In 2024, influential minority business leaders play a pivotal role in driving diversity, equity, and inclusion agendas forward. Their voices bring unique perspectives to boardrooms, shaping more representative and responsive business strategies. By championing underrepresented communities, they inspire future generations, breaking down systemic barriers and fostering economic empowerment. Moreover, diverse leadership fosters innovation and resilience, enriching decision-making processes with a broader range of insights. In a rapidly changing global landscape, the presence of influential minority business leaders not only promotes social justice but also strengthens businesses, ensuring they remain relevant, competitive, and sustainable in an increasingly diverse world.

AZ Big 100: 50 Arizona business leaders to watch in 2024

The most influential minority business leaders in Arizona

Here are 18 of the most influential minority business leaders who are shaping Arizona’s business landscape in 2024:

Jeff Barton

City manager // City of Phoenix

Proudest professional accomplishment: “I’m proud that I am Phoenix’s first African American city manager, especially as an HBCU graduate. And my proudest accomplishment as city manager is the General Obligation (GO) Bond. With the support and direction of my city council, I successfully developed a voter-approved $500 million GO Bond Program which will fund critical infrastructure and rehabilitation needs of city facilities such as parks, libraries, fire and police stations, affordable housing, streets and storm drains without raising the property tax rate. This program brings me pride because it invests in Phoenix’s future responsibly and strategically and will make an impact for generations to come.” 

Ken Arnold

Senior vice president and global chief people officer // Avnet

Ken Arnold

Background: Arnold is Avnet’s senior vice president and global chief people officer, reporting to Avnet CEO Phil Gallagher. As head of human resources, he is a member of the executive leadership team and responsible for leading Avnet’s HR strategy and global human resources team to attract, develop, engage and reward employees for the enterprise. Arnold’s impressive career includes more than 25 years of extensive experience across multiple industries in human resources and information technology, including vice president of human resources for multiple business units, talent management and director of human resources information systems and people operations. His executive management experience lends itself well to assisting companies that are seeking to drive significant engagement and change. Arnold’s industry and coaching experience enables him to identify the competencies and critical success factors that drive high-performing leaders and team effectiveness.

Biggest career challenge: “One of the biggest challenges I’ve faced in my career, like many, was shifting from an individual contributor to a people leader. Taking charge of my own development while leading others (and still collaborating) was a lot to juggle. As I became responsible for a team of people, my approach, perspective and scope of accountability needed to change. I had to learn how to inspire, support, enable and develop others, which was not an easy journey. However, I overcame this challenge by focusing on teamwork, applying competencies, increasing communication, embracing diverse ideas and understanding the unique needs of each team member to contribute to their full potential.”

Improving DEI: “In my opinion, it’s good to start with inclusiveness as an anchor. Starting with inclusiveness creates a sense of belonging and attracts diverse stakeholders that feel valued — and therefore are more open to offering input, ideas and experiences that yield better decision-making and ultimately better business outcomes. Employers should consider ways to enable employees to connect with others with similar interests, such as employee resource groups, where they can share, learn, support and advance inclusion efforts in the workplace and community.”

Source of pride: “The most rewarding accomplishment in my professional career is to be recognized as a global human resources leader with a mission of helping others achieve their personal and professional goals through mentorship, leadership, stewardship and friendship to become a better version of yourself every day.”

Wesley Benally, CPA

Principal and national tribal practice leader // REDW 

Background: As an audit and assurance principal, Benally oversees the audits of a wide range of Native American communities, state and local government agencies and nonprofits, nationwide. As the leader of REDW’s National Tribal Practice, Benally is also committed to improving financial literacy throughout Indian Country. He serves as an instructor for the Tribal Financial Managers Certificate Program offered through Arizona State University’s American Indian Policy Institute and regularly speaks on a variety of audit and accounting topics at national NIGA and NAFOA conferences. In his role as a member of the Arizona State Board of Accountancy’s Peer Review Oversight Advisory Committee, he stays abreast of critical quality control issues that impact his audit engagements.

