Faith. Family. Football.
Those are the three traits of Hispanic culture that have guided the career of Navy SEAL Rear Adm. Navy Richard Rodriguez, deputy commander, Navy Special Warfare Command, and executive vice president, head of construction operations, at Amherst. Rodriguez spoke at NAVAIR’s first national virtual Hispanic Heritage Month event Sept. 30, with a theme of “Hispanics: Be Proud of Your Past and Embrace the Future.”
Rodriguez is proud of his past, even as he discussed facing discrimination growing up in California as a Hispanic-American.
“When I was 11 or 12, I didn’t know we were poor, but I went to the store for my mother, and she gave me food stamps to pay for the food,” he said. “The look of disgust, and the comments that came from the checkout person — I’ll never forget it.”
Despite his humble beginnings, Rodriguez ended up attending the U.S. Naval Academy Prep School in Newport, Rhode Island, where one of his mentors was then-Maj. Jim Mattis, whom he described as “intense, dedicated, serious and approachable.”
Rodriguez later completed Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL training with Class 161 in 1989. He treasures the sacred bonds he has with his fellow Navy SEALS, calling them “family,” and reflecting on their “mutual focus on keeping the U.S. safe from its enemies.” Rodriguez has served overseas in Operations Desert Shield, Desert Storm, Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom.
Through it all, he said his faith is what has helped him persevere.
“I have faith in the foundations of this great country,” he said, “because wherever you start from is not predetermined where you’ll end up.”
That certainly proved true at his first job interview at a homebuilding company, where he admitted to one of the company’s executives, reluctantly, that he didn’t know what a roof truss was. The interviewer didn’t seem fazed; instead, he drew a sketch of a house to show Rodriguez what a roof truss was.
“He began to teach me, mentor me. The impact of that moment has never been lost on me,” Rodriguez said. “He taught, he mentored, he invested.”
Fifteen years later, Rodriguez was named CEO of the largest construction company in the world.
Since then, he is and has been a senior executive with several home building and real estate development companies, both public and private, national and international. As the former CEO at Emaar Dubai, he oversaw the development and construction of multiple iconic projects, including the Burj Khalifa, the tallest tower in the world.
As for “Embracing the Future,” Rodriguez said, “Our military is more ethnically and racially diverse than any other generation,” citing Hispanics as the fastest growing population in the military. At NAVAIR, the Hispanic population has continually increased since 2012: Hispanics now make up 7.8% of the workforce.
Because of this, Rodriguez said diversity is now an operational imperative.
“There is a shift in global warfare tactics that requires new skills and competencies,” he said. “As humans, we are creatures of habit, and diversity doesn’t necessarily happen on its own. You have to take over-action, or you’re going to end up with a mirror that looks like yourself.”
NAVAIR’s Hispanic Engagement Action Team, which co-sponsored the event with the Equal Employment Opportunity and Diversity Division, works to respond to the changing national demographics and focus on how NAVAIR can recruit and retain Hispanic talent. The team analyzes potential hiring and retention barriers and participates in college recruiting and mentoring events, among others, to encourage outreach and career development.
Antonio Miguelez, one of the team’s executive champions, said, “It reminds us of our responsibility to make NAVAIR an equal workplace for all.”