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Episode 88: November 15, 2021

George Interviews Madeline Landrau, one of BusinessWest’s recently named Women of Impact for 2021

BusinessWest Editor George O’Brien has a lively, wide-ranging discussion with Madeline Landrau, one of BusinessWest’s recently named Women of Impact for 2021, several of whom will be spotlighted over the coming weeks. The two talk about everything that went into this honor, from her many responsibilities as Program Engagement Manager at MassMutual, to the many facets her involvement within the community, to her ongoing work as a mentor to a number of young women in the region.


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Women of Impact 2021

Program Engagement Manager, MassMutual

A Success in Business, She Is Also a Force in the Community

Maddy Landrau was returning home from a lengthy business trip to Texas. As the car that picked her up at the airport was approaching her home in the Brightwood section of Springfield, she was surprised to see a small crowd of people, including her husband, Carlos Landrau, gathered on her porch.

As she walked toward the door, she recognized the five young girls who lived next door and other children from the neighborhood, but still didn’t know quite why they were there. She would soon find out.

“They were there … with their report cards,” she told BusinessWest as she fought back tears (unsuccessfully), adding that the girls, especially, couldn’t wait — quite literally — to show them off to the person they deemed most responsible for the higher grades they’d achieved.

“They would come to me, and I’d be saying to them, ‘this is your education … you have to do well; education is your ticket out of here. No one can take away that A, no can take away your grades,’” she said, adding that the girls from her neighborhood are just some of the many she’s counseled on a wide range of matters, but especially education and its importance to quality of life.

There are many ways to explain why Madeline (Maddy) Landrau has been named a Woman of Impact for 2021, but that story — and the setting for it — probably do it best.

Indeed, mentoring young people has long been a big part of her life and career, the latter dominated by a series of assignments at MassMutual, the latest as program engagement manager, a position with a broad range of responsibilities in (and on behalf of) the community, as we’ll see.

As for the setting … that’s another huge part of this story.

Landrau left Brooklyn for Springfield at the behest of a friend more than 30 years ago. She settled in the North End and the Brightwood neighborhood, one of the poorest in the city (and the state, for that matter) and home to many Hispanics … and never left, even when friends, colleagues, and Realtors alike were advising her to look elsewhere when she and her husband decided to build a home.

“There was an opportunity to purchase land in the Plainfield area of Springfield, and my husband and I took a deep dive — we said, ‘let’s do this,’ she recalled. “There were appraisers and contractors who would say, ‘what are you doing? You could move to Agawam, South Hadley, or Wilbraham.’ And I said, ‘you’re missing the big picture, the sense of community.’ That’s what I wanted to leave my children.”

Landrau’s devotion to Brightwood, the people who live there, and the region as a whole is summed up by Jean Canosa Albano, herself a Woman of Impact (class of 2018), who nominated her for the same honor.

“Maddy believes that there is a narrow path — be it to education, financial literacy, or workplace success. All you have to do is make the path wider. And she does it! She is inclusive and representative of communities who in some places may not find a place on that path.

“She believes in leading from the rear, not seeking the spotlight, and recognizes others’ humanity,” Albano continued. “She doesn’t seek to shatter the glass ceiling as much as to open the windows and welcome more people in.”

That comment, one of many poignant takes in the nomination, explains what drives Landrau and why she has touched so many lives in so many ways.

So does this comment from Lydia Martinez-Alvarez, assistant superintendent of Springfield Public Schools and another Woman of Impact (class of 2019).

“Many young adults call her ‘mom’ because of the impact that she has had on their lives,” she wrote. “Maddy is always helping someone with whatever they need. She often puts others ahead of herself; she is a mentor to many in our community and volunteers her time to ensure that our community is a better place for all to live in.”


Moving Thoughts

As noted earlier, Landrau grew up in Brooklyn, specifically the Bay Ridge neighborhood.

It was a close-knit, very diverse community, but there were few Hispanics, she told BusinessWest, using ‘mixed salad’ rather than ‘melting pot’ to describe it, adding that it was a very welcoming and tolerant environment.

“Many young adults call her ‘mom’ because of the impact that she has had on their lives.”

As much as she liked those elements of home, she desired to make a new life for herself and her two young sons, and, at the behest of a friend in Springfield who promised to help her get settled, packed her bags.

