Women to Watch 2007

Cristina Vilella

McDonald's USA

By Published on .

NEXT: Patricia Gottesman

When Cristina Vilella was appointed director of marketing at McDonald's Puerto Rico in 2001, she was ready to take up any challenge. So when her boss told her she had to spend six weeks making fries and grilling burgers, Ms. Vilella rolled up her sleeves and got to it.

Cristina Vilella, director of marketing, McDonald's USA

After all, that wasn't the first time she had to dive into a different world. Ms. Vilella, who holds a bachelor of science in aeronautics and astronautics from MIT, spent eight years of active duty in the U.S. Air Force before joining the business world. This year, the native of Puerto Rico was appointed director of marketing at McDonald's USA, overseeing Hispanic marketing at the fast-food giant.

"She's amazing! I tell her she is like the chief of a firefighters squad in Puerto Rico," says Ana Madan, a Cuban entrepreneur who owns and operates five McDonald's restaurants in the New York region and who works closely with Ms. Vilella in the company's Hispanic Consumer Market steering committee.

In her latest McChallenge, Ms. Vilella talks about continuing innovation. After all, she doesn't need to convince McDonald's Corp. management about the importance of the U.S. Hispanic consumer: The company is already among the top 10 spenders in Hispanic media.

Not surprisingly, her pursuit of challenges extends to her personal life. Last month, for her 40th birthday, Ms. Vilella gave herself a hiking trip to Machu Picchu, a place in the Andes described as magical by her grandmother.

"She is definitely someone to watch. We are going to see her impact in 2008," says Rick Marroquin, who held Ms. Vilella's job before joining Batanga as director of marketing.
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