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Maria Teresa Kumar, television host and CEO of Voto Latino, keeps a statue of Cesar Chavez in her office

The founder and CEO of Voto Latino and Emmy-nominated cocreator of MSNBC’s ‘Beyond Borderlines’ takes our career questionnaire.

Maria Teresa Kumar, television host and CEO of Voto Latino, keeps a statue of Cesar Chavez in her office
[Illustration: Mallory Heyer]
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Fast Company: What’s your best habit, and what’s your worst?

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Maria Teresa Kumar: I can eat everything. I guess that would be my best and worst habit.

FC: What do you do when you’re creatively stuck?

MTK: I go for a walk or start reading trends in consumer marketing. Reading trends sparks ideas!

FC: What’s the business buzzword you never want to hear again?

MTK: When we’re in external meetings or conferences and folks say that it’s time to take a “bio break.” That’s really too much information. It’s gross.

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FC: How do you unplug?

MTK: I play with my kids, who are 6 and 7. Our home is pretty neat, but there is an understanding that the Hot Wheels race track going from the second floor to the front door remains up. I get particular joy launching a Hot Wheel down the track, and watching it do a loop and sail through the air before I head out for the day.

FC: What advice are you glad you ignored?

MTK: A Hollywood executive who served as my boss very briefly said I wasn’t articulate, that I spoke too fast. He expressed that my career would stagnate as a result. Eighteen months later, I secured a contract with MSNBC. Having earned an Emmy nomination since I started with MSNBC, I’ve been piping myself into his living room most evenings for the past decade.

FC: What advice would you give your younger self?

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MTK: To be patient and maximize every opportunity to learn.


Downtime Diversions:


FC: Do you have a work uniform?

MTK: Heels and lipstick!

FC: What’s always in your bag?

MTK: Baby crumbs: a toy from my kids or a sock. And if I’m lucky, before I jump on the plane, the latest edition of ‘The New Yorker’ has arrived in my mailbox.

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FC: Do you have a mantra?

MTK: I channel my grandmother’s mantra: “‘No’ is for everybody else.” My grandmother was married at 13. At 26, she found herself a single mother of eight with an eighth-grade education, when her husband, 14 years her senior, shared that it was too much responsibility and left her. She taught me about persistence.

FC: Is there a meeting you never miss?

MTK: My kids’ performances. They didn’t choose my line of work. So I make it my priority that I’m there when it’s a big day for them, regardless of where on the road I may be the day before.

FC: What’s your favorite object in your office?

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MTK: A statue of Cesar Chavez next to the American flag. It speaks to why I do what I do. I deeply believe in America and her possibility, and it’s a constant reminder that her possibility can’t be realized until we provide real equity and opportunity for the most marginalized among us