VOL. 133 | NO. 125 | Friday, June 22, 2018
Heritage Helped Drive Acosta Up Corporate Ranks
Anna Cox Thompson
Memphis stands at the threshold of incredible possibility. In this series, we introduce innovative Memphians who are driving our city forward and forging its future success.
Growing up in Memphis, Julie Acosta, Senior Web Analyst at AutoZone, wasn’t always a fan of her strong Brazilian heritage. Like most young kids, she wanted to be like everyone else. It wasn’t until high school that she came into her own, embracing her roots and eventually allowing them to help guide her career choices.
“I was born in Brazil, but my dad is American,” Acosta explains. “I’ve been in the United States since I was 3 years old. I had always avoided speaking Portuguese growing up. My mom would speak Portuguese to me, and I would pretend she was a crazy woman and wouldn’t talk to her.
“At the time, my elementary school wasn’t diverse at all, and I was immediately outcast even though I spoke English perfectly. I always got the idea that it was not welcome to show my roots.
Julie Acosta (Antwoine McClellan)
“Once I was in high school, it became the cool thing, so I decided to blow it out of the water. Everyone had to know I was from Brazil. Even now, I always find a way to bring Brazil into the conversation.”
She decided to jump in with both feet when it came time for her college decision. She moved to Brazil and was accepted to multiple colleges before going on to receive her B.A. in Advertising and Marketing.
“Once I got there I really had to immerse myself into this new culture and new life. I had to learn the language in a year so that I could go to college,” she says.
It was while she was immersing herself in the culture as an 18-year-old ESL instructor teaching business English to management at FIAT that she had an encounter that lit a fire in her.
“That position was the first contact I had with automotive and I loved it. But one day a manager came in and was spewing about how he couldn’t work with women, and I remember thinking, ‘I’m going to get to a point where I can prove him wrong.’
“Brazilians have this drive; they’re very dedicated. I used to stay at work until all hours of the night because if I wanted to learn something, I wouldn’t stop until I’d learned it. Inherent need to go till the end and when I’m done, I’m done.”
That passion led her to being a manager of a 10-person team by age 22 and moving up the ranks until she decided to return to America for her MBA.
“I wanted to study; I’ve got this constant curiosity. I’m always trying to learn new things. Initially the plan was to get my master’s here then move back to Brazil, since a minimum requirement for senior management there is an MBA. In 2015, I got my Masters in Service Marketing from the University of Memphis. I also got married, so I decided to stay,” she says with a laugh.
She and her husband, who is also half Brazilian, are very involved in the “Brazilians in America” group, with Acosta even acting as the community manager for the group of around 600 people. She was recently named the VP of the Professional MBA Alumni Association with the University of Memphis.
Through her years in the corporate world, she has worked with several big names in after-market parts including FIAT, ZF, Boeing and now AutoZone.
“I was referred here because of the Brazil team; it was an easy fit. The first place (AutoZone) opened a store in Brazil was actually where I was born, so it was nice symmetry.”
It was through her connections at AutoZone that she was able to flex her leadership skills by assisting in a partnership with the Girl Scouts of America for the organization’s annual G.I.R.L. event. The event aims to teach young girls and their families basic car-care knowledge in hopes of them eventually earning a car-care badge.
“With that event, my driving force was my experience at FIAT,” she says. “I wanted to be sure we had female representation to teach other girls. The feeling you have when you’re able to speak is so empowering. You can acquire respect by having unexpected knowledge.
“I love what I do, so getting a chance to be involved and being brought into conversations is an additional affirmation (that I’m doing something right).”
Her advice to those young girls?
“Ask a lot of intentional questions. If you really want something, have a clear vision, figure out what it will take to get there, then do it.”
Julie Acosta is a graduate of New Memphis’ Fellows program. Learn more at newmemphis.org.