Lessons in Legacy Leadership at Valero Energy

Julia Rendon Reinhart builds on past success to create a strong and viable future for her organization

Julia Rendon Reinhart, VP of Human Resources, Valero Energy

In the fast-paced world of energy and business, timing is everything and change is constant. Valero Energy’s Julia Rendon Reinhart understands this concept well—in a span of just ten years, the newly minted vice president of human resources has navigated her career and greater responsibility with equal parts aplomb, optimism, and respect for legacy.

“I’m not the first to fill the shoes of a great leader,” the San Antonio native and first-generation college and law school graduate says. “You just have to do it carefully and work hard to earn the trust and respect of a great team.”

Reinhart assumed her HR role just one month before her predecessor, Mike Crownover, retired after twenty years at the helm. He served as a mentor to many, including Reinhart, and managed everything from human resources, benefits, and training and development to global security, advertising, and communications.

Reinhart’s previous roles in legal, as managing counsel of labor and employment and eventually as vice president of corporate communications, connected her to her own leadership style. It also prepared her to lead a team of hard-working, loyal employees—in her own way.

“When I came into this role, my first priority was this team,” Reinhart says. “There are three hundred incredibly dedicated people in the HR group, and they all respected and admired Mike. I had to be thoughtful navigating that, but I also knew I had to be true to my personality. I couldn’t be him.”

Three weeks into the new role, Reinhart hosted a team-building staff retreat to share expectations, reiterate the company’s core values, and set her own goals for the future: Be excellent. Be solution oriented. Be value driven for all employees, at all levels of the company.

“I needed to make sure they understood at the outset where I was coming from and where I expected them to go,” she says. “My expectation from the start was that our team would understand our business deeply—and our employee needs—in order to customize HR solutions and be value-added to the business.”

From day one at Valero, Reinhart has challenged herself to live by those principles and bring new perspective to any position she has taken on. Hired in December 2006 as Valero’s managing counsel for labor and employment, Reinhart managed a staff of four before accepting a new challenge in 2007 as executive director of communications. By 2010, Valero had promoted her to vice president of corporate communications, a role that strengthened her ability to engage and serve the interests of a diverse workforce.

The company’s spin-off of a limited partnership in 2006 created a need for a new communications team to steer Valero toward its next chapter of success. To do that, Reinhart drew from her experiences in labor and employment, mergers and acquisitions, and team management to engage employees at both the corporate level and in the field. Valero’s workforce is composed of both union and nonunion employees, so every message and every initiative required a deep understanding of its audience’s needs and expectations.

“It was extremely important to get that messaging right,” Reinhart says. “Whatever the issue of the day might have been, driving those internal and external messages meant understanding what our mission was and how our success was going to be maintained in the future.”

Her communications role soon expanded beyond leadership messages, business updates, and annual reports to include oversight of corporate events such as annual Family Day and holiday celebrations, companywide United Way fundraising, and external support of the annual Valero Texas Open PGA tournament and the related Benefit for Children charity golf tournament.

It was new territory for Reinhart, but it offered new ways to learn about the company and engage its diverse workforce of nearly ten thousand.

“I had never considered a role in event planning, but it actually was very fun,” she says. “I got to know people from across our company and learn what was important to them, in a very personal way. I came face to face with the core of our business as I traveled to our refineries and interacted with our employees there. That feedback helped me understand where people were coming from and what their expectations were for us as their employer.”

As a result, Reinhart has important insights for her current team as they recruit high-caliber talent for a high-pressure industry. From refining operations to cybersecurity, Reinhart supports her staff’s ability to find and recruit the best of the best.

She stresses the importance of emphasizing not only competitive pay and benefits but also Valero’s reputation as a safety-minded, community-oriented premier employer in the refining industry.

“The company has a reputation for putting people first and being very involved in the community,” Reinhart says. “We’re highly committed to developing all aspects of our employees’ lives, from their professional development to the health and wellness of our employees and their families. We know that our employees are at their best when they feel supported in all areas, and our company’s future hinges on that core value.”

As the refining workforce evolves, Reinhart sees diversity as a critical component to hiring the next generation of top-tier talent. Valero receives thousands of applications each month, and one of its biggest challenges is ensuring that applicant pool is as varied as it is talented.

“Our strategy for hiring the best and the brightest begins with knowing who we are and recruiting like-minded individuals who are—or have the potential to be—experts in their field,” Reinhart says. “As a company, our values and principles speak for us in every area where we look for talent—from university recruiting to ex-military to industry groups that cultivate experts in our field.”

Communicating Valero’s commitment to safety, excellence, teamwork, and growth is essential. Reinhart challenges her team to remember lessons from the past and use them as fuel to find new ways to engage.

“Finding and keeping the best engineers out of college is critical to us, but it’s also important to respect the expertise of our long-time workers,” Reinhart says. “Both bring exceptional value to our company. We’re a promote-from-within organization. As a team member, you have every opportunity to develop and grow, so we search for the right fit from the start.”

This means laying a foundation for excellence, from Valero’s successful summer internship program to its deepening roots as a benefactor of community STEM programs.

The potential to hone an even stronger workforce is exciting, and it’s something Reinhart shares with her predecessor. Success starts with knowing where you came from and building on past experiences to decide where to go next.

“The people side of this job is dynamic and ever changing,” Reinhart says. “I find it satisfying to help people get through challenges and be happy at work. Deep down, I’ve always been passionate about problem-solving, and I hope that passion drives its own legacy in leadership here. Every day is a chance to be positive, to move the needle, to make a difference.”