue to do better.”
Today, she’s channeled the strength of her past and guides the InterChez companies with her husband Mark. InterChez is comprised of several specialized operating units: InterChez Logistics Systems that provides mid-market consumers an affordable logistics alternative; InterChez Global Services, a premium freight-forwarding company that provides complete supply-chain solutions to mid-market clients and is distinguished by its international emphasis. Under Global Services, InterChez also offers translation and interpretation services in over 150 languages and dialects. InterChez Technologies is a diverse and integrated company consisting of five complementary services: advanced audio/visual for commercial and residential applications, telecommunications, data networking, application development, and web design. Entering its thirteenth year in business, the companies employ over 40 full-time employees in Ohio and Michigan.
InterChez is a client of the Cleveland MBDA Business Center. Earlier this year her InterChez team visited the Center to discuss a strategy to grow their company by 50 percent, but needed financial assistance to do so. The Cleveland MBDA Center conducted a financial assessment and identified potential investors from their pool of financial partners. As a result, InterChez was connected with KeyBank and was able to secure a $1 million line of credit with KeyBank in March, 2013.
The MBDA Business Center continued to support Ramos-Chesnes and her business after the initial deal was done. She called them to ask information about Dartmouth College’s Amos Tuck School of Business Minority Executive Program. After a conversation with the Center’s director about why she was interested in the program and the value it would bring to her business and community, the MBDA Business Center decided to sponsor her attendance. She graduated from the program in May, 2013.
Grateful for what the center has done for her company, Ramos-Chesnes is exploring ways to partner with them to give back to the local business community.
"MBDA has done so much for us that we wanted to find a way to see what we could do for them,” she said. “So, now we’re looking at developing an international program with them where we can come in and speak with other groups who plan on conducting international business. We want to mentor on what the best practices are, like the importance of having a language part to the plan and the requirements needed for the different countries they may be interested in conducting business in.”
Still, with all the success of her business, Ramos-Chesnes never forgets her Hispanic cultural roots and is constantly finding ways to mentor others.
“We as business owners must give back—we must teach the younger generation what it takes to get to where we are,” she said. “I had great community role models. I learned then that we must work together. And that it’s ‘not a color issue—but a business issue.’”
She recognizes that although she’s managed many a “first” in a business world tailored for men, there are times she still endures the stereotypes given to a woman—a Hispanic woman.
But those grains of salt won’t stop her. This “Orgullo Hispano” hopes one day, when people talk about her legacy, they’ll say: “Sharlene wasn’t afraid to take on a challenge. And she always remembered to give back to her community.”