In honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, we reached out to prominent Hispanic leaders in the housing and mortgage industry to celebrate their success, learn from their experience and gain insight into the challenges facing the mortgage industry. This year, we’re happy to share a Q&A with MGIC’s Head of Regional Sales and Marketing, Danny Garcia-Velez.
Danny, congratulations on your promotion to “Group VP – Regional Sales and Marketing” at MGIC. You’ll oversee regional sales and marketing efforts, but for those who don’t exactly know what that means, can you explain your new role and what you hope to accomplish?
MGIC has the best team of sales professionals and marketers in the industry. Our sales team is without a doubt the best of the best and our marketing materials, designs and events are top-notch. So, in that sense, the job will be an easy one. We have the right people with the right skills who can continue delivering the levels of service and attention our customers have come to expect from MGIC. Additionally, though, part of my role will be to ensure our business development teams have the tools and processes they need to remain being the best in class. MGIC has been in the industry for 65 years. We have a long legacy of delivering high-quality customer service and, ultimately, creating homeownership. As we look to automate and use data and analytics to better understand the marketplace and manage our business, we will also be diligent to ensure our core values of serving our customers are in place.
You’ve mentioned you’ve had mentors who have helped you succeed in your career. What would you say has been one of the best tips you’ve received from a mentor and why?
I’ve had the luxury of having many mentors throughout my life, and I was fortunate enough to work alongside senior executives when I first started out. I discovered very early on in my career that the best way to grow and advance was to listen, observe and learn as much about your organization and core product as possible, including how it’s made. But the best advice was ultimately to ask questions. When we’re young and first starting out, it can be intimidating to ask questions, feeling like a lack of knowledge will be seen as a weakness. However, not asking questions doesn’t help. We grow when we learn. And we build relationships when we engage. Beyond asking questions, the other tip I received was to be genuine. Be yourself, be kind, be thoughtful, be courteous, be respectful. It sounds so simple, but these values are the basics and the foundations for building relationships.
Throughout your years at MGIC you’ve grown professionally, and with that your team has also expanded. Explain why it’s so important for a team to have diversity and inclusion and what that looks like for you.
Historically, diversity represented image, meaning: Do we have diversity in ethnicity, race or gender on our teams or in our groups? But when we think of diversity with such a narrow lens, we miss considering other critically important attributes, like diversity of thought and diversity of skills. As with anything, especially in the corporate environment, it’s important we build teams that aspire to have these various elements. Diversity of thought in particular can provide varying ideas and experiences to draw on when we’re looking to our future and working on strategic initiatives, or simply solving a problem. Without those contrasting ideas and solutions, we can end up replicating tired concepts without truly innovating.
What do you think is the most important thing for leaders to do when it comes to diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI)?
We begin to achieve the goals of diversity, equity and inclusion when leaders are fully committed and provide the education on why they are committed. Because as I said earlier, DEI is far more than the ratio of men to women on a team, for example. And when we understand that, we begin to embrace the concept. So, as leaders, our job should be to support DEI through our actions and ensure that our teams fully recognize the nuances of DEI and the value DEI initiatives can bring to an organization.
Switching gears: MGIC is excited to be celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month alongside professional Hispanics in the mortgage industry. Can you tell us a little about your background and how it has played a role in your professional career?
I’m the son of Cuban exiles, the youngest of 6 kids raised by a single mother. My mother strived to give us the best life she could, often working more than 2 jobs to do so. I never had real Air Jordans (which I may still be a little bitter about and which may have fed into a minor shoe obsession), but we had a house that was a home. When my mom needed to downsize and move out of our childhood home in Minneapolis, it was a defining moment for me. I was able to connect the dots about what a house means and what homeownership can do for a family – how it provides stability, unity and identity. I knew 2 things then. One, I would always own a home of my own. Two, I wanted to be in a position to support homeownership for others. When I first started working professionally, I was helping new immigrants with the financial literacy and education they needed to purchase a home. After that, I began working in the foreclosure prevention space, which led to working on housing policy and mortgage product development. That work led me to MGIC, where I feel incredibly grateful to be working with a product that I believe in and that advances the American Dream of homeownership.
What would you say is your fondest memory that ties into your Cuban roots?
You can’t be a Cuban without loving food, music and baseball, and I have fond memories involving all of those, especially the food! But Cuban culture, more than anything, is about family. As a kid, we would spend weeks at a time visiting our family in Miami. My memories are of spending time at the beach, begging to go back to the pool because I thought a shark was going to eat me (remember, I’m from Minneapolis), listening to my mother and aunts talk in Spanish, and sneaking out to play ding dong ditch on the neighboring condos. These are memories that will live with me forever. They may not be intrinsically Cuban and are probably things everyone can identify with on a certain level, but the feeling that we belonged and came from somewhere and something was a profound experience for a skinny kid with a bad haircut and buckteeth. Beyond that, I’ll always remember Christmas Eve and the smell of my mother cooking the traditional Cuban meal of black beans and rice, pork slathered in mojo, tostones and, of course, flan. Just thinking about it makes me want to go visit my mom. It’s a tradition I’ve continued with my own family and, even though my mom tells me I’m not making the pork correctly, I think it's pretty damn good.
Has your background been an asset in your career or made things more challenging?
My background is something I draw on each day. From the advice a coach may have given me to a performance review from a manager early on in my career to the time my sister closed the trunk on my head (ok, not that one), I pull on past experiences. Being an awkward kid raised by a single mom with a funny accent in a place where everyone else ate tater tot hotdish and didn’t know what a “medianoche” was makes you resilient. But, you also learn very quickly how to engage with the world around you, how to adapt, and how to hold on to the things that make you you and provide you with your identity. As a leader, that background has probably been the thing that has helped me the most. When I joined MGIC and moved to Milwaukee with my family, we needed to make ourselves vulnerable so we could learn and grow. Drawing on my background and knowing that showing vulnerability in that way leads to growth and understanding are some things that help me nearly every day.
The opinions and insights expressed in this Q&A are solely those of its interviewee and do not necessarily represent the views of either Mortgage Guaranty Insurance Corporation or any of its parent, affiliates, or subsidiaries (collectively, “MGIC”). Neither MGIC nor any of its officers, directors, employees or agents makes any representations or warranties of any kind regarding the soundness, reliability, accuracy or completeness of any opinion, insight, recommendation, data, or other information contained in this blog, or its suitability for any intended purpose.