TONIKA BRUCE

Business Leadership Watch

business leadership watch: Sara Valderrama

Business Leadership Watch

The Business Leadership Watch is a series that features leaders from different industries, their journeys, insights, and advice for our professional community.

In this edition of the Business Leadership Watch, we interviewed Ms. Sara Valderrama, the head of Talent Acquisition Operations at CITY Furniture. Ms. Valderrama’s journey is one of resilience in the face of adversity, and her insights provide valuable lessons to young professionals on finding and scaling their careers.

Sara Valderrama

Sara Valderrama

Talent Acquisition Operations Manager

Sara Valderrama was born and raised in Ecuador. She attended the Pontifical Catholic University of Ecuador, where she graduated with a Medical Laboratory Technology degree. After which, she moved to Houston, TX, and then in 1999 to Ft. Lauderdale, FL, where she has been living ever since. Ms. Valderrama started her career at CITY Furniture 15 years ago, where she has seen her professional career grow steadily with hard work and dedication. She has held different positions during her long tenure, from Instructional Designer to Learning & Development Manager, to Recruiting Manager, and now as the Talent Acquisition Operations Manager. 

One of the most prominent company cultures at CITY Furniture is family- a value honed through the keen development of talent. As one employee that has benefited from immense growth at the company, Valderrama shares her lifelong habit of learning and personal development through mentoring the team under her wing.

Sara is passionate about helping others achieve their highest potential, either through pairing them up with the right job or coaching them to thrive in their existing roles. An avid learner, Sara enjoys reading and staying on top of current trends in her line of work and is always willing to jump on new challenges. 

1Evolution is a central part of any successful business or leader- they must adapt and change to survive and thrive in the ever-changing marketplace. How have you seen your business evolve in time? What informed these changes and growth?

One of the most important skills anyone can have is adaptability to different circumstances. You can plan every detail of how you want something to play out, and life throws you a curveball, and your plans will mean nothing. 

So, what do you do then? You breathe, rest, analyze, and change the method, never the goal.

That has been my process- keeping the eye on the prize while finding new strategies.

We just saw it when a pandemic hit us, and we all had to modify our lives, work, activities, lifestyles, etc. 

The hiring market changed drastically in a matter of weeks. We went from millions unemployed to a battle for talent, forcing businesses to step up to provide better salaries, benefits, perks, work/life balance to attract candidates. It became a candidate’s market. I don’t remember seeing that in my almost 30 years of living in the US. 

CITY Furniture started a transformation journey 15 years ago, creating a solid foundation with standardized processes, teamwork, problem solving mentality, and great leadership that was key to grow and expand our business despite the circumstances. 

2. How has your leadership style evolved?

I think the first leadership role I had was the hardest. 

The transition from a peer to a leader can be very challenging. I wanted to solve everyone’s problems to show I was a good leader. In time, I realized that the best I could do for my team was teach them to solve problems. 

Encouraging continuous learning is the only way to create a strong team. 

I want to create a team so strong that no one knows who the leader is- I read this somewhere, and it resonated so much with me that I am applying it with my own team.

3. What are the biggest challenges, as a Latina businesswoman, you’ve faced running or starting your business, and how did you overcome them?

Generally, as an immigrant, the biggest challenge was adapting to a new culture, new job, new way of living away from family and friends. I had to learn a new language, a new system, and a new career. 

I had previously owned and managed my own businesses, but they were in a completely different field and country. However, the core values stayed the same: keep learning, better yourself, find a mentor, be open to feedback, and remember your why!

My children have been my biggest motivation and cheerleaders. I had no other choice but to do well on whatever I was doing because they were watching, they still are.

4. What lessons have you learned that you can share with other entrepreneurs and business leaders?

  • Sometimes not getting what you want is the best thing that can happen to you. 
  • Remind yourself every day why you do what you do.
  • You are responsible for your own development.
  • Find the lesson on everything and use that knowledge to move forward.
  • Whatever you do, do it with passion- you never know who’s watching and can offer you an opportunity
  • Success is different for everyone; define what it means to you and work towards that, not anyone else’s image of it

5. In what ways do you think your company culture contributes to success?

Having a culture where your opinions and suggestions are not only valued but are also encouraged definitely helps teams to be stronger. A thousand minds are smarter than one. 

A safe, collaborative, and respectful environment is what makes a team successful.