“I did not want to raise them in New York City, the fast and the furious — I needed something slower,” she said. “I felt bad when I told my dad I was leaving, but I knew that I needed this challenge, this opportunity to start afresh — a white canvas.”

The picture that now fills that canvas is one that tells of a young women taking advantage of opportunities afforded her, but mostly making her own opportunities — while never, ever forgetting that neighborhood she moved to and the people, like her, who still call it home.

Upon arriving in Springfield, in quick order, she secured an apartment, a job, and daycare so she could work that job. She married Carlos, a police officer, and the two created a blended family and “pulled it together,” as she put it.

That same phrase applies to her career and her ladder climbing at MassMutual.

She started in Accounts Receivable and quickly advanced, first to a leadership role in that department, then the IT department, and later Sales and a management position in that department. In 2011, she became director of Life Company Marketing and, among other initiatives, led the development and execution of marketing and recruiting strategies to help the company reach the U.S. Hispanic and Latino markets.

Maddy Landrau engages in a game of dominoes with some North End residents.

Maddy Landrau engages in a game of dominoes with some North End residents.

In her current role, Landrau has a number of responsibilities. She manages the MassMutual Foundation’s Anchor Institution Grantee Portfolio, which represents $5 million in funding to more than 20 organizations across the state. She also leads the company’s national LifeBridge life-insurance program, which offers free life-insurance coverage to eligible parents for the benefit of their children’s education. And she also leads and executes the FutureSmart Challenge Program in markets across the country. On pause because of COVID-19, the program is MassMutual’s proprietary financial-education program that educates middle- and high-school students about making smart financial decisions and career choices.

All throughout her career, she has been active within the community, and especially the North End. Early on, she volunteered on the board of the Puerto Rican Cultural Center and also served on the New North Citizens Council. Currently, she serves as a trustee at Westfield State University — she’s the first Latina to serve in that capacity — and is now vice chair of a subcommittee of the Finance & Capital Assets Committee, as well as a trustee with the Baystate Health Foundation.

But while influential in the boardroom, she has been most impactful in the community itself and working with people (especially young Latinas) as a mentor, second mother on many occasions, and role model in every way imaginable.

She said she is connected with mentees through the New North Citizens Council, Springfield Technical Community College, neighbors, and other channels. Slicing through what she tells them and she guides them, she said there is a dominant message.

“They create these challenges for themselves … and I tell them that, if only they were to make the right choice at the given time, I foresee that they wouldn’t have so many challenges,” she explained. “If they only took a pause and said, ‘this isn’t life the way it’s supposed to be,’ and if they created this opportunity for themselves to be happy and not allow others to make them happy, but also to become financially sound.

“I see many of these mentees living beyond their means,” she went on. “The ‘wants’ become more important than the ‘needs,’ and in my mentoring I’m trying to change that — how do you create the ‘needs’ as a priority? I stress the importance of being financially sound and educated, and that these are the things they need to pass on to their children.”

She said she mentors mostly young people, in the 13-18 age bracket, but also young adults and even a few grandmothers raising their grandchildren, whom she advises to look at things differently and not try to raise young people the way they were raised.

“When I meet with them, I tell them they have to meet me halfway. They have to do their part; let’s build trust, build the communication pattern, and share the good, the bad, and the ugly. I tell them that I want to hear more good, but don’t be afraid to share the bad — and the ugly.”

With each mentee, the basic ground rules for the relationship are the same.

“When I meet with them, I tell them they have to meet me halfway,” she continued. “They have to do their part; let’s build trust, build the communication pattern, and share the good, the bad, and the ugly. I tell them that I want to hear more good, but don’t be afraid to share the bad — and the ugly.”


Passing It On

That’s what you might expect from someone who’s made it her life’s mission to not necessarily shatter that glass ceiling, as Albano noted (although she has done that in some respects), but rather open the windows and welcome more people in.

It’s what you would expect from someone who had a crowd of young people waiting to show her their report cards as she returned from a trip, and what you would expect from someone who passed on Wilbraham and Agawam and stayed in the neighborhood where she raised her children.

And it’s what you would expect from someone who personifies the phrase ‘Woman of Impact.’


George O’Brien can be reached at [email protected]