AZ Leadership: Mónica Villalobos

Mónica Villalobos is a fan of crunching numbers, and her skills as a data consultant have given her a varied career.

The Arizona Hispanic Chamber of Commerce named Villalobos president and CEO in August. She previously served as vice president of the chamber since October 2012.

She was introduced to the chamber as a consultant in 2011, working on a research project called DATOS — now the organization’s premier research publication — as well as some marketing campaigns.

Villalobos said she is “always amazed” by the collaboration among chamber staff, particularly in emergencies or crisis situations.

“There isn’t a single memory that I can point out,” she said. “It’s really a collection of memories around the teamwork, around how we rally to get things done. We’re a relatively small team, and the fact that we get so much done, I think, is a testament to the teamwork here.”

Villalobos said her background in marketing, research and entrepreneurship has helped prepare her for her latest role. As an entrepreneur, Villalobos managed hundreds of employees; in marketing, she learned how important communication is to small business; and as a researcher, she learned the importance of reliable data and information in connecting buyers and suppliers.

“From a research standpoint, [we ensure] that we’re making data-based decisions and that we’re information-driven and giving our small businesses and our corporate partners the most reliable, relevant and responsible information available,” Villalobos said.

She said her greatest responsibility is to help chamber members while also serving her internal team.

“I look at my colleagues as my internal customers, and my job is really to facilitate their work,” Villalobos said. “It’s exciting to be a part of that.”

Villalobos recently met with the leaders of other minority chambers and business organizations in Arizona, including Robin Reed, president and CEO of the Black Chamber of Arizona; Shon Quannie, interim executive director of the American Indian Chamber of Commerce of Arizona; Vic Reid, CEO of the Arizona Asian Chamber of Commerce; John Lee, president of the Chinese Chamber of Commerce of Arizona; and Ricardo Carlo, president of the Phoenix-based Associated Minority Contractors of America.

“All these minority groups make up the new majority, and it is incumbent upon us to … make sure that we are helping and supporting all of Arizona and Arizona’s economy, especially,” Villalobos said.

Villalobos said her friends and family from out-of-state often ask her why she is in Arizona, of all places, and her response is: “Why aren’t you in Arizona?”

She said 98 percent of all jobs come from small business, and being a part of a business landscape that creates jobs and supports the economy is “incredibly powerful,” especially for Hispanics.

“We have an incredible opportunity to make Arizona a global hub of business, and to be a part of that has been my great honor, and I hope to continue to contribute to that,” Villalobos said. “Arizona’s economy is ripe; there are so many opportunities here for us. We really need to help our minority businesses scale so that they can succeed.”

The Arizona Hispanic Chamber of Commerce uses its research publication, DATOS, not only as a reference tool but as a sales tool, helping people from outside of Arizona understand the benefits of doing business in the state.

“Whether it’s the diverse workforce or the climate, for that matter, there’s year-round business,” Villalobos said. “It’s exciting for us to be able to share the data with those that come in that are interested in doing business in Arizona, and kind of showing off our wonderful state.”

She said she lived in Arizona many years ago and always planned to settle down in Arizona when it came time to raise a family. Now that her dream is realized, Villalobos said the state provides amazing opportunities for her two sons.

“Whether it’s sports or activities or arts or culture, there are a lot of different things they can be exposed to here without living in an overcrowded metropolitan like other areas are,” she said. “We’re still a top-five city, but we’ve got a small-city feel, and that, for me personally, is worth the two months of unbearable heat that we have.”

Villalobos said her greatest professional challenge was becoming a mother. She said she tells people she comes to work just to feel competent, because “nothing will make you feel more incompetent than parenthood.”

She said the lessons she has learned from motherhood have helped her become a better professional and a better leader, refining skills like patience, tolerance and negotiation.

“Having children has really changed the way that I look at my career,” she said. “That was a very large part of my identity; it continues to be, but I’ve also had to make room for myself not just as a professional but as a primary caregiver, as a mother.”

Villalobos said she did not have a lot of role models as a child, but she always looked up to Cesar Chavez, a Latino labor activist who stood up for farm workers’ rights in California in the 1960s and ‘70s.

“I think about his hard work representing the Latino community; also, being able to just be a very real and humane leader,” she said. “He showed his humanity. He was authentic, and I think that there’s nothing greater that you can find in a leader than their ability to be authentic and to be transparent.”

Villalobos said her priority as president and CEO of the Arizona Hispanic Chamber of Commerce is to continue helping minority businesses scale.

“There is a perfect storm going on in Arizona right now… we’ve got a lot of businesses growing very, very rapidly on the minority side,” she said. “They’re growing three-times faster than non-minority-owned businesses.”

Despite their growth, minority businesses are earning a fraction of the revenue that non-minority-owned companies are making — about $110,000 versus about $500,000 — and that gap accounts for $36 billion in unrealized revenue in Arizona, Villalobos said.

“A top priority is making sure that micro-businesses are scaling — that we’re building a pipeline — because we are a small business state; and then also being able to scale those small businesses to be medium and large businesses,” she said.

Villalobos is currently studying to obtain her doctorate from the University of Southern California, so she does not have a lot of spare time.

The time she does have is spent with her children, who both play soccer. If she did not have so much to do, she said she would explore her passion for data and numbers.

“I’m really a geek at heart,” Villalobos said. “I’m like the ultimate nerd, and I love to look at numbers and crunch numbers and find out what kind of story the numbers can tell us.”

Graham Bosch

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