Before she turned thirty, Codie Sanchez had covered human trafficking in Mexico, launched a start-up fashion business, managed a multimillion dollar global investment division, worked at Goldman Sachs, hiked Machu Pichu, and collected more than 15,000 Instagram followers. Today, the proud Latina entrepreneur and investor is a sought-after speaker with topics varying from “How to Become an Expert in Anything” to “Getting What You Want” to “Why Travel is Critical for Your Success.” Hispanic Executive spent some time with Sanchez and discussed the mind-set that drives her success and her mission to help increase the number of women and Latinos in finance and other positions of power.
You’ve done a little bit of everything. What’s the common thread in your work?
The power of story and our need to find our individual purpose. I got a grant to write an important story about human trafficking and drug smuggling. Elderly people were getting left at the border because they were seen as liabilities. They were vulnerable. We wrote the story, and got a good response.
Well, you won the Robert F. Kennedy Award for Journalism. That’s more than a good response.
Right, but I thought we were going to change the world.
And you didn’t?
I was twenty years old and a bit naive. People read the article and that’s great, but it was 2008. Britney Spears had a meltdown and Angelina [Jolie] had twins, and in about fifteen minutes, nobody remembered what we wrote about.
How did that impact you?
I started wondering how you really make change in this world of ours. A mentor told me that you find the centers of power. And that’s money. That’s how I found my way to finance. Just telling people’s stories isn’t enough to rewrite them.
Since then, you’ve worked at some of the biggest firms and businesses in the world. Now, you’re leading a huge team at First Trust. What’s the ultimate goal?
It’s the same as it was in 2008—I still want to change the world. And I still believe the center of power—finance—is the way to do that. I’m doing what I do with a focus on helping put Latinos, women, and other minorities in positions of power. We’re not just blogging and taking selfies. We’re understanding how commerce works and how we can make a significant and lasting positive change in a complex and uncertain time.
How have you done it, though? You can’t just wake up one day and decide to work at Goldman Sachs.
I just never accept the word ‘no.’ I hate that word. I was an asset manager at a company with a competitive accelerated program. Everyone else went to an Ivy League school, and I went to Arizona State. I had no idea what a mutual fund was. Someone talked me into interviewing for this program, and I had to work at least twice as hard as everyone else there. But I saw a hole in their strategy. They didn’t have an international business arm. I put together a proposal, gave it to my boss, and he told me he might hire me to run the new program I had proposed. Hours later, he told me he had to offer the job to someone else.
I was told that everyone thought I would leave dead bodies behind me to get whatever I wanted.
That’s what he said?
Yep. And maybe he was right. It was a big realization for me. I thought that I was driven, but I was putting a different message out. But when they told me ‘you can’t,’ I went and got the green light somewhere else. I became more aware of how people perceive me. I adapted. And then I just worked hard. I refused to let up. And now, the woman they gave the job to instead of me is a member of my team.
What’s the big takeaway there?
I think it’s about personal brand. It’s so important. We all have to be aware of these issues, especially as Latinos, because we stand out. We’re a bit louder. We wear bright colors. We’re touchy-feely. Don’t hide it, but be aware.
“I became more aware of how people perceive me. I adapted. And then I just worked hard. I refused to let up.”
What else can an aspiring Codie Sanchez learn from overcoming a ‘no’?
Just go for it. If it’s not illegal or immoral, don’t ask for permission. When I knew I was leaving Goldman, my boss wouldn’t allow me to travel for a job interview. So I paid my own way. They offered me the job, and I later found out my previous boss was trying to get his friend hired over me. You have to look out for yourself. Don’t tread on anyone ever—because you have to believe your only competition is yourself—but you’re not going to go far if you’re always waiting for someone else to say ‘OK’ to your ambition.
Do you think this is a cultural thing?
For sure. If women and Latinos don’t have every single job qualification, they won’t apply. I know most white dudes would apply if they only had one out of twenty. Fake it ‘til you make it . . . as long as you’re willing to work.
You mentioned personal brand. Why is that so important?
There’s not a faster way to the top than to be known and wanted. We have international distribution platforms at our fingertips with technology today.
What else has contributed to your success?
I have a few rules. First, always ask for what you want, but with one caveat: don’t be a taker. Add value along the way. Second, assume that you can actually get what you want. It might not be as hard as you think. And third, you’ve got to be curious. I mean, in a relentless way. I’d take a curious employee over a bored, experienced employee any day of the week.
How do you decide where to focus your energies and when to take on a new endeavor?
It’s tough because so many things pull us in different directions. I put a note on my phone calendar that I see every day. It says, ‘Am I being productive, or just active? Am I inventing things to do to avoid the important?’ That tactical reminder is huge for me. I don’t want to check-off items just to get something off a to-do list. I want to work on the big events that will change everything. I have a journal I’ve kept for fifteen years. Every year, I write down what I accomplished, everything from the small to the very large. Then I list the five big things I hope to get done. Those top five things go in my wallet and on my phone. We have to be really explicit about how we spend our life and our time, or we’ll waste them.
Do you miss journalism?
In a way, but I’m working with the same themes now, and I’m following my purpose. We’re all made to tell and participate in stories. I’m still doing that.
How did that time shape your career? How does the power of story influence what you do now?
There aren’t a lot of excuses left to do something other than discover what matters to you and spend the rest of your life in pursuit of it. I’m trying to get more diverse humans in positions of power by either hiring them myself or consulting other companies about how to attract, hire, and develop this kind of talent. If I’m not doing those two things, then I’m helping the talent put itself in the best position for success. I’m helping others professionalize their purpose and passion to make it profitable. Make your passion a career.
What issues or projects are you most excited about right now?
I’m trying some new experiments with my website. One is #consume4change. The idea is to protest with the pocketbook. Are the things you buy and the corporation you work for in alignment with who you are as a person? If not, maybe you should look at that. I’m logging everything I buy for thirty days to see if my money aligns with my value system.
Where do you see yourself five years from now?
I hope I’ve helped create an army of minorities in finance. I hope I’ve helped a lot of people monetize their passion. I have big ideas, and I hope others do, too. Big ideas are good, but you need tactics to get there. Log on to my website, and sign up for my weekly newsletter. That’s how people can connect with me and let me give them some tools and resources to take their life and fill it with purpose that’s profitable.