Gaby Cardenas

Gaby Cardenas

Founder and CEO // Colibri Collective

Background: Cardenas has broken barriers as the first Latina-owned digital marketing firm in Phoenix, demonstrating a commitment to helping both businesses and individuals through her work. Her dedication to collaboration and partnership-building is a key factor in her success. Her agency’s campaigns have consistently won awards and recognition for their excellence in progressive political marketing. She acknowledges the importance of her talented team and values partnerships as the cornerstone of her agency’s achievements.

Inspiration for future minority leaders: “When I first started my business, I went through the Emerging Leaders Program, which is a great space for anybody who is a CEO, regardless if you’re a new CEO, or have been one for a long time. It allows you to be in a safe space with CEOs who really share the same pressures and understand you. You learn finances, human resources and operations, and you revisit your marketing business plans. It’s one of the best resources if you know how to maximize it.”

Learn more:

Erika Castro

Supplier diversity program manager // Salt River Project (SRP) 

Background: Castro facilitates strategies and activities by connecting small and diverse businesses to SRP and to the purchasing teams responsible for SRP’s business units. In 2023, Castro was a recipient of SRP’s “President’s Volunteer Spirit Award” and was recognized as a “Women of Chandler” in 2022 for her extensive community work. 

Proudest professional accomplishment: “I had the privilege of chairing SRP’s ¡Hablamos SRP! ERG Board that promotes professional growth, encourages community participation, has a positive influence in the Hispanic community and attracts diverse employees. In this role, I embarked on a journey to cultivate its foundation and enhance employee engagement.” 

Ann Ching

Clinical professor of law // Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law Arizona State University

Most inspirational minority leader: “My father, Anthony B. Ching is the minority leader who has inspired me the most throughout my life. He was born in China, came to Arizona as an immigrant and faced many challenges based on his status. Nevertheless, he had an extremely impactful career as a public interest lawyer and was Arizona’s first Solicitor General. His commitment to excellence and quiet professionalism have inspired me always to do my best, regardless of the circumstances.”

Mike Gonzalez

Vice president // McCarthy Building Companies

Improving DEI: “Transparency, education and communication are the driving factors in the success of any diversity, equity and inclusion program. Employees at every level must first understand how cultural differences can impact how people work, interact with one another and make decisions. Promotion of an environment where everyone has a voice and where differences are embraced is an important step, but inclusion is at the core. Providing equal access, opportunities and resources for all employees is necessary to create an environment that is inclusive and transparent.” 

Monica Garnes

Division president // Fry’s Food Stores, The Kroger Co.

Biggest career challenge: “My most challenging experiences have been those where I felt unwelcome in a space or situation or like my knowledge of the business was in doubt. As a woman and as a minority, there’s always a question about ‘Why did she get that role?’ Overcoming a preconceived notion is a challenge, and as people see my work and results, they can see why I was the best candidate for the roles I’ve been in.”

Most inspirational minority leader: “My parents are my most inspirational minority leaders. They made so many sacrifices for me, my brother and my sister to make sure we had a great educational foundation.”

Xavier Gutierrez

President and CEO // Arizona Coyotes 

Improving DEI: “The diversity, equity and inclusion of America has come a long way, and evened the playing field for communities that were previously disenfranchised. However, the single most important factor to continued progress is changing the prism through which companies view DEI. Rather than view multiculturalism as a box to check or social responsibility, we should realize it’s our competitive advantage. Companies, leagues, teams and nonprofits should champion and lean into diversity as an unparalleled economic growth driver.”

Mark Molzen

Global issues director // Lumen Technologies

Proudest professional accomplishment: “I have had the privilege of working with organizations ranging from start-ups to Fortune 100 companies, including General Dynamics, IBM, Apple, Sony and Southwest Airlines. There are a few messaging and positioning sessions I’ve done that I’m quite proud of. There is nothing like going from a blank page to crafting a company’s messaging and positioning, which end up fueling growth, allowing them to break into uncharted territory and making the complex simple. I will also point to writing my first book, ‘Chosen with Purpose,’ a story about adoption and identity. I’m not done yet, but this accomplishment is high on my list.”

