After only a few weeks as the new executive director of the West Michigan Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Carlos Sanchez already has a vision of what he wants to accomplish.
“Every E.D. has taken the Hispanic Chamber to a new level. What I want to do is to run this as a truly business organization,” said Sanchez.
“In some people, the perception of this chamber is that we’re married to the Hispanic Center. I want to stay away from that.
“This is not a social cause organization; it’s a business organization. Yes, we will help some social causes, (but) we are first and foremost devoted to our members, who are business owners.”
Sanchez said the chamber is no longer in a startup phase, and he looks forward to talking with members to find the areas in which they need aid. Through those discussions, the chamber will add new programs and adjust the ones in place to better serve its members.
He also wants to solidify the Hispanic Chamber as a place where the “mainstream” business community can connect and become more actively involved with the Hispanic business community — and vice versa.
“I want the — let’s say ‘mainstream’ — companies and organizations to see this chamber as a place where they can establish a partnership. We will ask for sponsorships and partnerships, but no handouts. We are not feeding the homeless; we’re a business organization. I don’t want you to hand me $1,000 or $10,000 because it’s the right thing to do. No — let’s partner here. I want you to have a return investment also.”
The executive director position for the West Michigan Hispanic Chamber of Commerce was a leadership role Sanchez had been looking for since college — though he may not have known it at the time.
While attending Universidad Iberoamericana in Mexico City in 1986, Sanchez studied hotel management. During the tail end of his studies in 1990, he received an offer to work for Club Med, a worldwide family resort company.
Company: West Michigan Hispanic Chamber of Commerce
“It was supposed to be a six-month stint, coming back to graduate, and it lasted four years,” he said. “Needless to say, I didn’t graduate there.”
What Sanchez did receive at Club Med was heavy international exposure. One of his many roles at the resort was to work with people from all over the world to organize their travel plans. The mix of international experiences and business was something he found appealing, but he wasn’t sure how he wanted to direct that interest.
In 1994, Sanchez moved to Cancun, Mexico, to work for Royal Resorts, where he met his wife.
“We were working in the same office, basically. We met and started dating, and that was it,” he said. “We got married and lived there for about four years until about ’98. That’s when we moved here.”
His wife, Lynne Pope, was born and raised in Grand Rapids, so the move from Cancun to West Michigan was a natural fit. Sanchez said the work schedule of the tourism industry was becoming too much for them. Living in Cancun also limited the career growth of his wife, who was an attorney but did not have a license to practice in Mexico.
“The life in Cancun was not really what we wanted. It’s just hard to have a real life there. You have Wednesday and Thursday off one week, then Monday and Tuesday,” said Sanchez.
“For my wife, the opportunities for her to develop were scarce. She’s an attorney (and) she could not work as an attorney there. At that point we decided to go back to the U.S. — and what better place than where she had friends and family.”
Having never seen snow, Sanchez was excited for his first West Michigan winter.
“I have pictures every day, like, ‘OK, now a picture like this!’” he said, mimicking himself taking photos of snow. “I’ve been shoveling snow since I arrived here. … (It’s OK) as long as you have the clothing for it.”
After arriving in the U.S., Sanchez had to wait about three months to obtain his Green Card and start working. Once that came through, Sanchez began working at Sharpe Buick-BMW.
“I started selling cars there — new cars, used. Then I was assistant used car manager until I decided I had to go back to school,” he said. “I felt that there was more for me.”
Sanchez enrolled in Davenport University in 2004 and graduated three years later with a degree in international business.
Also in 2004, he began working for the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce as a program coordinator. He was responsible for the planning and executing of the chamber’s diversity programs, which involved relationship building with different ethnic and professional groups and delivering and facilitating diversity training to Chamber members.
During the time he was studying at Davenport, Sanchez began working for Voices for Health, a language translation company that specializes in health care. He primarily worked doing medical interpretation and translation, but he also translated the news into Spanish for the 6 p.m. “24 Hour News 8” program at WOOD TV8 for news anchor Tom Van Howe.
“I would do Tom’s voice. It was real time; there was no script,” he said. “You’re listening and translating. It was difficult. You’ve heard the news and (how) they try to cram so much (in). In Spanish, just by nature, it’s 30 percent longer than English.”
In the spring of 2007 as he graduated from Davenport, the Spanish news translation was cancelled, but Sanchez quickly found another job.
“The week the show was cancelled, I got the job at Spectrum Health,” he said. “It was good for me.”
He took the position of diversity specialist with Spectrum Health, working with Chief Diversity Officer Joyce Henry. His job included presenting Spectrum’s diversity strategy to new staff, managing a Web-based training system and most of the diversity-related programs and initiatives. He worked at Spectrum Health until taking his current position as executive director of the West Michigan Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.
Looking back, Sanchez believes his time spent working at the Grand Rapids Chamber was his biggest career break.
“That really took me into a totally different path that landed me here. Before working at the chamber … I didn’t really see clarity in where I was going,” he said.
Shortly after moving to Grand Rapids, Sanchez had attended the Leadership Grand Rapids program run through the Chamber.
“That kind of gave me an idea of what I wanted to do,” he said. “Not being from this place, I needed to get caught up in terms of getting to know the city, the people and networking. It was basically catch-up, and to this day I have a handful of very good friends from the program.”
Leadership Grand Rapids helped Sanchez see “how many members of the community want diverse viewpoints,” he said.
“That cliché of being a closed community, I still find hard to believe. You, of course, find pockets that are hard to get in, but I see us, as an entire community, very open.”
It is that openness, that spirit of bringing people together that Sanchez loves about his current position with the Hispanic Chamber.
“This is the position I was looking for way back when I was in college. I enjoy connecting people to people so they can help each other. That’s what I like about this position,” he said.
“All the planets are aligning. It’s a new E.D. with possibly a new vision — a new strategic plan — and really, the economic situation we have going on right now in our country that allows us to take it as an opportunity and do something.”