Jesse Carrillo was so inspired by his teachers growing up that he wanted to become one. The chief innovation officer (CIO) at the Howard Hughes Corporation recalls the time and effort his instructors took with a Mexican immigrant struggling to learn English and get acclimated to a new setting. This appreciation prompted him at the time to tell one of his favorite high schoolteachers, Mr. Trigilio, that he planned to follow in his footsteps.
But his teacher’s response surprised Carrillo. “He told me that what I saw in the classroom was a very small part of what being a teacher was actually about,” Carrillo remembers. “He said that if I really wanted to impact education and help influence the next generation, I should build a career, grow in my profession, and then come back and give what I could. He was right.”
Carrillo’s focus on helping grow the next generation of leaders has been highlighted by CIO Review, CIO Magazine, the Society of Information Management, and more importantly, by the countless students who can attest to the CIO’s commitment to his community.
Whether by helping disadvantaged students pursue STEM careers, assisting nonprofit boards that provide high school internship programs, or advising boards to ensure curriculums of higher education are keeping up with the modern-day demands of the workplace, Carrillo has found limitless ways to give back.
“I get so much energy from what I do. I’m fueled by joy and making a difference,” the CIO says.
Carrillo’s path wasn’t paved or destined. His early life was incredibly challenging. The future leader was raised by a single mother, an experience that gave him a perspective that would impact his entire world vision.
“Growing up with hardship might have meant just staying in that survival mode at all times,” Carrillo explains. “But I just looked at life in a totally different way. There was a great deal of trauma, but I just learned to appreciate everything that I had. I’m a very positive person. People sometimes tell me I’m too positive, but that is how I got through the hard times, and I’m glad it’s how I look at the world now.”
That mindset propelled Carrillo through his academics and, thankfully, through a nightmare of a first job experience. Straight out of college, he landed a government contract role. A couple of months in, the company lost the contract and Carrillo became unemployed.
“It’s those kinds of moments that help define who you are,” Carrillo says. “My feeling was ‘bring it on.’ It’s just another challenge, and I can overcome it.” His next job offer was better, and at a place where he’d stay for the next six years.
Carrillo came to Howard Hughes in March 2022 after a startling twenty-seven years at Hines, where he acted as chief information officer for fifteen. What prompted the move? He had grown his team—in fact, he had even named his successor—to the point that Carrillo knew he needed to move on if he wanted his people to continue to grow and if he wanted to continue to challenge himself.
“We built an amazing technology team that was rocking on all cylinders, so I was in a position where I wanted to try something new that would allow me to recreate similar magic,” said Carrillo.
The agility and momentum exhibited by the Howard Hughes Corporation as the company launched into its second decade was incredibly attractive to Carrillo, as were the company’s transformational master planned community projects, like the thirty-seven thousand acres in Phoenix’s West Valley that present the rare opportunity to build a new large-scale community from the ground up.
“It’s just desert right now, but it’s going to be the next Scottsdale,” Carrillo says of the project, which is called Douglas Ranch. “I will be able to walk away knowing that I helped build a new city. Who gets to say that?”
The challenges are endless, but so are the possibilities. From an innovation standpoint, Carrillo and his team are able to think about autonomous vehicles and delivery systems, “digital cities” in the metaverse, and the future of innovation around issues of environmental sustainability, like smart glass that is able to adapt to changing weather conditions.
Today’s modernizations rely on best-in-class telecom infrastructure, and Carrillo’s team is tasked with partnering with the heavy hitters in the game to help “future proof” the new development in the Arizona desert.
But even with a project like Douglas Ranch on the table—a project that will no doubt serve as a career high and an experience that will drive him every day to explore new possibilities in his work—Carrillo remains committed to spending time outside of his day job to do what he considers the greatest work he will ever do: working to create pathways for people like himself who have faced challenging situations and yet can still find a way to rise and succeed.
The Doctor Is In
Jesse Carrillo is an industry leader who advocates for taking time for hobbies outside the office—especially hobbies that bring various people together and inspire community, creativity, and growth. His cherished hobbies? Music and comics. The metal lover is just as likely to attend a Scorpions gig as a Lady Gaga show. You might also catch Carrillo at a comic convention in cosplay, most often as the Master of the Mystic Arts, aka Doctor Strange.
“I just love experiences where people can come together and be who they are, whether it’s a comic convention or a concert,” Carrillo explains. “You can all share a common joy—and that’s what life is all about. Comics were also a way for me to live outside of a tough environment growing up and shine a light on opportunities for change.”