Subramaniam Kumar: IT architecture at Freddie Mac
A global perspective and a penchant for transformation have brought this tech pro to Freddie Mac, where he’ll lead and oversee an infrastructure overhaul
The Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation (Freddie Mac, McLean, VA) was established by Congress in 1970 to provide liquidity, stability and affordability to the nation's residential mortgage markets. By providing mortgage capital to lenders, Freddie Mac now helps finance every one in five home loans.
Soon after joining the company in 2009, Subramaniam Kumar was named vice president of infrastructure engineering and architecture in the IT division. “This division has two parts,” Kumar explains. “One part is focused on developing business applications. The second part is the backbone infrastructure: the plumbing of the technology that runs the network and the data centers.”
He’s responsible for delivering infrastructure solutions to the business. “It’s a hardcore, highly technical role and the people I manage all have, on average, fifteen years of experience in their specialties.” Seven directors report directly to him. The team has about seventy members whose backgrounds range from electrical engineering to computer science and IT.
“Any company or organization needs to prepare for business continuity,” he explains. “Things can happen where a building is having issues and the IT area has to be run out of a different data center. Or, as in the case of 9/11, there may be complete disasters.
“Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae (the Federal National Mortgage Association) guarantee about 75 percent of U.S. mortgages, representing about $5 trillion. The IT area has to have solid business continuity. Our backup center can’t be in the same area as our primary facility here in northern Virginia, so Freddie Mac is working with IBM to build a data center in Boulder, CO,” he says.
“Our group will ensure that the new center’s server and network gear get provisioned, the networks are connected, and the data’s in sync.”
Kumar and his team are also working on a new joint venture between Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae called Common Securitization Solutions, LLC, a platform intended to help securitize home loans and consolidate some redundant functions. “This is part of Washington’s housing finance reform,” he explains.
Before Freddie Mac
Kumar held senior leadership roles in IT infrastructure for Morgan Stanley (New York, NY), Prudential Financial (Newark, NJ) and, most recently, Goldman Sachs (New York, NY). “From the day I started my career doing consulting back in India, it was always with financial institutions,” he says.
“I was the black sheep of the family,” Kumar smiles. “My family is full of doctors, but I didn’t want to be a doctor. My passion is math, and I wanted to be an engineer.”
He attended the University of Madras (Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India) where he earned a 1980 undergrad degree in math and computer science. Kumar stayed at Madras and got his masters in operations research in 1982.
That year, he joined Tata Consultancy Services (Mumbai, India). “They came on campus and interviewed one hundred people and hired four of us. They were focused on IT projects and management for global companies. I started as a trainee working in the consulting division. After one year of training, I started traveling abroad working in the United States, the U.K., the Middle East, the Far East, Australia and Belgium. Client assignments lasted from three to six months. There were language differences, cultural differences, and technology differences,” Kumar remembers. “In terms of diversity, this was great exposure for me.”
In 1987, Kumar was working in London where he interviewed with Morgan Stanley. The company sponsored his visa to come to the United States as a consultant.
“Then in 1987 there was a big market crash. I worked in a room with a group of other consultants, and everyone was let go except me. I was waiting for my turn but my turn never came. At the end of the year, I was offered a fulltime position and I stayed with the company for ten years. By 1997, I was vice president of engineering responsible for data solutions.”
In 1997, Kumar joined Prudential Financial as head of asset management technology and R&D.; Kumar was the primary lead for launching Prudential’s Internet-based B2B business.
In 2000, Kumar joined Goldman Sachs to launch online B2B operations for its equity and private wealth management businesses. “Morgan Stanley had a pretty aggressive Wall Street culture,” notes Kumar, “while Prudential was a little more laid-back. Goldman Sachs had a super aggressive culture. They wanted to get things done literally overnight.
“As vice president of infrastructure, the work that I was doing at Goldman had to be ‘bleeding edge’ technology, not just leading edge. You had to take risks and do it before anyone else.” By 2009, Kumar was leading a global critical infrastructure group he had organized.
In the meantime, as a result of the market crash in 2008, Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae entered government conservatorship. “They had big challenges,” Kumar says. “This is the type of business environment I prefer – one where problems are so huge that they require huge transformations. One of my former colleagues at Morgan Stanley was now CTO at Freddie Mac, and he called me to see if I would be interested in coming over.”
It required moving his family from Princeton, NJ, where they had lived for nineteen years, to northern Virginia. He joined Freddie Mac with no direct reports but with a mandate from his boss to learn the culture, evaluate the employees, and create a new structure called “Plan, Build, Run.” This process evolved into his current role.
A diverse perspective
With almost thirty years of IT and business experience working for glo-bal organizations, Kumar has a rich perspective on diversity; in fact, he runs and manages the diversity and inclusion program for IT. As an Asian Indian immigrant, he is passionate about diversity and inclusion and the value and strength it adds to an organization.
“How do we bring in diversity of ideas?” he asks. “How do we bring in diverse talent? I see diversity not only as race and gender but also as differences in thought processes.”
Kumar believes that Freddie Mac will grow and sees himself growing with the organization. For now, he says, “The type of work that keeps me and my team busy is solving enterprise-level business problems by developing the right infrastructure that is reliable, scalable and secure.”
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