President and CEO
Lutheran Social Services of Wisconsin and Upper Michigan
Location: Waukesha County, WI
Industry: Health and Human Services
Héctor Colón grew up on the south side of Milwaukee in a rough neighborhood surrounded by gangs and drugs. He endured several hardships, including the relentless attention of a bully. In response, Colón turned to boxing. He trained at United Community Center and eventually won seven national championships and competed in the 1992 Olympic trials.
Some hardships, though, couldn’t be solved in the ring. Colón’s father left. His sister suffered from mental illness and substance use disorder. And he watched as his mother took on extra work without complaint to pay rent, feed the family and educate her children. She was a model of servant leadership that Colón emulates today in his role as president and CEO of Lutheran Social Services of Wisconsin and Upper Michigan.
Colón is not only the leader of a social services organization, he also has a podcast, “In the Ring with Héctor Colón,” and he is the author of the book, “My Journey From Boxing Ring to Boardroom: 5 Essential Virtues for Life and Leadership.”
Colón knew early in his professional career that he wanted to one day become a CEO. He read books, sought mentors and took on new challenges, eager to advance quickly. He shared his progress with others, hoping to get noticed, until a friend and mentor, Ricardo Diaz, the former CEO at the United Community Center, shared some advice. “Just remember that you can not do the work you do alone,” he told Colón. “It requires people in front of and behind you. Don’t forget that.” Colón said this helped him realize he needed to embrace servant leadership and focus more on others than himself. “Now my approach is to recognize, appreciate and empower others to do great work,” he said.
Under Colón’s leadership since 2017, LSS has adapted new models and business strategies to increase its relevance and efficiency. Colón spurred a $17.4 million turnaround at the agency after it failed to meet its budget goals during each of the four years before Colón got there. The organization now serves nearly 30,000 people each year.
Colón was named the Nonprofit Executive of the Year by BizTimes Media and the Hispanic Man of the year by UMOS. In a previous role as executive director of the Milwaukee County Department of Health and Human Services, Colón led several countywide initiatives, including efforts to reform the juvenile justice system, end chronic homelessness, transform mental healthcare and end a 30-year waitlist for disability services.
He is vice president of the board of directors for USA Boxing, where he and the organization focus on inspiring athletes to discover their own paths toward personal and professional greatness. He also serves on the University of Wisconsin Board of Regents and the boards of directors for M3 Insurance and Nicolet Bankshares, Inc., the holding company for Nicolet National Bank.
Héctor is a seasoned Salsa dancer. He and his wife Mari even used to teach the partnered dance style in years past!