CLA president and CEO Tami Heim recently interviewed Edgar Sandoval, Chief Operating Officer, World Vision, U.S. Sandoval is responsible for overseeing the implementation of World Vision’s U.S. operations and strategic plan. Sandoval joined World Vision in 2015, bringing with him a strong background in general management, strategy, operations, innovation and brand-building.
Edgar is a Christian leader whose life and faith journey reflect one of humility and courage. Born in southern California but raised in Guatemala and Venezuela, Edgar didn’t’ speak English when he returned to the U.S. at the age of 18 with $50 in his pocket. Through God’s faithfulness and hard work, he graduated from Rutgers University where he earned dual degrees with a Bachelor of Science in Industrial Engineering and a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology in 1989, and in 1994 earned his MBA from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business.
Before coming to World Vision, Edgar was the Vice President of Global Feminine Care at Procter and Gamble (P&G), the world’s largest consumer packaged-goods company, where he was responsible for the Global Innovation and Marketing strategies and plans for this $5 billion business. Throughout his career, Edgar held steady to the belief that his biggest role was to build brands that advocate and empower women and girls to live life to their fullest potential. In 2015, Edgar had the privilege of leading the development and launch of one of the most successful branding campaigns in the history of P&G. The globally acclaimed award winning #likeagirl campaign highlighted the power of conscious and unconscious biases in creating positive change for girls. He’s been a driving force in advancing diversity and inclusion. Edgar has won numerous awards. Among them are the Goldstein Award, Procter & Gamble’s most respected Brand Building award for outstanding and sustained business results, the Hispanic TV Lifetime Achievement Award and the AdColor/Association of National Advertisers Diversity Change Agent Award.
Edgar and his wife, Leiza have four children and through their church and ministry involvement have played a special role as marriage coaches and small group leaders. The Lord’s call was never more real, when they chose to leave their familiar life in Ohio to come to World Vision to serve the poor in the name of Christ.
Heim discussed strategic thinking, leadership and more with Sandoval.
What are your key priorities as Chief Operating Officer for World Vision?
The financial and organizational health of Word Vision (WV) is my key priority. Having a thriving fundraising ministry of fully engaged Christ-followers serving the needs of the most vulnerable children in the world is at the top of my agenda. To do that well, I’m focused on ensuring the evidence of our impact is strong and that our current and prospective donors know about it. Impact story-telling that breaks through the clutter is critical. Success for me means leaving an organization or a team in a better state than how you found them and that relentless pursuit of continuous improvement and excellence in what we do, for the glory of God, is my ultimate priority. After all we serve a great God, so we should give him our very best, every day.
In your experience, what are the most effective ways to think and lead strategically?
The most important thing to do throughout a strategy process is bathing it in prayer. Seeking God’s guidance is always essential. It is critical during the assessment phase (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats). God has a great way to keep us 100% honest. Any kind of spin or positioning we bring is quickly stripped away and what’s left is the bare truth, or as someone called it, “the brutal facts.” Within that honest and fact-based discernment process we can then answer two of the most important questions of effectively leading and thinking strategically: “What is success?” and “What capabilities are needed to execute with excellence?”It has been said if you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there. Similarly, if you don’t have a clear definition of success, any strategy is a good strategy. The definition of success you determine should then drive the focus area choices. In the end, those choices are the strategy.
Can you discuss leading implementation of the organization’s strategic plan? What’s important in doing that well?
Once the strategies are set, it is important to provide consistent and persistent communication of the choices made and the reasons why they were made. However, over a 20-year career at The Procter and Gamble Company (P&G) I learned that the most important differentiator between successful and failed strategy implementation is the organization’s ability to execute the plan.As one of the most successful CEO’s at P&G used to say: “Execution is the only strategy the customer will ever see.” It’s imperative that everyone clearly understands the strategic choices and they see their contributions to the mission and their ideas reflected in those choices. This will generate ownership and commitment. From there you need to ensure everyone’s work goals and activities directly tie to the strategic priorities and actively weed out anything that does not. Finally, but in my view the most important, is selecting the right people, with the right skills, knowledge and experiences for every role. People determine the speed towards executional excellence.
How is your experience in the business world influencing your nonprofit leadership?
Significantly. This is a question I often get from our donors. I start my answer with a reflection on a measure that is near and dear to my heart, Return on Investment (ROI). For more than 20 years in business I obsessed over this measure. As a newly minted MBA from Wharton, I did all I could to drive my projects to have the most attractive ROI. Later, I demanded high ROI’s from the projects being proposed to me, and then worked with the teams to make those high ROI projections, even higher. I required excruciatingly detailed analysis of key drivers, reams of data, zero-based planning, and benchmarks of best practices from only the best in class, innovation choices, all of this in the relentless pursuit of better returns – every year, every quarter, every day.
So, when I made the switch from the for-profit corporate world, to the nonprofit NGO world it was time to take a different approach, to relax a little bit, to “take the pedal off the metal.” Right? Well...no. Quite the opposite. I don’t think of WV as a not-for-profit. We are “for-impact.” And to drive more impact we need more resources going to our field ministry programs. This requires us to increase revenue and reduce expenses. In business, we call this increasing profit. At WV, we call it increasing yield to ministry. While this ROI work can be all-consuming, it is still incredibly exhilarating, and rewarding to me. But there is one catch. The ROI although very real, although very high, does not create earthly wealth for me or for shareholders. It’s a return on our donors’ investment – but for someone else. Someone they may never meet living half way around the world. That’s the real difference. The higher order ROI our donors receive is joy. Specifically, the joy of obedience, the joy of generosity and the joy of impact. That joy is theirs to keep forever.
How would you advise other Christian leaders considering a transition from business to a Christian nonprofit organization?
I tell them three things. First, you can live out your Christian faith in the business world. Our impact on peers and colleagues can be profound and everlasting. I’m reminded of my own experience recommitting my life to Christ. It was one of my business managers who discipled me. He walked along side me and prayed for me and for my family during challenging times. He gave me a Bible and studied it with me. I would not be at World Vision today if it had not been for his willingness to step out of the corporate comfort zone to witness Christ to me. Second, the resources and wealth God has entrusted to you through a successful business career can help you advance the kingdom of God. At WV, for example, our philanthropy donors are doing just that, changing the world in the name of Jesus. And third, before you make that decision, be sure to go through a period of discernment. There are great resources to assist you in the process. I found the Halftime Institute, a Christian ministry in Dallas, very helpful. But ultimately it was my time in prayer, fasting and worship, together with my wife Leiza, which gave us the conviction the Lord wanted us to go to World Vision.
I know you have a passion for strengthening diversity in organizations. How will that passion be expressed strategically at World Vision?
Jesus is passionate about diversity. The Apostle Paul tells us believers are all one in Christ (Gal. 3:28). The Holy Spirit revealed to John we will all be together “every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb” worshiping our great God as one body at the end of times (Rev. 7:9-10, ESV).
The strategic questions are: “Why not start now,” and “How?” Jesus tells us how: “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear witheach other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.” (Col. 3:12-14)
Our diversity strategy at World Vision is the greatest commandment – to love God and love each other. But, to love each other we need to know each other better: walking in each other’s shoes, discovering and working through the unconscious biases we all have and accepting we all have biases. I know I do. I have two teen daughters with special needs, and I’m still learning about the limitations I put on them that are only in my mind. A fully diverse and loving workplace will be very good for all our employees, for the diverse base of donors we are inviting to partner with us, and for the very diverse children and communities we serve all over the world.