When Juan Galarraga moved to Miami from Venezuela at age 18 on an athletic scholarship, he had no idea he was about to embark on a journey that would take him to the headquarters of a Fortune 500 company. He simply filled out a résumé, donned khaki pants and a red shirt, and accepted an overnight shift at a Target store in Boca Raton, Florida. Fifteen years later, as the company’s *vice president of stores supply chain, he relies heavily on lessons learned during his tenure with the 36th largest company in America. Galarraga recently sat down with HE to talk about life in Minneapolis and what it means to be “living the American Dream.”
When you were unloading trucks at midnight, did you ever think you’d wind up working in Target’s HQ?
Never for a minute. I was just looking for a job, not a career, but my wife was working for Target, and I fell in love with what I saw from them. The brand, their commitment to community, and how they treated their guests and team members.
What are three websites you can’t go a day without checking?
Target.com, of course! After that, I am a hardcore soccer fan and have to check in on Barcelona and other teams in La Liga. Also, I start my day with a cup of coffee and read world news on Flipboard.
If you could travel in time to your college-age self, what college class would you tell yourself to drop? What would you replace it with?
Honestly, nothing. When you’re living the American dream, it’s impossible to want to change anything.
What has been one key piece of advice you’ve been given that you always draw upon?
An early mentor taught me to work hard and play hard and strike the right balance in life.
If you could learn another language, which would you learn and why?
Chinese. From a business standpoint it seems the most practical, and it would be a good challenge.
What happened to make you stay?
Target has invested and believed in me every step of the way. At a very early stage in my career and a very young age, I was given the opportunity to be in management positions, ran two different stores, became a district manager, was promoted to a group director of 60 stores and 5,000 team members, and eventually I was overseeing all operations in South Florida. Three years ago, I was asked to oversee the operational processes at more than 1,600 pharmacies, but that required the move to Minnesota. This August, I got another phone call to take the position with stores supply chain as a vice president. I am literally living the American dream. Target has embraced my diverse background and experiences and given me the opportunity to soar.
It can be rare these days for a vice president to have entry-level experience at his company. Has that helped you?
For sure. Moving to this country from Venezuela at age 18 taught me a lot of things. I didn’t know a person here or even the language, so I had to practice the hard work and perseverance my parents instilled in me. Target was the first place I could really put that into practice on a professional level. After 12 years in the stores and then coming to HQ in a leadership role, I feel like I keep this in mind and have the chance to pass it on to other ambitious people. Having the credibility of having done entry-level work is an asset. I used to execute best practices; now I write best practices.
What is most important in your current role?
We make sure that no matter where you are, the item you want is on the shelf when you walk through our doors.
I’ve been blessed to lead incredible teams during my time with Target. I have people with distribution backgrounds, external expertise, tech and digital skills—we are a varied group and also have brand new college recruits. I’ve learned in my career that it’s okay when your team members are smarter than you in some areas, because they push forward your overall goals if you harness that in a way that empowers your team.
You have to embrace that and not feel threatened as a leader.
Right. I came to the United States on an athletic scholarship. I was the best and fastest soccer player where I lived. Then I got here, and I felt small and slow. That’s when I realized it’s not about you being the best; it’s about you contributing to the bigger team and being okay with your role.
What’s changing most for your team?
How we deliver online sales. We are rolling out a flexible fulfillment initiative to allow our guests to order online and pick up [their order] at any physical Target location. Our guest is no longer just the person who walks in the front door, but also the person shopping from her couch. We can leverage our more than 1,800 locations to serve that customer well.
What has helped you find success in the industry?
From the moment I first moved to this country by myself, I have learned to work hard, dream big, and, most importantly, never forget where I came from. I owe my career success to my parents who instilled those values in me at a very young age. My dad taught me to work hard while my mom taught me to dream big. Target has invested in me many times and allowed me the space to grow professionally without changing who I am. I hope to do some of that for others now, too. At Target, I’m the executive sponsor for the Hispanic Business Council; outside of Target, I’m working with the corporate executive forum at the Hispanic Association on Corporate Responsibility to build a network with leaders across various industries. It’s so motivating to see how regardless of who we work for or what we do, we all want to help pave the way for others.
It’s not so much what’s next for my career now. I want to be a great dad and husband at home and a great boss at work. I’ve led the Hispanic Business Council at Target with more than 1,000 team members participating. I love helping come up with tactics and events to develop and retain team members and help in our communities. I want to be good at what I do and help others to achieve their highest potential. Not only do I enjoy doing this, but it is a responsibility that I carry with me.
Juan Galarraga recently assumed the role of senior vice president of Target stores in the mid- and northwest regions.