Torre is the first half of the last name of one of us, Alexander Torrenegra. That’s not his original last name, though. He adopted it from María Emma Torrenegra. María Emma was born in 1913 in Barranquilla, Colombia. Her father, Olimpo Torrenegra, worked at the town’s port. Her mother, María Alvarez, took care of the home. María Emma was the eldest of five children and was raised under a strict Catholic regime, which was common in Colombia since the state and church weren’t separate.
María Emma didn’t finish high school. There were independent primary schools for boys and girls, but there were only high schools for boys — girls couldn’t finish high school. As a consequence, girls couldn’t go to university, as attending the university required a high school diploma. Fortunately for María, in 1929 a lady by the name of Lady Chauvin founded the Universidad Comercial del Atlántico. It was the first university for women in Barranquilla and it didn’t require a high-school degree. María Emma was one of their first students. In 1933 she graduated with the only degree offered by the University: Stenography.
Soon after getting her first job, tragedy struck. Olimpo, her father, died in a train accident at the port. Given that her mother had never worked outside the home, and her four siblings were still in school, she found herself responsible for supporting her entire family. This must have been quite a challenge for a 22-year-old living in a male-controlled society. However, she succeeded. Not only did she support her family, but, quite ironically, she paid for her male siblings’ university education, enabling them to pursue degrees that society didn’t allow her to study.
Since Maria Emma was so focused on work, she waited until she was 40-years-old to get married. Two years later she gave birth to a daughter, Katia. Three years later, her husband abandoned them. Once again, she found herself solely responsible for a family. She raised her daughter successfully. For Katia, having such a self-reliant mother was a good lesson, as she also found herself being a single mother of two after just one year of marriage.
Maria Emma Torrenegra at her first job
(Caja Colombiana de Ahorros, Barranquilla, Colombia)
Alexander is one of Katia’s children. He was raised by María Emma and Katia. They taught him most of the things that have made him the professional he is: persistence, hard work, perfectionism, and, most importantly, confidence. When he was 14, both María Emma and Katia encouraged Alexander to pursue his dream, and he created his first company.
When María Emma died in 1997, Alexander made a promise. As soon as he could, he would change his last name from Henriquez, the last name of his father, to Torrenegra, the last name of his beloved abuelita.
One can but only wonder what other professions María Emma could have pursued. She could have been an engineer, a scientist, a doctor, or a professor. We will never know. Unfortunately, she lived in a society that discriminated against women. Her only other choices were a stay-at-home mother or a factory worker.
As the CEO of our company, Alexander selected Torre as the new name of our company, both in memory of his grandmother and as a reminder for our team: as we pursue our mission of making work fulfilling for everyone, our most important enemy is discrimination. Thanks to nonconformists such as Lady Chauvin and many others, discrimination against women will soon be a thing of the past. Still, there are many other types of discrimination that we still take for granted. The socio-economic background of all children on Earth heavily influences the quality of the education that each child receives. Hopefully, in the not-so-distant future, all children will get equal chances and education, and we’ll look back and realize how senseless we were to discriminate against our own children. We hope, too, that all of us at Torre will be major players in that change.