Bernard Narine

Regional president and head of Retail Banking, Southern region (AZ, FL, NM, NV) // BMO

Bernard Narine

Background: Narnine has more than 35 years of experience in banking and financial services. He is an expert senior leader with demonstrated success in developing and implementing effective solutions to complex operational and organizational problems across a wide range of markets and demographics. Prior to joining BMO, Narnine worked for RBS Citizens Bank and Wachovia/Wells Fargo, holding various roles such as retail banking director, community bank president, customer experience director, regional manager and small business banking manager.

Biggest career challenge: “Looking back, I would say that ‘assimilation’ was by far my biggest challenge. That challenge was made more difficult given that I identified as Black, but not African American, and was an immigrant. At times, these two facts felt like an insurmountable challenge, as I tried to navigate the professional environment, find my place culturally and from a race/ethnicity perspective. I quickly learned that to be successful, I had to become skilled at assessing my audience, understanding how to ‘show up’ and how to let the quality of my work become the thing that was noticed first.”

Improving DEI: “I believe that diversity is about difference — we fear what we don’t know or understand. Companies need to have that context as a starting point for any initiatives or programs they decide to implement. BMO’s commitment to building a society with zero barriers to inclusion is one of the defining hallmarks of our culture. Our goals reflect those values and boldly reaffirm our commitment to creating meaningful and lasting change, in support of colleagues, customers and communities.”

Most inspirational minority leader: “Mahatma Gandhi. While his legacy in recent years has become controversial, particularly on his early writings about race, I have been inspired by how firmly he rejected racism and discrimination of any kind as he began to understand difference more fully. He embraced the poor and less fortunate and focused on making meaningful change through a philosophy of nonviolence.”

Kameron Norwood

Retail broker and principal // PICOR/Cushman Wakefield Commercial Real Estate

Kameron Norwood

Background: Kameron “Kam” Norwood joined Cushman & Wakefield | PICOR in 2023 to fulfill his dream to excel at the top commercial real estate firm in his hometown. A Tucson native and University of Arizona graduate, Norwood launched his career in technical staffing working from recruiter to management over eight years.

Improving DEI: “DEI means a lot of different things to different people. I think it’s in any organization’s benefit to include individuals from an array of different cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds to ensure that organization can be as inclusive and creative as possible with the business they do.”

Proudest professional accomplishment: “Being featured in Forbes — to build a business that was featured in Forbes was very exciting, along with winning the Google Black Founder award two years ago and getting $100,000 for one of my businesses from Google. These were accomplishments that when I started my businesses were unfathomable, things I thought ‘Wow it would be cool to get there one day,’ and we did it.”

Most inspirational minority leader: “Chamath Palihapitiya. He was born in Sri-Lanka, his family fled to Canada where he grew up. He went from working at Burger King when he was 14 to moving to Silicon Valley after graduating college and working at Facebook and many other startups to eventually become a billionaire and social activist.”

Patti Olds

President and CEO // Kuniklo Corporation

Biggest career challenge: “There are differences between knowing how to do something, doing it myself and employing others to do it. As a business owner and professional, the biggest challenges arise when I become the bottleneck — when there are too many ‘do it myself’ tasks on my list. Instead of relying on my own expertise or personal relationships, I recognized that to grow the company’s capacity, I had to train, coach and trust my teammates to do more.”

Proudest professional accomplishment: “We are still here! Not many small businesses reach the 20-year anniversary mark. I am proud that Kuniklo is still working and growing after 20 years, a great recession and COVID.”

Stacie Pinderhughes, MD

Background: Pinderhughes is a physician executive with strong business acumen and extensive technical knowledge of medical and clinical services, sophisticated health care systems and advanced palliative care programs.  

Source of pride: “Early in my career, I had the privilege of developing a model, for the first and only inpatient hospice unit in Harlem, N.Y., at that time. Later in Arizona, my team and I developed hospital and community-based palliative care programs. It was a privilege to serve countless individuals and their families at a time when they were vulnerable, often scared and in need of compassion.” 

