Celebrating AAPI Month: Don Valdez’s Parenting Styled Leadership Approach

If you’ve ever had the opportunity to bump shoulders with Don Valdez, Head of ad tech and publisher sales at The Media Trust then you already know that he is a chill guy who knows his stuff when it comes to ad tech. However, long before his ad tech career Valdez credits his experience as a Marine as the first place he learned what being a true leader was. 

Leading younger marines awarded him the opportunity to not only be patient but to put “the whole” before himself.  As you all know, there is no I in team. Depending on the culture of a company or industry you work in, there are times when being a team player can be detrimental to a career. Still, Valdez chooses being a team player every time. 

Valdez is very passionate about passing the torch, but it’s best if you read his story directly from his own words below.

Yakira Young: Can you tell us about your background and how it has influenced your career path?

Don Valdez: I’m the only child of Teresita Dunuan, a single mother who is a two-time breast cancer survivor. She came to the United States from the Philippines to pursue nursing. She also dabbled in real estate and eventually became a Financial Advisor with Transamerica.

My mother worked a lot, so my grandmother and her siblings helped raise me in Jersey City. When she had free time, my mother would sign us up to volunteer at events that supported the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation, Christian charities, and organizations focused on Filipino culture awareness. I say all this because being surrounded by strong women of color helped shape my perceptions of hard work, sacrifice, and inclusion. 

I enlisted in the United States Marine Corps in 2005 and had the chance to deploy to Iraq and Afghanistan and travel to Mongolia, the Arctic Circle (Norway), and Morocco. While in those environments, I learned how to work quickly and accurately and had the privilege to lead younger Marines.

YY: How can the AAPI community better support and promote diversity in the advertising industry? 

DV: First, we’d need to inventory all of the AAPI organizations in our industry. For instance, through LinkedIn, I’ve had my eye on Asians in Advertising, a Los Angeles based group. After inventorying all the groups, the first iteration is to get them to collaborate and cross-promote each other’s work/events and start with running an annual conference (forgive my ignorance if this already exists). 

Second, have those organizations collaborate with groups outside the AAPI realm and replicate those efforts. That type of cross-pollination may create surprising synergy. For instance, May is also the Jewish American Heritage and Mental Health Awareness month. If an AAPI group(s) were to join efforts with the two other groups, there could be awareness highlighting the increase of violence towards AAPI and Jewish people and the effects on mental health within those groups. In addition to creating awareness, perhaps they could collaborate to create solutions to further protect the groups or mitigate the violence against them..

YY: How do you approach mentorship and supporting other Asian American professionals in your industry? 

DV: What’s funny is that I recently talked with my older cousin about how Asian American children have more opportunities for acceptance these days than we did growing up between the 1970s to 1990s. Barely anyone knew what a Filipino was back then, so I was either identified as Chinese or a mix between Jamaican and Japanese. 

That said, I think it’s important for my generation of Asian American professionals not to hold that against the younger generation. They’re so much more talented and self-aware than we were at their age. What we do have that they are still building is our networks. 

It’s important for me to open up my network to good people looking to work hard and change their lives for the better, whether they are AAPI, military veterans, etc. If I meet someone with a similar background or through an AAPI organization, I will be happy to share my experiences and open the doors that they need opening.

YY: In your opinion, what steps can companies take to foster a more inclusive and diverse workplace for AAPI individuals and other underrepresented groups? 

DV: I think a great start is for companies to really invest in their Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) and take them seriously. Don’t treat them like a check-in-the-box to fulfill the Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) portion of the 10-K Annual Report. When I was at Time Inc., they did a really great job supporting employees when it came to celebrating various cultures. We need more initiatives done right to enable individuals to live their best lives and perform their best work. Let’s start there — genuine investment and respect.

YY: What are some of the proudest moments of your career, and how have those moments shaped your perspective on being an AAPI leader?

DV: This industry, like the Marine Corps, has given me many opportunities to travel and meet many wonderful (and not so wonderful) people. 

I learned what type of person I want to be and many ways to approach many situations. What makes me proud is when my peers or people who reported to me excel (pun, maybe) in their careers and continue to do amazing things. 

What’s missed in today’s culture is that being a leader is similar to being a parent —the goal should be to set up those you lead for success and give them the best opportunity to surpass what you’ve accomplished. That’s how we evolve. The goal shouldn’t be to take from them and I think that’s what a lot of leaders do these days.

YY: Is there anything else about your experience that you’d like to add? 

Those who know me know that I love to read. What’s relevant to this topic is that I finished America Is Not the Heart by Elaine Castillo and America Is in the Heart by Carlos Bulosan. These books highlight different Filipino-American experiences in different eras. Maybe I’ll be brave enough like them to pen my wondrous journey to paper someday. 

Lastly, I was part of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart’s Veteran Immersion Program in 2014. Shout out to everyone involved in that program because I would not be where I am without it. Thank you to AdMonsters for allowing me to share my story. Have a great summer, everyone.