Dorene Dominguez and the Usual Outliers

Vanir’s Dorene Dominguez is creating a new normal for Latino leaders

Dorene Dominguez, CEO, Vanir Companies(Photo Courtesy of Joan Cusick)

Dorene Dominguez isn’t afraid to say she was born to do this. As the CEO of the Vanir Companies, whose holdings include Vanir Development Company Inc., Vanir Construction Management Inc., and Vanir Construction Company Inc., Dominguez has successfully transitioned a company started by her late father into a diversified and multifaceted powerhouse that has done more than $23 billion in real estate business. And she’s done it by leaning into, not away from, the qualities that make her such a unique presence in her position. “As one of the few Latinas in a male-dominant industry, my past experiences have prepared me so that I can understand my uniqueness,” Dominguez says. “This has allowed me to help others and build a pipeline for other Latinas to sit at the table.”

Difficult experiences for a tightly knit family have helped hone Dominguez leadership qualities. “My father’s mentorship was priceless, and he involved me in the business at an early age,” she says. A bankruptcy and her father’s eventual passing tested both her strength and faith, and Dominguez says that how one chooses to utilize those kinds of life experiences can have long-lasting impacts. “Bankruptcy taught me skills of workouts, survival, and negotiations,” Dominguez says. “Tough lessons helped me build my skill set so that I could mitigate difficult situations and never repeat them.”

Her father’s death also provided Dominguez with a sense of rising to the challenge when others depend on her. “I have over four hundred employees and seventeen offices throughout the United States, and they all depend on me, “Dominguez says. “I needed to show up and take charge.”

At Vanir, Dominguez says she’s able to harness many of her past experiences and use them to benefit both those within the company as well as their clients. “My role as CEO is one of empowerment and mentorship, where we take care of each other in a family-oriented environment,” Dominguez says. “Vanir is the best in the industry, so it is important that we retain the best.”

Dominguez says that while Vanir’s culture is ever-evolving to meet the needs of its clients, there are strong bedrocks of company that remain firm. “It is important to complete goals set and to promote a culture where our core values include loyalty and excellence,” Dominguez says.

Dominguez believes her story can be valuable in Vanir’s approach to matters of diversity and inclusion. “My background provides a unique perspective to clients and problem-solving solutions to the organizations I represent,” Dominguez says. “I believe the same of our workplace.”

She believes Vanir’s diverse workforce provides for diverse perspectives, and the more ideas available, the better the solution will be. “At Vanir, we elevate new and innovative ideas and embrace our diversity,” she says. “It’s a win-win-win.”

Leadership is not a concept that comes lightly to Dominguez. In fact, she was ready for it early on. “I have never questioned the fact that I was born to lead,” Dominguez says. “In high school and college, I gravitated towards the leadership roles and got them.”

That passion for leadership has landed Dominguez roles as the head of countless boards, some where she felt more prepared for than others. “I once served as chair of the California State Board of Geology and Geophysics,” Dominguez says. “I did not have knowledge or prior experience in the subject matter, but I was able to provide unique problem-solving solutions that led to my being unanimously appointed as chair.”

Dominguez says that her direct style tends to accrue buy-in quickly and may help explain why she tends to wind up as the chairperson of so many different organizations. “My leadership style is hands- on, strategic, and compassionate,” Dominguez says. “I listen, empathize, and problem solve.”

Dominguez has advice for those in leadership positions. “Have a vision, a plan, and embrace loyalty,” Dominguez says. “The right talent in the company that is loyal to your vision will provide the integrity needed to move your vision.”

Leading firmly does not mean leading blindly, Dominguez asserts. “I learn from what everyone contributes. I listen to suggestions and implement best practices,” Dominguez says. “Leadership is about learning and using this knowledge for growth.”

That growth includes a push to promote Latino philanthropy through a nonprofit called The Dominguez Dream, in honor of Vanir’s founder. The foundation is dedicated to promoting STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics) education in predominantly Latino Title I schools. To date, the organization has benefited more than 350,000 students.

While her story may be unique, Dominguez is intent on making her story less of an outlier. She sees philanthropy as a crucial step in helping spur this transition. “We unite as one, nonpartisan voice for our community,” Dominguez says. “This is powerful, and it will bring positive change.”

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