Brandon B. Rafi

Founder // Rafi Law Group

Background: Rafi never takes a single day, nor the local community that has embraced him, for granted. After Rafi’s parents met, fell in love and married, they initially settled in Washington, D.C., becoming parents while they both diligently and tirelessly worked their way up the American dream.  

Brandon B. Rafi

Improving DEI: “In my view, improving DEI in the workplace goes beyond just policymaking; it’s about cultivating a culture where diversity, equity and inclusion are woven into the very fabric of the organization. Employers should consider a few key factors to genuinely improve DEI:

• Leadership commitment: “Leaders must actively engage in and advocate for DEI, setting clear organizational goals.

• Interactive training: Implement engaging training programs to address unconscious biases and promote empathy.

• Inclusive hiring practices: Expand recruitment sources and adopt strategies like blind recruitment to ensure a diverse talent pool.

These are the first steps to create a culture where diversity is not only welcomed but is an integral part of the organization’s success.”

Source of pride: “One professional accomplishment that fills me with immense pride is the establishment and growth of Rafi Law Group itself. Starting a law firm from the ground up, especially with a mindset of diversity, equity and inclusion, was a huge undertaking. The legal field is competitive and traditionally conservative, so breaking through those barriers wasn’t easy.”

Most inspirational minority leader: “The most significant source of inspiration in my life has always been my dad, Mike Rafi. His journey from immigrating to this country to starting his own business in Phoenix is a story of resilience and hard work that deeply resonates with me. He wasn’t just a great entrepreneur; he was an incredible dad, a role model and now a wonderful grandfather to my children. His constant great mood and positive energy filled our home and his business, creating an environment where hard work and helping others were paramount values.”

Benjamin Taylor

President // Arizona State Bar

Background: Taylor, an acclaimed civil rights attorney, is making history as the first Black president of the Arizona State Bar. This is the first time in the 90-year history of the Arizona State Bar that a Black person has been appointed president. As president of the State Bar, Taylor has initiated a wellness campaign for Arizona lawyers and Arizona law students to get critical mental health services, promote work/life balance and physical health. Taylor has a deep portfolio of civil rights cases that have made huge impacts in Arizona including Yessenia Garcia’s wrongful arrest, Sean Bickings’ drowning, Derek Chauvin’s police brutality trial and many more.

Mario A. Taylor, MD

Orthopedic spine surgeon // OrthoArizona  

Biggest career challenge: “Getting through orthopedic surgery residency was probably the biggest hurdle. Five years at the busiest level-one trauma center in the Pacific Northwest prepared me well for practice, but those couple of years were filled with challenges at every step of the way. Trying to find a balance between maintaining relationships with family and friends, learning orthopedic surgery and teaching junior residents were some of the toughest parts. I leaned on my family and co-residents for support, and keeping these relationships strong helped me get through those tough times.”

Stephanie Vasquez

Owner // Fair Trade Cafe and founder of E.L.L.A.

Stephanie Vasquez

Background: As the proud owner of Fair Trade Cafe, the city’s longest-standing coffee shop, Vasquez has cultivated a socially conscious, thriving business, becoming a beacon of inspiration for aspiring entrepreneurs in her community. Beyond the walls of Fair Trade Cafe, Vasquez’s impact extends even further through her non-profit organization, E.L.L.A. (Empowering Latina Leaders in Arizona). Through E.L.L.A., she has pioneered initiatives such as Mujeres Mercado, a vibrant marketplace showcasing the talents of Latina artisans and entrepreneurs. This platform not only provides a space for these individuals to showcase their creations but also empowers them with the resources and support needed to excel in the business world.

“This year alone, we have we’ve worked with over 500 local Latino businesses,” Vasquez says in her role as founder and CEO of E.L.L.A. “When we look at businesses and small businesses, Latinas are leading. It’s important for organizations like ours to be there to help and support the little guys.”

Additionally, Vasquez’s commitment to mentorship and community support is exemplified through Amor Amigas, a mentorship program within E.L.L.A. designed to nurture aspiring entrepreneurs and provide them with the guidance and resources necessary for success. Through this program, she and fellow entrepreneurs, discuss their knowledge and experience, empowering the next generation of Latina leaders to pursue their dreams and make a difference in their communities.