Like many people, Mauricio Romero felt lost after high school and unsure of what he was going to do with his life. By that point, though, he’d already faced many life challenges that taught him valuable lessons he would use later in life.
And while today he’s vice president for retail finance at United Pacific, an owner, supplier, and operator of gas stations and convenience stores in the western United States, it hasn’t been an easy journey.
He was born in El Salvador and his parents immigrated to the US when he was two years old; his grandmother raised him in a small village until they were able to bring him along. When Romero was five years old, his father returned for him and they traveled through Mexico, eventually making it to the United States to reunite with his mother. Romero recalls the sadness he felt during the journey thinking about his grandmother.
Once in the US, Romero had to grow up quickly, taking on many responsibilities at a young age. “Being the oldest of three, I was the one who had to step in and be the parental figure for my younger brothers, because my parents both worked,” he says. “I had to feed them, clean the house, and make sure they did their homework. These responsibilities helped me develop the skill sets to take the lead and be a leader.”
Since his parents couldn’t read English, Romero was also charged with handling all the bills and translating important documents—including calling the telephone company at age ten to dispute a bill—which helped him learn to communicate professionally.
Romero believes his upbringing provided much of the drive and determination he has drawn on throughout his career. “That foundation has helped me in life,” he notes. “It helped me become someone who takes initiative and helped me in my professional career and personal life.”
That turned out to be important, because his high school provided him with no guidance for pursuing a college degree or choosing a career, he says. “After I got out of school, I went to work sweeping floors at a dealership, making minimum wage.” But six months in, Romero took a look at his life and asked himself if it was really what he wanted it to be.
Wanting more, he enrolled in community college while continuing to work to pay for his education. While in college, he found an attraction to numbers, enjoying his finance and accounting classes the most. “Balancing a full-time class schedule and maintaining a job taught me time management skills that have helped me in my professional and personal life.”
Romero was the first in his family to attend and graduate from college, a special moment for him and his family. This milestone helped pave the way for his younger brothers to go on and graduate from college as well. “While the journey was not easy,” he says, “dedication, determination, and believing in myself kept me motivated and focused to achieve a dream.”
Romero later went on to earn an MBA from the University of Southern California, and spent more than fifteen years in leadership roles at TPx Communications (formerly TelePacific Communications), Unified Grocers, and SUPERVALU before being hired by United Pacific in early 2019.
“One thing that’s really important to me as a leader is investing in the growth of our employees by providing them opportunities to learn and grow in their careers, which creates a win-win situation,” Romero says. “Throughout my career, individuals gave me opportunities and invested in my professional growth, and I enjoy doing the same for others. I find that very gratifying from a career perspective.”
In his role, Romero oversees retail finance, business analytics, and pricing for United Pacific. “I provide the analytical muscle to the business,” he explains. “I look for opportunities and see what we can do to optimize the performance of the business.” Romero is currently focused on process improvement and introducing business intelligence technologies to the organization.
That involves working with the marketing team and retail operations team, bringing everyone together to develop tools and plans to grow profitability and align the business with emerging market trends. “There’s a lot of benefit to everyone coming together and identifying issues in the value chain and working together to find solutions,” he says.
Romero has a passion for giving back and helping others—especially young people who may feel the same confusion that he did at their age.
“That’s important to me, because when I reflect on my life, and my journey, if I had known certain things, it might have been a little easier,” Romero says. “Every step is trial and error, and we walk away with lessons. There wasn’t a playbook that was handed to me. I feel I have all this knowledge that I’ve accumulated over the years and the best thing I could do is share [it].”
Some of his advice includes talking with counselors, learning about financial aid, and finding out about college applications—all the things Romero didn’t do because no one ever told him about them.
“If I talk to fifty people and tell them my story and show my map to my success, it’s something I think they will park in the back of their head, and one day it will just click, and hopefully it will motivate them,” he says. “My goal is to give the information and help them drive towards their goals in life.”