Tanya Sanders

Engineering a business executive

How Tanya Sanders blended her background in engineering with her MBA education to become a leader in auto lending at Wells Fargo.

Tanya Sanders’ love for math and science started at an early age. She always had a natural interest in the fields, but one particular experience solidified her passion. Around the second or third grade, Sanders participated in her school’s science fair, for which she built her own solar panel. From that moment on, she was hooked.

Sanders, with a particular interest in renewable and sustainable energy, would go on to earn her degree in mechanical engineering from Clemson University.

“I wanted to figure out how we could get smart about power generation,” she recalled. “From solar panels to water energy through hydro turbines. I went to Clemson thinking I could help solve problems related to sustainable energy.”  

So how did the mechanical engineer come to hold multiple finance leadership roles at major banks like JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America and Wells Fargo?

While the transition from engineering to finance doesn’t seem like a natural one to most people, for Sanders, it all came back to the similarities the two fields have in their shared connection to mathematics and use of data to solve problems.

“Once I started down the engineering path, I became more interested in models and modeling different components in power systems,” she said. “Some of the tools analysts use in engineering are very similar to how to model risk  or value a loan portfolio.”

Sanders’ first role after earning her undergraduate degree was with GE in its Edison Engineering Development Program. The training program had plenty of opportunities for Sanders to be exposed to business principles. With a growing interest in learning how to generate value for customers, Sanders was sure to take every business class she could through optional training programs and academic residencies.

In that time, Sanders’ interest in business grew to the point that she decided to make the career transition into financial services, specifically auto financing, the industry she’s remained in for almost 20 years.

It was during her initial transition to financial services that Sanders recognized the need to deepen her business education to be successful in her newly chosen career path, which led her to the UF MBA Executive program.

For Sanders, the ability to learn in person and on a schedule that still allowed her to work full-time and time with her then-newlywed husband was critical. The UF MBA Executive program also offered her another key benefit – learning alongside a group of other experienced business professionals. To this day, Sanders keeps up with her former classmates and even leans on them for insights.

In addition to the connection to similarly experienced professionals, Sanders noted that the UF MBA Executive program gave her the deep dive into business strategy that she would ultimately take into her subsequent leadership roles in auto financing, first at Bank of America, then at JP Morgan Chase and Wells Fargo, where she currently is Head of Wells Fargo Auto. In her role based in Texas, Sanders leads the team responsible for managing a loan portfolio of over $57 billion and serving more than 3 million customers in vehicle financing through a network of 11,000 dealers nationwide. 

Beyond the work she does day-to-day, Sanders has a particular passion for promoting diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) both at Wells Fargo and through other community organizations. Growing up in a military family, Sanders moved around every couple of years until she graduated from high school, which exposed her to many types of diversity, including cultural, geographic and economic. Once she arrived at college and later in the corporate world, Sanders began to see the challenges that arose when diversity wasn’t valued. It was those experiences that made her the champion for DEI that she is today.

“For me, it’s important to give people a voice, or if someone doesn’t feel heard, that they feel they have someone at the table representing them,” she said.

From her involvement with DEI organizations to her professional career, Sanders has gained plenty of insights that have made her the outstanding leader she is today. Two stand out to Sanders – be flexible and invest in relationships.

Learning to be flexible is among the top insights that Sanders said she’s gained over the course of her career thus far.

“If you had asked me my senior year at Clemson, [working in financial services] wouldn’t have been in the plan,” she joked. “But it’s all about having confidence. No matter where you start, you have to recognize that you have a lot of training that can be applied across a lot of roles.”

Sanders’ best advice for students, investing in your relationships, also stems from her personal experience, both in the UF MBA program and throughout her career.

“We spend a lot of time investing in becoming an expert, but what I’ve found is that investing in relationships and the more you get to understand people, you accelerate your probability for success.”