Fresh from celebrating Fender Mexico’s 25th anniversary, Sergio Villanueva is quick to point out that milestones don’t come easy. He recalls the devastating fire that wiped out Fender Musical Instruments Corporation’s guitar factory in Baja California, Mexico, in February 1994. “The building was a total loss, and hundreds of jobs hung in the balance,” says Villanueva, senior vice president of global manufacturing for Fender. The facility was rebuilt with the help of hundreds of workers offering to do anything from laying cinder block to mixing cement. Here, he shares how he’s helped build a true familia Fender.
Describe your role in five words or less:
Keep the guitars & amplifiers coming!
I hear you’re a guitarist. Does playing the guitar helps you in your role at Fender?
Yes, when time allows, I play classical guitar as a hobby—or, as I say, to annoy myself because I’m not very good! (Laughs) But there is no question that playing and spending time with guitars helps me to consider and have high expectations for the quality of the products I am responsible for.
What is the best advice you ever received?
Because so much of manufacturing is about process improvement and problem resolution, the most helpful advice I’ve received was to ask myself, “What problem am I trying to solve?” as a means to understand what the true root of problems are, rather than wasting time on the symptomatic problems that come from them.
Name three of your favorite guitarists:
Pavel Steidl, Sergio Vallín, Walter Giardino.
What was the most memorable concert you’ve ever attended?
Taking my two daughters to see Maná earlier this year in Los Angeles. It was amazing, and they enjoyed it very much.
What’s one thing people would be surprised to learn about you?
Responsibility for making guitars is my second career. The first was building race cars—a path that had me working in England building Formula 1 cars for three years.
What advice would you give to others hoping to follow in your footsteps?
My advice is to always be open to learning, enjoy working within a team, pay close attention to the metrics, and strive to be better at what you do everyday.
What’s your favorite part of the workday?
Without question, the best part of the day is when I make time to walk the factory production floor, talking to happy, engaged workers, and admiring the amazing musical instruments that they make!