It’s a beautiful morning, about 9:45, as Mario Villar enters the store. The quick scuffing of shoes and the persistent ringing of phones in the office set the tone for how the day is going to be: demanding. Typing in a seemingly endless code into the computer, clocking in for the day, Villar places his red lanyard around his neck, indicating his managerial position with the company. This is not an ordinary lanyard. From the day Villar started with Sears, he aspired to one day have the right to wear this symbol showing that he had dedicated his time and efforts with the company and proved that he could handle a position of management—seeming long overdue, that right was now his.
As Villar begins his day checking his box, then looking for any shipments received from M&G Jewelers, a brief tone is heard overhead introducing the voice of the store’s general manager: Good morning associates! The time is 10 a.m. and we are opening the doors to the store. Villar continues to gather paperwork, anticipating another demanding day as the voice continues, listing a few rudimentary instructions for any successful place of retail. As the morning greeting comes to a close and Villar finishes preparing, he opens the door from the inside of the office and steps out onto the floor of which he himself is in charge.
Age was never a hindrance for Villar’s success. Growing up the youngest of three siblings, he was inevitably picked on by his older sister, Monica. “I’d always follow her around everywhere she went,” Villar said, “and every time she didn’t want me to go, the water works would start and I would get what I wanted because [my mom] would scold my sister into letting me go.” He always got his way at home, but became a little more subdued as he approached his high school years.
Never really caring about what others thought about him, Villar found an eclectic group of friends to hang out with in high school. “I was discovering myself,” Villar validates why he was not as involved in high school as many of his friends were. Not until his senior year, in 2006, did Villar come out and claim his sexuality. “I’m gay,” Villar stated. Only after his coming out, did Villar claim he felt comfortable in his own skin and had come to terms with his own being.
Fresh out of high school, Villar was hired on at Sears. New to the world of retail, he wasn’t new to work in general. At an early age, Villar helped his dad with their painting business—they went around, painting homes for those who were unable to do it themselves. “It was really refreshing to do the work with my father,” Villar says. “Painting the homes and everything, made me feel that nobody was left out. Even those who could once be considered voiceless were now heard.” It’s this consideration of others that creates a firm foundation for Villar’s ethics as a manager.
“He’s really easy to work with,” says one of Villar’s Fine Jewelry associates, wishing to remain unnamed, “He’s really easy to talk to.” Villar never received any official training prior to becoming manager, but he has always had a natural ability to take the reins and lead. Before being promoted, Villar created the schedule for the Cashier team; this allowed him an opportunity to see one of the tasks a successful manager would need to take on: time management. One of the qualities that this associate finds appealing about her manager is his willingness to do work. “Many times, we think of managers as appointers, but Mario is able to put all prejudice aside and isn’t afraid to get dirty.”
Maybe it’s his consideration or his willingness to work, but Nellie Manriquez, Assistant Store Manager of Operations at Sears, comments that “it wasn’t a surprise at all that Mario was able to achieve what he has.” Villar brought his store to, and remained at, the number one spot in the nation during a national Sears competition to see which store could achieve the highest percentage increase in jewelry sales. It wasn’t until the very last week, did Villar and his team drop to second place—still, a very notable achievement.
“Age isn’t always a factor in determining how someone will succeed with a company,” Manriquez said, “Mario provides us with fresh ideas and has the personality and energy to not only drive sales but maintain a good department.”
To some, it’s unheard of for a 21-year-old manager to beat out an entire nation by increasing sales. To Susan Johnson, Store General Manager of Sears, these accomplishments were anything but surprising. “Mario has matured over the years that he’s been with the company.” Johnson says, “Anything is possible, and it is up to the individuals themselves to achieve it.” For Johnson, it is easy to notice that Villar is “very apt to coaching and feedback, and it is his willingness to adapt to change that allows him to grow.”
From a strict business perspective, Villar claims a lot of his success as a manager, in the national competition specifically, due to his ability to tend to his resources. Undoubtedly, he also listens and takes care of his associates. Creating a business model on success, however, Villar made use of every outlet he could, to push sales: “I used fliers and set out the advertisements as often as I could.” Villar says. Further, he used announcements that were played hourly throughout the store, promoting the deals and discounts of his department. Villar is diligent, consistent and always working toward creating a department that is ‘show-time ready’—characteristics of any successful manager. “I remember a time when Mario first started as a cashier,” his general manager said, “and our store needed credit applications; I set Mario out at the front of the store, and he brought in nearly double the expected amount of credit in one day alone.” Villar’s ability to drive sales and surpass expectation has never been in question, it has never been a point of concern.
Villar doesn’t expect perfection—he expects dedication. “Nobody is perfect,” Villar began, “I can’t expect something unattainable out of my employees. Rather, I expect performance, productivity and hard work from each of my girls.” The Fine Jewelry Department is found absent of any other males aside from Villar himself. In the wake of the nation’s economic crisis, it’s inevitable that Sears had faced a slight decline in sales. Villar’s department, and the store in general, as a result, faced a lot of “down time” during which scarcely any customers would enter the store.
It can be difficult to keep productivity and morale up in a department where there could possibly be no business for five hours, for example. At a young age, Villar understands the importance of recognition: if you recognize the associate and the work they accomplish, he or she is going to be more apt to continue to perform. No matter how small or little the task was, recognize the work that was done.
It’s this communication that really creates a good, solid department. “I believe in the Three C’s,” Villar said, “communication, camaraderie and cohesion.” Traits that Villar feels any successful company should have, these three core values lay the foundation for Villar’s running the department. If a department is able to talk easily with one another, share ideas and listen to different opinions (communication), those within the department will enjoy working together (camaraderie) and once we’ve satisfied this, only then will the department work as a whole (cohesion).
An avid fan of Wicked, a new musical on Broadway inspired by L. Frank Baum’s The Wizard of Oz, Villar uses an idea from the classic tale to solidify his core values: “Dorothy could have gone to the Emerald City alone, but the fact of the matter is she had a group of friends, making her journey down the yellow brick road a simpler and successful one.” It’s not impossible to accomplish tasks alone, but it’s more fulfilling when the tasks are completed with the help of others.
A manager who insists on keeping all power and control is inarguably insecure and falls far from the true definition of a leader. A true manager cannot solely allocate tasks to his associates but must also be willing to listen to them as well. “I don’t just delegate responsibility, I don’t just tell associates what needs to be done, I listen,” Villar says. “I get to know my associates on a personal level which allows me to train them easily and makes them feel comfortable with making mistakes and learning from them.”
A self-proclaimed obstinate, Villar never gives up; he understands that not everything is going to come to him easily. “You have to be willing,” Villar says, “to not succeed sometimes and face the reality of failure.” Villar keeps this mentality on a regular basis, in hopes that his persistence and willingness allows him to reach a level of high management with Sears. “It’s possible,” Manriquez comments, “[Mario’s] passion will make his journey enjoyable, much less stressful.” His general manager, Johnson, finds that where Villar is currently with the company, “he’s very capable” of moving up, very capable of attaining his goals.
Keeping your eyes fixated ahead on a sales target, career goal or simply the Emerald City, can sometimes be a bit dissuading, to some, if immediate success is not reached. Villar perseveres; the vision of attaining success motivates him daily. At such a young age, Villar has accomplished more than many his age have imagined. At such a young age, Villar is able to understand characteristics that a successful manager needs. At such a young age, Villar is able to listen and grow from the experiences of those around him. On a wall in Johnson’s office, a sign hangs, displaying traits all leaders should display. One of those traits, subtle in its appearance but powerful in its message, reads: Leaders make sure people not only see a vision—they live it.