More connected. Inclusive leaders are best at building connections among their virtual and in-person teams, engaging them to collaborate more effectively in this new hybrid world.
As a part of our series about “How Diversity Can Increase a Company’s Bottom Line”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Alejandra Denda.
Alejandra Denda is the Chief Marketing Officer of The Federal Savings Bank, one of the largest privately held, federally chartered veteran-owned banks in America focused on residential lending for FHA, VA, and first-time home buyers. Born in Argentina to parents of German and Italian descent, Alejandra earned her master’s degree in the U.S. in International Marketing from Harvard University. Alejandra also helps shape the next generation of marketing leaders as an Adjunct Professor at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, teaching graduate students classes on branding in the digital world and international marketing strategy.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dive into the main part of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit more. Can you share a bit of your “backstory” with us?
With my background, it’s fitting that I’ve dedicated my professional career to multicultural marketing. I was born in Argentina to a German mother and an Italian father. There, I studied business at Buenos Aires University while working full time to save money to fulfill my dream of earning my master’s degree abroad. I ultimately enrolled at Harvard University to study International Marketing. That experience cemented my core beliefs about the importance of multicultural learning and how diverse backgrounds and cultures drive better results.
For the past 20 years, I’ve worked in the U.S. in various global and U.S.-centric roles to increase company and brand growth across different industries and sectors. Today, I’m currently CMO at The Federal Savings Bank and I also serve as an adjunct professor at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, teaching branding and international marketing strategy classes to graduate students.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career? Can you tell us the lesson or take away, you took out of that story?
I started my career as a merchandising buyer at a grocery store chain that’s part of the French multinational retailer Carrefour Group. I oversaw all food products with a team of six other buyers. In one period, we worked very hard with the operations team to open a new store footprint with a big area dedicated to charcuterie, which included cheese and cold cuts. The day of the store opening, several operations people became sick. Consumers started coming into the store, wanting to buy cheese and meat, but there was nobody to serve them because they were out sick.
I ended up rolling up my sleeves, going behind the counter and learning how to slice cheese and cold cuts while recommending to consumers other options for their meals. Having that close contact with the shoppers helped me optimize my assortment and pricing strategy. That day I learned the value of leaning in, putting yourself in the customers ‘shoes and approaching challenges as learning opportunities.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you tell us a story about how that was relevant in your own life?
One of my favorite life lesson quotes is, “It’s only after you’ve stepped outside your comfort zone that you begin to change, grow, and transform.” I have experienced challenges and growth in different areas of my life — from leaving everything I knew in Argentina and moving to the U.S. to being in Thailand during a tsunami and not only surviving that global catastrophe but also helping other people survive.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are?
I have had several teachers, bosses, friends, and colleagues who taught and challenged me to become a better version on myself. If I think of two people, I need to be grateful to my dad who taught me how to pursue my vision and build resiliency to achieve my goals. I also need to thank my grandmother, a strong woman who survived the second World War in Germany and taught me how to help others step out of their comfort zone and grow.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
The Federal Savings Bank stands out in its commitment to better understanding and serving Latino homebuyers in the U.S. While Latinos are predicted to account for 70% of homeownership growth over the next 20 years, that increase isn’t guaranteed because the industry needs to create a more conducive environment for first-time homebuyers, especially for communities of color.
With The Federal Savings Bank’s Hispanic leadership — our President Javier Ubarri hails from Puerto Rico and I’m from Argentina to name a few — we’ve taken a multi-faceted approach to understanding and fulfilling the unique needs of Latinos. This has included tactical improvements, such as creating a Spanish-language website and offering mortgage applications online in Spanish, but also revising our branding to become more inclusive. Another key area is that we’re constantly looking to add diverse talent who can authentically connect with our customers. Spanish-speaking brokers from a variety of backgrounds not only can speak the language of our customers but also understand the cultural nuances that come into play during the emotional process of buying a home.
Are you working on any new or exciting projects now? How do you think that might help people?
Recently, The Federal Savings launched a Spanish-language website. However, we didn’t simply translate our main English website into Spanish. Hispanics oftentimes come to the homebuying process with differing degrees of financial literacy. They may come from homes where talking about money was taboo or countries that distrust banks. When marketing to Latinos, it’s important not to assume they understand concepts many U.S.-born homebuyers take for granted, such as the value of building credit or that it’s possible to purchase homes with no money down.
That’s why when we launched the Spanish version of The Federal Savings Bank’s website, we built it from the ground up, choosing the words and content we believe are most likely to connect and help Latinos based on their understanding of the homebuying journey.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I’m the first chief marketing officer at The Federal Savings Bank and I’d like to think my role in spearheading the bank’s efforts to serve Latinos has helped many families achieve their homeownership dreams. I’m also extremely proud of all our hardworking employees who helped Latinos create a place called home — whether that’s going the extra mile to create joint mortgages, common among U.S. Hispanics, or serving the needs of the emerging high-income Hispanics looking for investment properties.
Ok. Thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the main part of our interview. This may be obvious to you, but it is not intuitive to many people. Can you articulate to our readers five ways that increased diversity can help a company’s bottom line. (Please share a story or example for each.)
I strongly believe that diversity can help a company’s bottom line in several ways:
- More connected. Inclusive leaders are best at building connections among their virtual and in-person teams, engaging them to collaborate more effectively in this new hybrid world.
- More innovative. Building inclusivity in the workplace culture is a strong driver of innovation. Having a team culture based in trust, collaboration, and inclusion helps team members feel comfortable speaking up, and that’s when the most innovative ideas emerge.
- More resilient. Authentic workplace cultures, where employees and leaders can share open conversations, analyze current challenges and find solutions, create more resiliency.
- Better talent. When we include people from diverse backgrounds with different points of view, it creates a competitive advantage for the company. Having diverse talent enables companies to recruit better talent, which creates a positive feedback loop in terms of performance and resiliency.
- Risk management. Balanced and diverse team are better at solving complex problems, managing risk, and finding new opportunities.
What advice would you give to other business leaders to help their employees to thrive?
My advice for other leaders would be to create a culture that fosters diverse teams — not to follow a trend or check a box, but because those teams will be more equipped to drive the company to its next level.
What advice would you give to other business leaders about how to manage a large team?
Balance the skill sets and experience of the team, understand what the strengths are at the personal level and leverage them at the group level.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this :-)
I would like to have breakfast with Jay Shetty, the former Hindu monk who is making wisdom go viral. I would like to meet with him and hear his advice on how to inspire teams in an accessible, relevant and practical way.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
To follow my professional development and learn more, readers can check out my Linkedin profile.
Thank you for these excellent insights. We wish you continued success in your great work.