From coffee farm to executive office, Bruny Rios shares what she’s learned along the way

The Dell Technologies executive employs a leadership ethic based on determination and a sense of community—all lessons she learned from her family.

By Barbra A. Rodriguez

For Bruny Rios, leaving her family’s rural coffee farm in Lares, Puerto Rico, and moving to the U.S. mainland in the early 1990s was just one step toward exploring the world and her independence. “I always wanted to go to college and had that desire to learn,” she says.

Little did she know that the practical lessons instilled by her father about working the land would hold her in good stead during that challenging transition to central Texas—and continue to inform her work as a Dell Technologies executive.

In June 2020, Rios assumed the helm of all accounting activities at Dell Technologies by becoming chief accounting officer. Yet just as it took extra work to become one of the first in her family to graduate college, the road to executive leadership started off with struggles that included living north of Austin in an apartment so sparsely furnished, a chair served as the TV stand.

Employing family adages

Rios is quick to note the support of her husband, whom she’d first met in high school, during their transition from the island. Plus, her curiosity quickly kicked in about other families on the Killeen army base where they’d landed while he completed his military service. “I just wanted to understand others as well as I understood myself, which was a little harder because I didn’t grow up here with the same customs and culture.”

In part, some Texans seemed taken aback by a light-skinned Spanish speaker who didn’t fit the Chicano mold, she recalls. As self-conscious as she was the first five or so years there, Rios had a firm foundation to stand on in the form of an accounting degree from the Universidad de Puerto Rico and her father’s sage advice.

Sometimes [I say], ‘I need to take one coffee bean at a time.’ Taking each problem, each day, by itself.

—Bruny Rios, SVP and chief accounting officer, Dell Technologies

Rios recalls the helpful sayings he shared while she and her eldest brother helped pick coffee beans, work that began when she was a preschooler between bouts of playtime among the plants. The approach recommended? To take their time and pick the plumpest, reddest beans, which he assured them would be the ones roasted and shared at an end-of-harvest festival for neighbors and seasonal workers who’d come to the farm.

“This is a lesson that I still use, sometimes saying, ‘I need to take one coffee bean at a time.’ Taking each problem, each day, by itself.” Rios adds, “That childhood experience also helped me to understand the meaning of working and celebrating accomplishments together. I remember being super excited about the last day of the season when we share the coffee with our neighbors.”

Another lesson came after complaining about ants among the coffee trees. Her father pointed out that the ants were there so she would work faster and find ways around that challenge. The experience taught her that obstacles are a fact of life, and you have to be creative and determined to overcome them. “I will go around the ‘ants’ to get to where I need to be,” she says.

Succeeding despite doubts

In her career, Rios parlayed her resiliency and accounting training, including the high school internship that helped pay for university, into her first job in Puerto Rico. When the Rioses moved from Killeen to Austin, she relied on that tenacity while working her way into an intense role as a financial auditor for the state’s Natural Resources Conservation Commission. The regular travel involved was a treat, she recalls. But with two young boys at home back then, she paused and reassessed, realizing that a change was needed. “You have to embrace changes in your mind first before you take action.”

Ultimately, she joined Dell Financial Services (DFS) in 2000 to have a better work-life balance. The organization had all of 200 staff and a family approach she admired. Although she suspects self-doubts may have played into her lack of mentors there, DFS leaders looked past what she felt were shortcomings and “focused more on my abilities.”

You have to embrace changes in your mind first before you take action.

—Bruny Rios, SVP and chief accounting officer, Dell Technologies

The biggest opportunity came when the company chose to expand by establishing a practice called securitization (a way of improving finances by restructuring a company’s contractual debts and pooling them for sale to third-party investors). Despite feeling “ill-equipped,” she volunteered to develop many of the elements and processes for the complex five-year project.

Her success led to recognition from leadership, and she became director of corporate accounting and reporting for Dell Technologies in 2005. Workdays since then still begin with an espresso (from carefully selected beans) and a long walk before tackling challenges that often mean meals at her desk and an increasing emphasis on strategic thinking over the years.

Leading through inclusiveness

Rios’ current mission includes helping staff feel supported in expanding their skills and analyzing their individual effectiveness. She also ensures there’s sound reasoning for adopting new protocols and technology and uses her multicultural knowledge to streamline communication across cultures. “Our contribution is way bigger than [ensuring accurate, transparent financial transactions],” she adds of the global team of 1,200.

My role is to make sure they understand we’re in this together by using a ‘door’s open’ policy and frank conversations. We need every member engaged as part of the orchestra, if you will, for the sound to come out correctly.

—Bruny Rios, SVP and chief accounting officer, Dell Technologies

For instance, accounting team members from places like Slovakia and Ireland are helping her drive front-end decisions as the company considers data capture approaches for new customer-facing tech and more. “Are people concerned sometimes with their ability to respond to continuous change and transformation? Absolutely. My role is to make sure they understand we’re in this together by using a ‘door’s open’ policy and frank conversations. We need every member engaged as part of the orchestra, if you will, for the sound to come out correctly.”

Her home is a gathering place for family and friends, thanks to her hearty Puerto Rican dishes (often spiced up nowadays from exposure to Mexican food). A communal ethic also infuses her management style, such as suggesting a cooking class instead of a traditional meet-and-greet when visiting with overseas managers, and ensuring she engages with everyone, especially new team members.

A mentor now to many, she shares this advice for Latinas about career success: “Know yourself in a deep way. It’s about becoming aware of what things, for example, bother you or whether you have a bias about how others perceive you. You have to put all that stuff away that doesn’t help you or give you peace of mind,” Rios says, adding, “It’s okay, too, to twist and turn in life until you find where you’re heading.”