Leaders in the Limelight: Franz Villa

Written By

Susan Jacobs

September 19, 2017

My name: Franz Villa

My company: Big 5 Sporting Goods

My title: Director of Training and Development

My location: El Segundo, California

Best business advice I ever received: My mentor, Larry Labetz, said this to me more than 10 years ago. “Franz, I know you want things to change immediately. Steering a cruise ship takes a lot longer than steering a tugboat, but don’t worry, because tugboats often help steer cruise ships.”

Most daring personal career move: Defending a stance that I believe in, despite overwhelming opposition. Sometimes recommending the right decision isn’t always easy, especially if that recommendation delays a project in the short term.

Earlier in my career I was very agreeable—not in the sense that I was gullible, but rather, if I presented an idea and received moderate pushback, I would most likely let it be. I can recall several situations when an executive challenged my recommendation, I conceded, and the project went south because I was unsuccessful in defending my stance. I could have saved the organization thousands of dollars and months of extra time had I just been a bit more stubborn.

So on my next project, I was hell-bent on defending my stance and leaned heavily on my knowledge about training and industry best practices. I made sure to have a solution for every problem, rather than a complaint about each rebuttal. It was daring, at least for me, because I was surrounded by so many experienced leaders. But what I discovered was that laying it all out on the line was rewarding, even if others disagreed. Ultimately, I was not sacrificing my standards and professionalism. I did not sell out on myself.

What I’m most proud of: From a career standpoint, I am most proud of what we have accomplished and continue to accomplish at Big 5 Sporting Goods. We have literally transformed the entire learning culture of the organization by revolutionizing the way employee training is communicated, developed, delivered, tracked, and measured. We have successfully introduced training strategies that better connect performance with the overall company ROI in ways unlike what any other retailer is currently doing. I am proud of the results, but most of all I am proud of every single member of the Big 5 team–from our in-store team members and our fantastic store management teams, to all of the corporate team members in each department. Without their efforts and understanding of Big 5’s drive to create and provide best-in-class retail training and career opportunities, our success would not be what it is today.

While that is what I am proud of from a career standpoint, ultimately I am most proud of my family; especially my better half, Gracie, who has been absolutely supportive in all of my endeavors, and our wonderfully amazing son, Daniel, who gives me joy in everything he does.

Current workplace challenge: Technology is a constant challenge, regardless of where one works. Technology is ever-changing, and what is the standard today could be vastly different a year from now. We are very fortunate to live in a time of such technological advancement. There are shiny objects everywhere, and the challenge is determining if a new shiny object matches the long-term goal of an organization, or better yet, if it absolutely doesn’t. Sometimes knowing what absolutely doesn’t apply is more advantageous than knowing what is compatible.

Something people don’t know about me: Let’s keep that one a secret for another time!

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