BBVA Compass Chairman Manolo Sánchez, who immigrated to the U.S. from Spain, was honored last week in his adopted hometown with an Arrival Award from the University of Houston Law School’s Immigration Clinic.
The clinic bestows the award in recognition of the successes of notable immigrants who call Houston home. Nearly one in four of the area’s residents, more than 1 million people, are foreign-born. They have helped fuel the city’s growth, and own fully 31 percent of its businesses. Sánchez is among the elite of the city’s business class. As CEO of BBVA Compass during the financial crisis and the years directly after, he oversaw the bank’s steady growth in Houston, where it now ranks No. 4 behind only the much larger Bank of America, Wells Fargo and Chase.
It was against this backdrop that Houstonians gathered Jan. 25 at the stately River Oaks Country Club to honor Sánchez and two of the city’s other top business leaders. Proceeds from the evening’s event go to the Immigration Clinic, which has provided pro bono legal services to those in need since 1999.
Sánchez began by talking about his arrival in the U.S., which came in 1982.
“I was 16, and the year before, there had been a failed coup in Madrid,” Sánchez said. “As a teenager, I learned all too well that freedom cannot be taken for granted. Through the work of the Immigration Clinic at the University of Houston Law Center, we get to share our freedom with other individuals who currently have none. Thanks for what you do.”
“As a teenager, I learned all too well that freedom cannot be taken for granted. Through the work of the Immigration Clinic at the University of Houston Law Center, we get to share our freedom with other individuals who currently have none
Sánchez was honored along with Roberto Contreras, president and CEO of private equity and real estate investment firm St. Christopher Holdings, and Pershant Mehta, an entrepreneur and arts patron with a longstanding relationship with the Museum of Fine Arts Houston. Previous Arrival Award honorees include Renu Khator, the dynamic president of the University of Houston, former U.S. Ambassador Eduardo Aguirre, and Farouk Shami, an entrepreneur of Palestinian descent who started the beauty-products empire Farouk Systems.
At the gala, Sánchez’s comments were a mix of the poignant and humorous.
“When I came to the U.S., I lived in New England and Latino culture was not as well-known as it is today,” Sánchez said. “I tried really hard to be called by my first name, Manolo, but it was often mispronounced as ‘Manilow’ or ‘Minolta’ or, worse, ‘Manola.’ And so I settled for Manny. I am grateful for ‘Sex and the City,’ which made a shoemaker by the name of Manolo Blahnik popular. Since then, I’ve been able to use my preferred identity.”