Silvia Perez had only been in the U.S. for one year when she attended her first performance at the Children’s Theatre Company. “It was 1998, and we saw Pippi Longstocking,” she says. “I fell in absolute love with the theater.”
That visit would set the stage for a long relationship between the Woodbury resident and the nonprofit organization, culminating with Perez’s election to serve as chair of the Children’s Theatre Company’s Board of Directors last summer.
“There’s so much opportunity ahead of us,” Perez says. “I see it as a new chapter.”
Perez was born in Uruguay and raised in Brazil. She returned to Uruguay, earned her bachelor of science degree in pharmaceuticals from the Universidade Federal Do Paraná (Federal University of Parana) and later started her own cosmetics company—all while she was still in her 20s. After running the company for four years, she was ready to move on. “I call it my ‘street MBA,’” Perez says.
“It was an incredible achievement,” she says. “A forming part of my career.”
In 1994, Perez took a regulatory affairs position with 3M in Uruguay. It would be the beginning of a long and multi-chaptered career with the company. “I welcome experience across the continuum,” she says.
She spent three years in Uruguay working on both the technical and business roles of the company. Perez says she managed 3M’s health care business in Uruguay. Then, in 1997, she was approached about taking a regulatory affairs position with 3M at its St. Paul headquarters, where she would provide strategy and support for the pharmaceutical business in over 20 Latin American countries.
“It was not very appealing to move again,” Perez says, noting that she had two young children at the time. But, despite their initial hesitation, Perez and her husband, Marcelo Valdes, decided to come here for one year. Twenty-five years later, Perez is now a 3M executive with three grown children and no regrets about their decision to move to the U.S.
“We love, love, love Minnesota,” Perez says.
For the last three years, Perez has served as the president and general manager of the commercial solutions divisions of 3M. “We help create memorable brand experiences through our products,” she says.
Perez says there is no typical day in her line of work. “I ask, ‘Where are the customers going? Where is the market going?’ I know it’s lofty, but it’s what I wake up and do every day,” Perez says. “I strive to enable my team to do things they didn’t even know they could do.”
Perez is lauded for her ability to challenge her teams to think bigger and find new ways to connect with customers. “I’ve had an absolutely phenomenal career at 3M,” she says.
Making the World Better
In addition to her daily responsibilities at 3M, Perez is also the executive sponsor of the company’s Latino Resource Network. She dedicates much of her time to mentoring—with a specific focus on mentoring rising female and minority leaders.
“I was raised in a family that prioritized a focus on community, making the world better,” she says. “How can you contribute to the world beyond your personal needs?”
Perez has centered her efforts on the LGBTQ community as well as women and children, so when the opportunity came up to join the board at Children’s Theatre Company, it was a good fit.
Perez explains that 3M has long enjoyed a strong relationship with Children’s Theatre Company, and when one of her colleagues moved on and left an opening on the board, she threw her hat into the proverbial ring for the position. Perez has now served on the board for five years, spending the last three as vice chair.
“I just fell in love,” she says.
Perez was proud to join the board for an organization that had given her family so much joy during their early years in the U.S. “We never stopped going to the Children’s Theatre,” she says. “And whenever I had visitors coming from Uruguay, I always, always took them to the Children’s Theatre. It’s always inspiring.”
Agent for Change
Perez describes Children’s Theatre Company as an “agent for change” in the Twin Cities. “It brings people together and opens children to perspectives in a way that is fun and engaging,” she says. “It emphasizes critical thinking, which is so important these days. It unleashes the power of imagination.”
Perez has seen many productions at the Children’s Theatre, but none have struck a chord more than the theater’s 2018 world premiere production of I Come from Arizona, a story about a Mexican-American child of undocumented immigrants living on the south side of Chicago. “It was so important,” Perez says. “It told the reality of so many people in this country. It’s a tough life, always being under threat.”
Perez says that shows like I Come from Arizona create an opportunity for dialogue among families. And after several challenging years in the theater world, Perez is excited to provide more opportunities like that to Twin Cities theater-goers.
“We’ve been navigating the last five years in really rough waters,” Perez says. “The pandemic was really tough, but we’ve got an all-star board.”
Perez believes the future is bright for the Children’s Theatre Company with a strong lineup for the second half of the 2022–2023 season, including the holiday family favorite How the Grinch Stole Christmas! and spring shows including Locomotion.
“My husband always says the Twin Cities is the best kept secret,” she says. “It’s an incredible community, rich in arts.”
As board chair, Perez aims to get that secret out, whether it’s creating more opportunities for families to see their shows and generate discussions about what they saw or through their educational programs, “helping children find their voice and gain confidence through theater,” she says.
“It’s spring for the theater, and I see sprouts coming up of all we can do,” Perez says.
Catch a Show
How the Grinch Stole Christmas!
running through January 8
January 24–March 5
February 14–April 2
An American Tail the Musical
April 25–June 18
Tickets available at childrenstheatre.org