Alex Lopez, EMBA 20: Honored after serving in Benghazi, fighting for banking equity

Alex (second from right) with a group of Marines at the US Navy vs Notre Dame Game in Dublin, Ireland in September 2012.
Alex Lopez (second from right) with fellow Marines at the US Navy vs Notre Dame Game in Dublin, Ireland, in September 2012

In honor of Latinx Heritage Month, we’re featuring interviews with members of our Latinx community.

After the attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi that killed four Americans in 2012, U.S. Marine Sgt. Alex Lopez, EMBA 20, was deployed to Libya, where he led a team that provided support to the U.S. Embassy as Americans were evacuated.

Outside of work and class, Alex Lopez, EMBA 20, a vice president at U.S. Bank, teaches financial literacy to ESL students in Nevada.

Now a student in the Berkeley Executive MBA program and a vice president at the U.S. Bank in Las Vegas, Lopez has post-graduation plans to continue assisting people from Latinx backgrounds with financial literacy.

We talked to Lopez, who was born in Chihuahua, Mexico, about his time in the Marine Corps, and his new project to promote financial literacy in schools.

Where did you grow up?

I was a teenager when I came to the U.S. with my dad. I came to Las Vegas in 2006. After I graduated high school, I joined the Marines. I wanted to change the world….That was important to me. My siblings were in the Navy and Army so I decided to enlist in the Marines, and spent five years serving.

Tell me about your role as a Marine after the attacks in Benghazi, Libya.

Right after American Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens was killed on Sept. 11, 2012, our company received the call to deploy as part of Operation Jukebox Lotus. We were a hand-selected group, assisting the Department of State with evacuation, protecting people and assets at a time of extreme diplomatic sensitivity. Four Americans lost their lives during the Benghazi attacks.

Our small military company had limited knowledge and experience, since none of us had operated in Libya before. I learned that in the presence of chaos, I had to take the initiative to complete every task to the best of my ability, whether it was high priority or something seemingly unimportant. I’m confident that during those extreme times of uncertainty that the Marine Corps’ leadership principles were critical to preserving the integrity of my Marines. When we returned, our company was recognized with the Meritorious Honor Award by the Department of the State.

Alex on board the USS Fort Henry as part of the Marine Corps Ground Combat Element in August 2012
Lopez on board the USS Fort McHenry in August 2012

Did you always want to go to business school?

I moved to the U.S. to pursue an education. Business school was always attractive to me, but I never knew what I wanted to do in business. I was involved in college in leadership positions and by the time I graduated from college I had several offers from banks, and so I started my career in finance. One of the reasons why I decided to come to Berkeley for an MBA is because Haas truly embodies diversity and inclusiveness across the board. Learning from a diverse executive MBA class is enriching and furthering my capacity to innovate and go beyond my own possibilities.

Why did you choose to study finance?

My grandmother owned a restaurant. I grew up watching her and my family manage it. One thing that made a big impact is how basic financial literacy concepts could have helped the family-owned business to flourish in a more efficient way. In Mexico, I noticed a big disconnect between small businesses and banks. There’s a lack of financial literacy in Mexico that stops people from getting the help they need. This is true in the U.S., too.

Lopez (age 3 in photo) immigrated to America from Mexico at age 13 with his father.

You are already working on fixing this in your community?

Outside of work, I’m working on a project with a couple of friends from college. We go to community schools in Clark County, Nevada, that offer English as a Second Language (ESL) classes and provide a 30-45 minute workshop that focuses on basic finance topics like compound interest, retirement plans, home mortgages, personal and business loans, and credit cards. We’ve received extremely positive feedback so we hope to take the next step on this project and provide a more efficient way to increase financial literacy within the Latinx community.

What aspect of your cultural heritage do you enjoy most?

Food. Mexican dishes are very popular worldwide—tacos, burritos, enchiladas, and tamales. I love that in every part of the U.S. or the world I visit I can always count on Mexican food to be there. Our traditional food and culture is well-known worldwide, and I love to be able to eat tacos pretty much anywhere.