Robert Sanita: Championing diversity and the excellence that lives inside every team member

First National Financial LP Mar 26, 2024   mins

Robert Sanita shares why his coaching and leadership have been his greatest contributions and why “we strive for better” is the value that resonates most for him.

Take us back to the beginning of your career at First National.

RS: I started in 2004. I had been working for a third-party legal services provider, and First National was a client. A close friend and I had worked there together. She moved over to First National and only had good things to say. I met with Kathy Lillie and was hired on the spot. I joined the switch team. Within my first year, I was promoted to Underwriter. I then became Manager, Senior Manager and now my current role as Director. 

What was your first year like?

RS: It was a welcoming environment. I was getting to know people and the processes. There were several people I knew from my previous job. Right from the start, everybody was arms wide open and went out of their way to make sure I felt comfortable. At that time, we were a fairly small team, so it was really intimate and truly felt like a family.

What was your “I’m in” moment?

RS: Taking on a management role was a big accomplishment for me. It was a big opportunity, and I felt like senior leadership believed in me and trusted me. It gave me the opportunity to mentor, coach and encourage, which I am very passionate about.

Describe some milestones in your career.

RS: I moved into underwriting quite quickly. Becoming a Manager and then a Senior Manager were significant achievements. I’m always striving for more in my career, and those promotions validated my efforts and dedication.

What stamp have you put on the business?

RS: My coaching. I strive to help my team members be better, do better and do it with heart. I’m the type of leader that wants to see people advance and I treat people the way I want to be treated. Knowing I played some small part in people realizing their career goals and reinvesting their subject matter expertise back into the company is very rewarding for me. I have also built strong broker relationships, many of which have turned into enduring friendships.  

What are you most proud of in your career?

RS: I was nominated for underwriter of the year in 2012. That was a proud moment for me because that award is broker nominated, and only a small number of people receive a nomination. It was heartwarming to be recognized in such a special way by peers and the mortgage broker community. 

Any favourite memories?

RS: The Christmas parties and our annual broker parties are always memorable. We work hard and don’t get the chance to interact a lot during the day between departments and with various teams. Getting together and celebrating creates such a strong sense of camaraderie. There are many brokers who attend our annual party. It’s great to see people and connect in person. The next day when you talk to them, you’ve just shared a moment with them. It makes the interactions so much more personal. 

Which one of First National’s values resonates with you most and why?

RS: We strive for better. That’s something I try to achieve in both my personal and professional lives. People never stop learning. Even now, after 20 years, I’m still asking questions, trying to learn more and trying to do better. 

From your experience, how does the First National culture value diversity and elevate the voices and perspectives of all team members?

RS: From the moment I walked in the door at First National, I’ve never felt the need to be anyone else other than who I am. I never hid my personal life or felt like being gay was going to hinder me from advancing. In the past several years, we’ve gotten more intentional about diversity. This was not always the case. I was very proud to lend my voice to the inaugural diversity committee and tell my story about being gay and working at First National. I was nervous about it but I was so happy I did it for so many reasons. Having more voices champion diversity improves how we understand and show up for each other. Sharing our stories can inspire others to embrace the freedom of being themselves. I hope the small part I played makes a difference.

What advice would you share with people growing their careers at First National?

RS: Work really hard. Believe in yourself. Be involved and in the moment. Don’t ever be afraid to ask questions. It’s how you’ll learn. Everyone here is so supportive and open to answering any question you may have. 

Any final thoughts?

RS: It is said often, but First National is truly like a family. It may sound cliché, but it’s true. I love the people I work with. I think of them as friends and family. And that applies to everyone, from my team members to senior leadership. 

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