By: Billy Yost
As head of digital channels and ecosystems for Citi, Raul Aldrey is passionate about building products that serve his customers. Whether it’s at Citi, as a board member for numerous organizations, or playing an active role in the lives of future leaders, there’s a lot to take away from one of Citi’s best and brightest. Aldrey spoke with The Alumni Society on how he uses his skills to give back to the Latino community.
Could you talk about some of the experience, both personal and professional, that has helped impact you as a leader and performer in your space?
One example I would like to point is at the very early days of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. I was the chief product officer and head of product, sales, operations, and strategy for MediaKind, a global leader media tech company with operations in over 30 countries and distribution in more than 130 countries.
As a leader, we were confronted with a phenomenal set of challenges and uncertainty. We started dealing with the potential impact to our employees in our China offices. There was no guidance and very little information on what was starting to develop in China at that time. Yet, we had to start putting together policies, safety protocols, and even new ways of working processes to ensure the safety and integrity of our employees and customers.
As much as we had a business to run, a number and objectives to meet, and customers to serve, we also had to be very mindful and prioritize our employees’ well-being. As we all know now, this crisis extended around the globe and we had to start expanding our processes and new protocols to other countries and jurisdictions, each one with its own set of local guidelines and rules.
We had to provide constant, honest, and clear communication to our employees and customers. In fact, we had to over-communicate and create feedback mechanisms to ensure we could address all concerns in real-time. We started with weekly “all hands” sessions with employees around the world and almost daily executive stand-ups to discuss crisis management issues.
Another example I can share is that in the early days of my career, I had the opportunity to work on a new service that we were building at Verizon. This was part of a home-grown platform to distribute the best quality of video service. The product name was Fios a name we all now know around the US. As we tackled our product design and execution, many technical challenges emerged and I had the opportunity to work on creative solutions to address those pain points, which led to filing certain patents.
Ultimately, these products were launched in the marketplace and Fios became the industry leader in providing the best internet speeds and video services. These services were used by millions of consumers, and it was extremely rewarding when talking to people about how they understood the product and how it impacted their lives. This feeling created a sense of pride and passion for building products with purpose and has driven me in my career to take on more and more complex challenges and with greater impact.
How does your ethnicity and heritage help you be successful?
Perhaps there are many areas where my ethnicity and my heritage have served me. I am a son of immigrant parents. I was born in Venezuela, but my father left Cuba due to political unrest at a very early age, leaving his family behind and moving to a new country by himself.
My mother comes from a German family that also immigrated to Venezuela. I grew up in a hardworking family, with both of my parents working as professionals and entrepreneurs. My mom founded an elementary school when she was seventeen years old and studying economics at the same time. I grew up in a loving family with my two sisters and with an incredible example of passion, dedication, and hard work. I saw how my parents progressed in life with their relentless focus and commitment while being willing to help others at any given time.
I went to a Catholic school in Venezuela and right after college, I received a federal scholarship to pursue my master’s studies in the US. I decided to move to the US with my wife, who also went to study her master’s in orthodontics. We are a great example of the pursuit of the American dream.
When I started working in the US, I realized very early that I had to hyper-focus on building a network of professionals and “leaning forward” to join forums and any kind of networking opportunities. I really didn’t have much guidance or even mentors from my homeland that could be relevant to my career in the US.
I approached some of my bosses at the time and showed them interest and passion and always the willingness to go the extra mile. Soon I started building a group of mentors or higher-level executives that were willing to talk to me, some from inside my company and more from other businesses. I have stayed very close to many of them through the last twenty years or so. Nowadays, many of these mentors are very successful CEOs, board members, and investors.
I would summarize by saying that what has really helped me in my career with my heritage is the relentless focus on execution, the pursuit of my dreams, and building a network of professionals. All of these while keeping at the center my passion and desire to help others. As Jesuits say, “men for others.”
Could you talk about some of the D&I initiatives you’ve worked on at Citi and what those have looked like from your perspective?
At Citi, we are very focused on our D&I activities and Initiatives. It is front and center in our corporate values. We look at it from the lens of diversity in our employee base, career mobility, and career development.
Personally, I am an executive sponsor for our Hispanic network and an active member of our D&I leadership group. We also drive our Employee Experience Squads; these are groups of volunteers that we have appointed to lead certain initiatives to help improve our employee experience—from volunteering for events, to tools we use, to knowledge sharing across the organization.
I also represent Citi at HITEC (Hispanic IT Executive Council) as well as our sponsorship with The Alumni Society. Finally, I participate with Latino Donor Collaborative and other Hispanic professional organizations.
What kind of work have you done to pave the way to develop future leaders, and what importance do you place on doing this work?
In the last six or seven years of my career, I have been very focused on the development of future leaders and, particularly, in building a platform for Latino leaders to grow and evolve their careers. At Citi, I have been driving aggressively toward career mobility within the firm and my division as well as focusing on having diverse talent in our hiring efforts. For instance, my division has over 60 percent woman and over 16 percent Hispanics (self-reported). These are incredible figures in digital product management roles and demonstrate the focus and opportunities that we are building in our workplace.
I have also taken the time to mentor high-performing professionals and strong Latino profiles in their career evolution, how to navigate in corporate America, and how to position their careers based on value creation and impact. Some of these relationships have started more than ten years ago and, in some cases, certain individuals have followed me from company to company as I also have evolved my career into new challenges and more executive roles.
In addition, I have taken time to share and mentor Latino high school kids from underprivileged homes who need guidance as they look to go to college. Often, these kids are the first generation attending higher education, and the financial hurdles make them doubt their investment in education and in themselves.
Last, I often volunteer to participate in industry-related events as a senior leader that can share experiences as a Latino professional and how to build your career in the corporate world. For instance, I will be participating with MasterCard in their Hispanic Heritage Month activities as a panelist. I would also be speaking at HITEC 100 conference.
What is next for you, your profession, and your industry?
I am extremely passionate about what I do, particularly about building delightful customer-centric products and operating them at scale. I get the opportunity to impact and improve people’s lives and daily routines when interacting with my products and services while creating value for the firm and stakeholders.
I have had the incredible opportunity to work across various industries, telecom, IT, media tech and financial services, all in Fortune 500 companies; and that has allowed me to expand my horizons, my viewpoints, and deeper understanding of business challenges as well as best practices.
In terms of near-term steps, I want to continue driving the best and most intuitive product experiences at Citi with embedded controls and safety. We are at a very crucial time that requires technology transformation at the core of our processes and strong leadership to drive those changes.
I also want to participate as a board advisor and board member in additional institutions where I can contribute to business growth and digital transformation. Currently, I sit on the board of few companies representing Citi. I am also a fellow at Boston University Innovation Institute.
I see a mid-term future where I would be CEO of a well-established firm with challenging growth plans. Also, I hope to be an active participant in board positions in private and non-for-profit institutions. I want to continue expanding my professional network of Latino executives and help younger leaders to find a proper path for career development into executive roles.
Finally, how do you relax?
I love to travel with my family, especially if there are outdoor activities involved (from scuba diving to hiking and anything in between). We recently completed the Saint James Way in Spain, which is a pilgrimage trekking experience that clocks in at over one hundred miles, from the border with Portugal and ends in Santiago de Compostela.
At home, I love to read books and train in martial arts.
Connect with Raul Aldrey on LinkedIn.