Victoria E. Villalba is the president and CEO of Victoria & Associates Career Services Inc., and a 2009 Anna Maria Arias Memorial Business Fund recipient.
Nineteen years ago, during my mid-20s, I was working for a South Florida staffing firm that was sold. Facing the choice of leaving or staying in a less challenging position, I decided (with the support of family and friends) to open my own staffing firm. I just had that desire to set up a staffing firm that I would be proud to be a part of, so I did.
I had worked since the age of 12. I cleaned homes, sold drinks at the neighborhood car inspection, mowed lawns, worked at the neighborhood floral shop and animal hospital. I worked as a temporary employee in high school and earned a degree in Personnel Management from Florida Southern College and a degree from Nova Southeastern University, but lacked start-up capital. Thinking creatively, I convinced Royal Caribbean International, a former client, to give me a cubicle in its offices where I could recruit all of its reservationists. Several months later, I persuaded the cruise line to expand Victoria & Associates Career Services to external clients. By remaining on site at the cruise lines offices, I kept my start-up costs low. I was able to found the company with a $10,000 loan from my parents and $5,000 from my own savings.
The business was built by focusing on exceeding customerâ€™s expectations and by tapping my extensive South Florida network of contacts. Things went â€śextremely wellâ€ť for a couple of years, until I began having horrible headaches, which grew more severe until they finally drove me to the emergency room. At age 30, I was diagnosed with a brain tumor. The surgery, which doctors did tell me could leave me blind, turned out â€śperfectâ€ť. At age 39, doctors discovered a hole in my heart and patched that! My mother and dearest friend reminded me that I was very fortunate as she had heard of so many women suffering from broken hearts and that I should count my blessings that I just suffered from a hole! I had my heart patched and knew that God had a purpose and plan for me. Life is a journey and a gift.
My illnesses were never setbacks nor did they ever change my passion or my drive. Victoria & Associates now has offices in Miami Dade and a satellite office in Broward County with our on-site at Royal Caribbean International. Our company has placed over 17,000 employees since incorporating in 1992. Without a doubt I feel that this is my calling. After years of working extremely hard to expand the business, I have experienced both highs and lows. Each and every day, I learn something new about myself, the industry and people. We are not selling copy machines, we are working with people, and that is what makes this business special and exciting.
I live with no regrets. You do not have to be a workaholic to be successful. I instill a strong work ethic in our team but encourage a healthy balance. I did not have this at the beginning. It was not healthy for me, my family or my team!
When I opened the satellite office in Broward years ago, my daughter was 10; I made sure it was near the house and on the bus route. Vicki would come in after school and if I worked late, she was able to be with me. My daughter has just graduated from college and has started her career in Washington, D.C. My hope for her is that she learns at a very early age to find balance and a career that she finds is her calling.
Each chapter in this lifeâ€™s journey has been filled with passion, determination and drive.
I want to express my thanks to LATINA Style Magazine and the Anna Maria Arias Award. I was honored to be surrounded by such warm and amazing entrepreneurs. Thank you for reminding me to never forget where we came from.