Published April 17, 2001
Volume 9, Number 4

George Rodriguez Finds that Wherever He Goes, It's the People who Matter Most

By Jay Hipps
Network Editor 

In today's business world where people change jobs as often as the seasons change, the old concept of a "company man" would seem to be fading away. 

That's not the case everywhere, however, and it's certainly not true of George Rodriguez, a 10-year Wal*Mart employee who now manages the store in Hacienda's Metro 580 complex. 

"I moved up from part-time sales clerk to store manager in that time," he explains. 

While much of his business education has come at the store, now the most successful retail chain in the country, it started with a family business. Rodriguez, a native of Madera, worked with his parents in an agricultural labor contracting firm, providing seasonal labor crews to farmers in the Central Valley and as far north as Oregon. 

"We would deal with the farmer, providing crews from the foreman on down," he explains. 

George RodriguezIt provided a valuable foundation for his current position. 

"It kind of helped me with what I'm doing now, learning how to deal with people and going through the steps of interviewing, hiring, and retaining employees," Rodriguez says. He spent ten years with his parents' company, which also gave him a chance to study the differing labor laws in Oregon and California and other details of business.

His favorite part of his work at that time was dealing with people. 

"Talking to people about their backgrounds, different cultures and what have you -- I've always been interested in that," he says. "I think that helps me now, too, because I'm dealing with a whole different type of associate. It helps me deal with them one-on-one."

The seasonal nature of the family business allowed Rodriguez to get a taste of a variety of different jobs as well, which he worked in the off season.

"I tried to find out exactly what I wanted to do so it kind of helped me find myself, too," he says. "Is this what I want to do or something else? Things like that."

One of those off-season jobs turned out to be Wal*Mart. 

"I had a couple months break and I figured I'd get a part-time job. Wal*Mart was just starting up so I thought I would try it for a while, until the next season. I never left."

His first job with the retail giant was as a part-time salesperson in the hardware and automotive sales departments, "just stocking shelves and helping customers." 

It also served to open up a new world to him. 

"I had thought that retail was just 'put it up and sell it,' but there was a lot more to it than that and it caught my interest," he explains. "I wanted to know how the merchandise came in and who controlled that and if we had a large stock on hand why we were ordering more. You start finding out about the flow of the merchandise and how you affect it." 

He caught management's attention by taking the unusual step of creating an inventory control system for his department, which they recognized as individual initiative. Soon, he was the department manager and discovering his strong affinity for the retail sector. 

"You feel proud that you have what the customer wants, when they want it, and at a price they want," he says. 

Adding to the complexities of running the store is the constantly revolving seasonal stock, which requires a high degree of planning. 

"The seasons come so quick, you're always planning 30, 60, 90 days ahead," he says. "Easter's here, what are we going to be doing for Easter? You move on and after that there's Mother's Day."

Rodriguez also feels he was fortunate to start with the company prior to the death of founder Sam Walton, whose philosophy largely directed the creation of Wal*Mart's corporate culture. 

"When we opened in Madera it was just the second Wal*Mart in the state, so I got the full Wal*Mart education. They used to beam him in on video from Arkansas to talk about the company and the Wal*Mart philosophy," he says. "Respect for the individual, always strive for excellence, treat people the way you want to be treated. Those are things that I believe in." 

It's interesting to note that many of those tenets were part of Rodriguez's core beliefs even before Wal*Mart, thanks to his experiences both on his own and with his parents' agricultural labor firm. 

"Sometimes you would get yelled at or mistreated and you ask yourself if you would treat someone like that later on in your life or career," he explains. ""I've seen that a lot in my career where you get people that think they're important because of their position and treat people poorly, but I don't believe in that. I don't do a lot of those things that I've seen other folks do because it's not right." 

Rodriguez says that his experience at Wal*Mart has also reinforced his belief in the value of team building. 

"Your associates are the key to your success, so it's important that they're recognized," he says. "They are entitled to the same care as anybody else." 

Those beliefs have served Rodriguez well as he has moved up in the organization, from department manager to support manager, assistant manager, and finally store manager. He's just celebrated his first anniversary as store manager in Pleasanton, which has been a learning experience as well. 

"It takes a little while to learn about your community and the people around you," he explains. "We're trying to be a store that serves the community and you'll see that on the shelves -- it's a very different store from Livermore, even though it's only a few miles away." 

Rodriguez's only regret about his job is that it has kept him separated from his family more than he would like. He has been married for almost 20 years and has three children, one of whom will be entering her senior year of high school next fall. 

"She has lived in one place, Madera, her whole life, so we don't want to move when she has just one year of school to go," he says. "I have an apartment here and we get together when I have time off." Their oldest is in his junior year of college and their youngest is just seven. 

"They'll move to this area next summer," he says. In the meantime, he'll be enjoying the variety and challenges of minding the store. "Every day is different," he notes. "Just dealing with folks makes it fun."

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