Open Dialogue: A Culture Catalyst

Freddie Mac’s Ruben Sanchez on the power of potential

Developing talent by tapping into unknown potential defines Ruben Sanchez’s leadership style. Sanchez is the vice president of operations in the human resources and diversity and inclusion division for Freddie Mac. The tools he had been given to tap into his own potential fueled Sanchez’s rise to leadership in the secondary mortgage market. Sanchez’s portfolio includes overseeing his division’s information systems, workforce reporting and analytics, and payroll functions, as well as managing risks and controls that govern the human capital strategy for more than 5,000 employees.

Sanchez, who studied accounting at the University of Maryland before getting his MBA at Duke University, credits his approach to leadership to employers who recognized his potential and trusted him with on-the-job responsibilities. Their votes of confidence gave him opportunity to prove his abilities. Open opportunities, coupled with innate leadership competencies, the skill set he developed as a CPA, and sheer determination have defined Sanchez’s upward trajectory through a diverse set of roles of increasing responsibility over the years.

He also credits his upbringing for laying a strong foundation for success. Born in Puerto Rico, Sanchez grew up in Washington, DC, after his father answered a call for bilingual police officers on the local force. “My parents worked hard to achieve the American Dream and build a strong foundation for their family.”

His father, in particular, was a guiding force for Sanchez. “My dad had a particular philosophy that was his way of simplifying life. He would say ‘always remember, you’re human.’” Sanchez says. “For me, it’s a powerful message.”

Sanchez’s own philosophy builds upon his father’s. He strives to be open to every other human he comes across, and treat everyone with equal respect. “My philosophy is to build and have an open and inclusive culture,” Sanchez says. “That means, not just saying it, but actually leading by example. You have to demonstrate this commitment by sharing and asking others to share. Setting this tone leads to greater comfort and engagement in the organization.”

As both a Hispanic American executive and a leading officer at Freddie Mac, Sanchez actively looks to help others realize their potential. He regularly holds skip-level meetings and is known for his open-door policy. He welcomes any and all opportunities to connect with his employees to learn from one another.

“I see the results of this approach in the division every day,” he says. “Being inclusive and having an open dialogue is critical to unleashing potential that might otherwise remain undiscovered. Tapping into diverse talent is good for the business and delivers strong results.”

The other core dimension to Sanchez’s leadership style is to encourage innovation and constant improvement by presenting challenges he deems surpassable. “Test and learn, in safe increments, and see what the results are,” says Sanchez.

A Freddie Mac job-swap pilot program is just one example of the execution of Sanchez’s test-and-learn approach. Employees selected to participate in the program go through three-month job rotations in different parts of the company before returning to their core responsibilities. It’s a unique opportunity for employees to embrace new skills and experience different types of work relationships and leadership styles. When employees roll off their rotation and return to their primary role, they are more motivated and engaged. “It’s an opportunity to really test employees’ potential, to not only help them grow professionally, but to help them succeed in many other aspects of life,” says Sanchez.

“One consistent theme I have come across over the course of my career is that in order for any organization to be competitive into the future, Hispanic professionals will have to play a role in that success.”

Ruben Sanchez

Beyond his formal responsibilities at Freddie Mac, Sanchez is also a champion for the company’s various diversity initiatives. Freddie Mac boasts an extremely diverse employee base with people of color making up more than 50 percent of the company’s workforce. This rich diversity makes for a vibrant culture within the company, which is nurtured through nine employee resource groups (ERGs)—each supporting a particular cohort within the company, and each led by an officer at the company.

Among the ERGs is the Hispanic Organization for Leadership and Achievement (HOLA), which Sanchez chairs. He calls the ERGs “critical central hubs for diversity and inclusion.”

“Being a Hispanic American is an important part of my identity,” says Sanchez. “This role allows me to pay it forward and support the potential of other Hispanics within the organization. One consistent theme I have come across over the course of my career is that in order for any organization to be competitive into the future, Hispanic professionals will have to play a role in that success. My interest is in helping HOLA be that voice for professional Hispanic Americans.”

HOLA focuses on supporting Freddie Mac’s business goals, giving back to the community, and providing professional development opportunities for Hispanic employees. Networking events, mentoring circles, and volunteer opportunities are just a few of the activities that HOLA’s members enjoy throughout the year.

Sanchez says that new ideas are generated for the betterment of the organization through the ERGs. “The experience is phenomenal,” he says. “It encourages folks to embrace and understand other elements of thinking. It demonstrates that diversity is smart business and will help us succeed, both individually and as a company. By having an open dialogue, and sometimes even debate, we remain open to different perspectives and backgrounds.”

One recent HOLA initiative involved hosting a financial literacy program to educate Hispanic homebuyers and prepare them for successful homeownership. It’s something Sanchez calls a win-win-win: “a win for the business, a win for homebuyers in our communities, and a win for the HOLA membership base.” This is a perfect example of diversity at work, he says; it improves all aspects of a business. Efforts like these also are closely tied to Freddie Mac’s goals and its mission to make home possible for America’s families.

Sanchez’s philosophy and approach to life continue off the clock as well. He is a husband and father to three children—two girls and one boy. He can be found on the baseball field this spring—coaching and nurturing the potential of the rising generation.