The Confessions series is designed to introduce a successful woman. Regardless of her age, race, religion, class, ethnicity, or wealth; just a successful woman with her own definition of success. From a young entrepreneur to a mature woman with a blissful career, all of them are role models.
Natalia Olson-Urtecho is a recognized expert in commercialization of clean technologies, transportation, energy and environmental planning, public engagement and infrastructure development. Prior to her current position as founder and CEO of Infratech21 she was appointed by President Obama as the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Mid-Atlantic Regional Administrator responsible for small business programs, financial assistance, and business development initiatives throughout the mid-Atlantic region managing 34 billion dollars in government contracting. She has held senior management positions in both the public and private sector in the U.S., Central Europe, Asia and Latin America. Natalia was appointed to Philadelphia’s Planning Commission and served as the Vice Chair of the Zoning Code Commission. She has been honored with numerous prestigious awards, including recognition as a “Latina Powerhouse” by the Maryland Hispanic Business Conference, Most Influential Latino in Delaware Valley in 2014, Philadelphia Business Journal’s 2010 Minority Business Leader Award, and Woman of Distinction for her work in sustainable infrastructure. She has a MS in City and Regional Planning from the University of Pennsylvania and has climbed Kilimanjaro, Everest, Fitz Roy, Machu Picchu, and also enjoys diving with sharks.
What early life events have influenced your view of wealth?
Growing up in developing countries where poverty was extreme and always visible makes you realize at an early age the disparities in society. When I was 12 years old my mother took us to a extremely large dumpster where families had built homes out of the trash and she said if you don’t study and work hard you will end up here. That was a tough reality to face as a kid who lived a privileged life as a diplomat’s daughter. I was fortunate I had hard working grandparents and parents who made it clear that working every summer and throughout college was the only option. An option I came to appreciate because i realized that the only way to really make money and to manage it well is to have understand how to make it.
What role does work play in your life?
I love to work, I have worked since I was 9 years old at my grandfather’s hardware every summer and later through high school and college at U.S. Embassies, restaurants, law offices, to teaching at Berlitz. I went to work in the private and public sector, started a couple companies so never having a real break from work until now. Its important to take a break once and while and reflect on what you have accomplished in your professional life and how that has impacted your personal life. For the past 5 and half years I have served as a Presidential Appointee in the Obama Administration as the Regional Administrator at the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) and I had to fortune to meet other entrepreneurs and business owners like myself. Meeting entrepreneurs from all walks of life and diverse backgrounds confirmed my belief that hard work is what ties us together, that hunger to improve, to disrupt, to innovate and to grow.
If you could solve any problem, what would it be?
Access to better education, there are so many bright children that with the right access to education could do so much more
What have been non-financial influences on your efforts to build wealth?
Understanding and getting involved local and national politics to develop better policies and regulations, its amazing how many bad policies are out there that have meaningful impact. Its important for people to get involved in their communities so they can have a better idea and control of the impact politics can have on their lives, therefore shaping better policies.
What do you most enjoy in terms of spending?
I love to travel, research shows that we experience the same increase in happiness when we buy something we want and when we go traveling, but the amount of happiness we derive from our purchase falls over time, whereas the memories of traveling experience continue to supply us with happiness hormones for much longer. Any new device or even a new car will eventually become another ordinary object or will become outdated. Every new memory, on the other hand, becomes a real source of joy what stays with us for our whole lives.
What can money not buy?
I believe that money cannot buy true friendships, your real friends will be by your side in good and bad times.
What defines someone else as wealthy?
The problem with money is that it can only buy so much, sure money can buy you a bunch of fancy stuff but it can’t buy knowledge, individuality or humor. I believe that someone wealthy can afford to live a comfortable life where they make ends meet and have some extra for fun and to save for the future. Also wealth brings comfort to your family for example your children can have a platform to build from and not have to make so many sacrifices like starting from scratch, go into debt etc..etc.. Someone wealthy for me has a positive balance between work and family.
I can do more to help others
What part has your gender played in the development of your wealth?
Being a woman in business is always tough, but being a woman who is disruptive, thinks outside the box and questions the status quo can be very challenging. That challenge has made me stronger, because as women I believe we have to work harder to prove our vision.
What does wealth give you the freedom to do?
Today wealth gives me the liberty to decide my next step in my career and my life. I have gone through many ups and and downs in my career and having a more stable financial base gives me a more positive outlook on the future