Coming from the barrios of East Los Angeles, Lora Villarreal began her career in human resources when she fibbed about her age for a job at Sears, Roebuck and Co. "I said I was 16 when I was only 15. I didn't have much money and I needed a job," says Ms. Villarreal, executive vice-president and chief people officer of Affiliated Computer Services Inc. (ACS) and one of Hispanic Business magazine's Outstanding Women to Watch of 2008. While she doesn't recommend anyone fibbing on their job interviews, she says that first job taught her a valuable lesson. "That's when I first found that I enjoyed working with other people and learning from them."
This early beginning helped launch her remarkable career in business, human resources, and administration, which ultimately led to leadership positions at companies across the nation and in Mexico. Her first HR job was with the Southern California Edison Company, where she learned the challenges of managing people and benefits. Her career path then went into ascendancy as she worked as president of the Human Resources Group, vice-president of human resources of Transamerica Real Estate Information Companies, and vice-president of administration for First Data Resources at a start-up operation in Mexico City.
"I always say I know enough to be dangerous," Ms. Villarreal says with a smile.
Today at ACS, Ms. Villarreal has a staff of 240 people worldwide, but considers ACS's 60,000 employees to be her bosses.
"When I have a workforce of 60,000--a mixed workforce that includes baby boomers, and younger employees from generation X and generation Y--everybody wants something different," she explains. "I have to find a balance to make everybody happy."
In trying to create a situation that satisfies everybody, Ms. Villarreal spends her days counseling and coaching employees. She travels a great deal in order to conduct "what's on your mind" meetings and gather ideas for improvements.
Ms. Villarreal is also active in the community. She is a member of the Executive Women's Council, Greater Dallas Chamber of Commerce, Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, American Society for Training and Development, and the Society for Human Resources Management. In addition, she was one of 25 Hispanic women to attend the National Hispanic Leadership Institute, a program that prepares women for leadership roles. In her "spare time" she mentors high school students and teaches them about the business environment, self-esteem, and business etiquette.
For Ms. Villarreal, her roots and values are the backbone of her work.
"In our culture, our values are our greatest asset. Some people don't realize that our values are worth their weight in gold. I would never jeopardize my values," she says.
"Don't ever forget where you came from. Ever! Just because you've reached a point in your life, put down your hands and reach down and help the other person."
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