Power of Discipline: Peter Villegas
Shifting from financial services to consumer beverages may have been difficult, but Peter Villegas is enjoying the transition.
Growing up in Victorville, California, Peter was the youngest of seven boys.
“We were very sports-oriented, very competitive,” he recalled. “And that taught me the value of discipline, team work, and understanding individual roles – those are skills that have helped me throughout my career.”
After graduating from high school, he moved to Orange County, CA and went directly into the work force. His introduction to the financial industry was at its entry level: a bank teller. But that position served as a launching pad to a 25-year career in the banking industry that brought increasing responsibilities. He survived over a dozen mergers with other banks, culminating in the acquisition of Washington Mutual, his then-current employer, by JPMorgan Chase in 2008.
“There’s no class or education where you can learn how to navigate through a merger,” he said. “It’s like building a plane while you’re flying it. You need to embrace the new internal culture while you continue to serve the external needs of the community and consumers.”
In 2014, Villegas was the bank’s National Director for the Office of Corporate responsibility when The Coca-Cola Company came knocking on his door.
Working with Opportunities “At the time, I wasn’t looking for a change,” he said. “I enjoyed banking – but I realized Coca-Cola was offering me a unique opportunity.” The offer to head up an independent department that would focus on the Hispanic marketplace, reporting directly to the president of Coca-Cola North America, included further enticements: a seat on the president’s executive leadership team, and the opportunity to help strategize the company’s growth.
And though the two industries are quite different, Villegas found some common ground.
“It comes down to understanding the various issues and needs of the communities you serve,” he said, adding that a given community in Texas won’t be the same as its counterpart in Florida or New York, it’s imperative that you understand the uniqueness of each community. “You do that by actively engaging with key stakeholders in those communities and the organizations that support them. My responsibilities as a banker included managing those relationships with civic, community and political leaders, and then helping position the bank to engage appropriately. Those skill sets and experiences have been extremely helpful to me at Coca-Cola.”
Three years later, he has no regrets about switching fields. “I get to work for one of the most recognized brands in the world, and I have opportunities to make positive impacts in the community. For example, Coke makes a strong effort to support the DREAMERs in our workforce. We want to be sure they’re successful and continue to make positive contributions to society,” he said.
And those words aren’t hollow “corporate-speak.”
The company backs them up by paying the DACA renewal fees for its DREAMER employees.
That corporate attitude is practical in a couple of ways. The multi-cultural community represents a significant area of growth for any American business today.
“The population shift has been tremendous,” he said. “California, Florida and Texas are already minority-majority states, and 14 more states are expected to have that status by 2020, with Latinos in the lead.” “Coca-Cola is and always has been for everyone,” he said. “We recognize that the success of our business, like many others, is directly linked to the diversity of our associates, business partners and the communities we all serve”.
He added that Coke’s commitment to diversity will help it to capture and retain the talent needed in key divisions to drive the future of the company.
That commitment is accompanied by the need to educate and encourage the next generation of leaders. “When I first entered corporate America, there were not a lot of Hispanics or Latinos in senior positions, people who could offer guidance and advice,” he said.
“But now there are so many prominent Latinos in business, politics, and other professions who can provide great examples to younger workers.”
Commitment to the Future
“We need educate the next generation aware of the range of opportunities that are open to them – anything from education to business to a trade. We need to help them become empowered and independent, so that they can make positive contributions to society.”
Villegas pursues that on a personal level as well. “I’m on the road for Coke about 60 percent of the time,” he said, “and I try to bring my family with me as often as I can.” That enables him to expose his 15-year-old daughter Alisandra to many of the organizations the company partners with. “She gets to see health, education, community and political leadership and workforce challenges in various cities across the country,” he said. “I want these experiences to help develop her as she charts her own life path.”
For his own future, his goals are simple: Connect The Coca-Cola Company’s wide and growing range of products to the Hispanic consumer, keep improving and grow his skill set, and keep the pulse of the consumers’ needs and issues in their various communities. “I also want the Office of Latin Affairs to exhibit external leadership with key organizations – not just as a monetary resource, but one that’s actively engaged with their issues, discussions and strategy.
“Internally, I want to be sure that Latin Affairs is viewed as a business development partner with the Hispanic segment – and one that will always be willing to challenge the company to do what is right.”