6.What automation tool or software do you use that has immensely improved your productivity and operations?

Technology is imperative in this ever-changing market to speed up processes and save time. We have been using AI for a while now to communicate with candidates 24/7, pre-screen them, provide information, and even schedule interviews. Candidates can either access it through our web page or through text messages. Our virtual Recruiting assistant has been trained to answer many questions regarding open positions, hiring processes, benefits, and other general inquiries candidates may have. 

7. Today running a business has shifted almost completely digital, and more digital changes are underway with the metaverse talk. Do you think metaverse marketing will give companies an edge in the current market?

Yes- and in employee management, hiring, training, and running teams remotely will be very beneficial in solving the trend of more employees preferring to work remotely or in hybrid work environments.

8. How do you see your industry unfolding in the future? Trends for businesses in this niche to brace for?

The Talent Acquisition industry has evolved and totally transformed in the past two years. It was eye opening for some, a surprise for many, and still for others, a confirmation of what we knew needed to happen. 

Companies realized HR is crucial for every organization, that candidates now have options, that many will not go back to traditional jobs because they were forced to become entrepreneurs and realized they liked it. That work/life balance is more important than ever, and remote work is here for the foreseeable future. 

Organizations will have to adapt to these new demands and treat candidates as they would their customers, finding ways to make the hiring process easier, faster, and more efficient. Talent Acquisition teams now need to evaluate their sourcing strategies, application processes and approach, etc. We no longer have the luxury of choosing from hundreds of applicants; we have to go after them. We have to “sell” our positions. 

Support from hiring managers, Associates, and the company leaders is necessary. Everyone should become a Recruiter for their companies. 

9. What impact do you hope to make in your industry or community?

I don’t have a strategy to become rich overnight, nor a step by step plan on how to become a CEO or own a multimillion company. However, I have experience overcoming obstacles, resilience, rebuilding myself after every challenge, and finding purpose in everything I do. 

It may not be very business-like, but I want to be an example of continuous improvement for my children and those around me. I want to be better than I was the day before; and inspire other women to follow their dreams, be themselves, be bold, and support each other.

10. How have you managed fundamental growth while maintaining a quality product or service offering? What advice would you give other entrepreneurs looking to achieve similar success, especially online?

Set clear expectations and measure the right performance indicators. Setting standards to ensure everyone follows processes the same way to minimize or eliminate mistakes; establishing checks and balances throughout the process to catch defects early and ensure quality of the final product. 

It may seem like it takes too much time, but it really is an investment to maintain and even improve the quality of your processes. 

11. What informs your discipline in business? Take the readers through behind-the-scenes on your typical workday.

  • My day usually starts at 7am. I am not a morning person, so that is already a challenge.
  • By 7:30am, I am drinking coffee and having breakfast- that is the most important meal for me. 
  • By 7:45am, I am already checking my calendar for the day and reading emails.
  • Usually end my work day by 5:30pm. Take a break to eat something, go for a walk, catch up on social media and then get back to work on my future business adventure for a couple more hours. I am educating myself, learning new things, and working on my retirement plan. 

I am extremely punctual and try to be as efficient as possible with my time, but flexible enough to welcome some necessary interruptions to assist anyone in need. 

12. What advice do you wish you had before or during the early stages of your business?

Your college degree is not a life sentence. You do not have to do what you thought you would for the rest of your life. Don’t be afraid to change your path.

13. Do you feel the Latin culture is better prepared for business innovation? Why or why not?

Definitely. The minorities have seen great advancements in the past few years. More and more Latinos are getting access to higher education and opportunities. 

We are introducing our culture in different areas: music, art, business, fashion, etc. We are networking; we are on social media, movies, sports. This is a movement now, but it will be an everyday thing very soon. 

14. What quote or lesson resonates most with your work ethic or personality that you wish others would also live by?

  • Do what you have to do until you can do what you want to do. 
  • Do the best you can with what you have, and then do better. 

15. If you were to write a book about your life, what would it be titled or subtitled?

  • Chronicles of a single Latin mom’s life. A survival guide.

16. Lastly, let’s have some fun. Everyone would be so much calmer in life if they just ate more Bolones (mashed plantain with chicharron). This will definitely keep me happy, maybe not that healthy, but definitely happy. 😊

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My name is Tonika Bruce. I am a registered nurse, a renowned author, and a serial entrepreneur passionate about leading and inspiring people.
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