When Walmart Vice President and Regional Manager Elise Vasquez-Warner was transferred from the South Florida region to the Orlando area just over a year ago, she found a supportive network of like-minded professionals at Lifework Leadership in Orlando.
With teaching from nationally-known speakers, case studies with prominent business people, literary discussion and practical life application, Lifework examines the life of Jesus as the best example of leadership and is carefully crafted to engage leaders on issues they face in their personal and business lives.
Having served as a coach for six years after graduating from the faith-based program in South Florida, Warner said it has transformed the way she approaches leadership, especially as it relates to practicing biblical values in a business environment. Now a member of the Board of Directors for Lifework in Orlando, Warner shared how the program as impacted her.
Good News – First, tell me a little bit about what you do for Walmart.
Elise Warner – I am the vice president and regional general manager for region 9. And what that means is I am over 102 stores in the Central Florida area with about 35,000 associates. It’s a big area. I had South Florida; now I have Central Florida. I have everything from the Wimauma area all the way up to St. Augustine and everything in between coast to coast.
Mind you, I have a very awesome team of people at the regional level. On my team I have an HR partner, asset protections partner, compliance partner, health and wellness partner and people over e-commerce for the region. Because it’s a pretty high volume area and the stores are pretty busy, we have our people who are expert in their subject area.
GN – So, you are setting vision at that level?
EW – To a degree, yes. What I am more doing is making sure the vision of the company is executed at a regional level. We call it store of the community. It’s basically an operations and merchandising plan for an area. If you compare Florida to Nebraska or Florida to Oregon or Florida to New York, we’re incredibly different. We’re a different climate, demographic and customer base… We have an amazingly diverse population, and when you think about our weather, it is very different from the rest of the country. So it’s really our job to make sure we have our stores right for our customers in terms of what we’re offering on the side counter – meaning the shelves – and what we are able to provide to our customers in a timely manner. For example when you think about garden centers. Our garden centers here are open year round, but in New York or the northeast you can’t do that.
GN – How did you get involved in lifework?
Elise – I’ve been involved with Lifework for seven years. I was introduced through a gentlemen named Robert Audet. My husband Joe and I had to do something with our finances, and he does wealth management, so he and I met for lunch with my husband, and he brought Ginger Martin (president of American National Bank) to the lunch. They were talking me into doing Lifework, saying. “Do it. Do it.” Finally Ginger said, “You really should give it a shot. If you don’t like it the first couple of times, you don’t have to do it anymore.” But let me tell you, I went to those first couple of classes and I never looked back.
When you think about it, I work for a larger corporation that has a tremendous training program. Walmart really believes in making sure we are equipped to do a great job for our customer with tools, resources and the necessary equipment to do our job across every aspect. Here’s what the complement of Lifework was: I am a believer and I hold strong biblical values. That’s also how our company started. If you look at our CEO today, he’s very much about waking up and doing a devotional, and I just thought I needed to lead differently. I needed to understand how better to lead in that intersection between a biblical worldview and that business and cultural worldview that I was operating in every day. I was just not sure how those two could come together.
Lifework not only complemented what I do at work everyday and how I lead at work, but also at home. It not only helps you at work but also in your life. The title of Lifework is exactly right. It’s not just a life that you lead at work but also that you lead in interacting in your community and with your family.
GN – Can you give me specific things you’ve implemented in your work at Walmart that you picked up at Lifework. What were you able to put into practice?
EW – Having interacted with Lifework for so many years now I don’t know if I could put my finger on just one thing. The first thing that came to mind was the generosity piece. There is a whole class on generosity – to trust in the Lord with what you do with your finances and your family and all the resources He’s given us – whether it be through a great job and having extra income or through your time and your talents. That’s probably the thing that I have really taken to heart and that has impacted our family the most: our involvement with the community, our church, our kids’ school and things we believe in. I can’t say I wasn’t generous before. Its just created a much better reason why we need to be doing that and how we need to lead through that and be examples at every level – for my kids, my associates and the team that I work with. And its not just the money piece. It’s your time and being able to use your time, talents and treasure.
GN – Is there a certain ministry, charity or cause that you support?
EW – Probably what my husband and I choose to support most significantly in Orlando, and even when we were in South Florida, was our children’s school. Our son, Brian, and daughter, Katelyn, have always been at a Christian schools. We think that’s such a ministry and opportunity for people to be a part of not only the faith community but the world.
In South Florida we attended Calvary Chapel and our kids went to Weston Christian Academy. Then our son went to Arch Bishop McCarthy where one of the things we were involved in was the theater program. Now we support our kids’ school, but we are also members of the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts. We support that because our son is so involved in theater, and it’s a great theater program.
GN – Walmart has been a sponsor of Lifework. How do they contribute and why?
EW – I believe Walmart is still a sponsor in South Florida for Lifework, and it is a financial contribution. We have so many associates and so many customers coming through our doors every day that interreact with some of these businesses and people that are a part of Lifework. So, I asked my team, “How do you feel about Walmart getting involved?” The members of my team in Broward and Miami said, “Sure, let’s do that.” And then I had a member of my team go through Lifework: Evie Chitty. She actually left Walmart and became a VP for another company.
When I was living and working in South Florida, my store team there had many positive interactions with Lifework when lifework adopted the schools. Walmart helped with that because we are a strong proponent for schools and kids. Making sure that we support our community through education, it was just a natural fit. At the end of the day, Walmart is such a great community partner. That’s something our founder believes in. It’s something we still believe in. It’s something we encourage at every level. Be it an hourly associate or a member of management, we are encouraged to support our community, so it was a natural fit.
GN – What are some insights and take-aways you’ve gotten from interacting with the students in a coaching role?
EW – As a coach we are there just to kind of facilitate the class. Our sole intent is to make sure the class that is going through it and our participants have a really great experience. But I think if you talk to every coach you would clearly hear about the networking, the intimacy that you have with people sharing things that they normally wouldn’t share in a business environment – the humility you hear, the conversations people have about real world struggles, about something that maybe they are dealing with at work or dealing with at home. It just brings more meaning to each topic that you cover whether it be the integrity topic or the courage topic or the generosity topic.
As a coach, I always think I’m going to share and then I’m surprised by the richness of the conversation from everybody at the table. For example the last Lifework we had in Orlando was about worldview, and John Stonestreet was one of the speakers. He’s the president of the Chuck Colson Center for Christian Worldview, but it was so timely because it was the week of the elections. We discussed how do we choose the people who are going to be leading us, and how do we evaluate them? How do we do our homework to make sure we’re choosing the right people, so we’re not just being influenced by what’s going on culturally. How do we take a stand in what we believe through our interaction with voting and our conversations with people, but do it in a way that brings people in rather than continue to create division? That’s just one example of how it impacted me, but through the speaker, the initiation of dialogue was really rich.
GN – Who would you encourage to go through Lifework?
EW – My HR partner is currently going through the program, and I think the best way to understand Lifework is to go to one of the classes. Listen to one of the speakers. Experience it firsthand. Get engaged and find out if it’s a fit for you.
I tell people it’s really a group of people learning how to clearly intersect the biblical worldview with a cultural worldview – how you can do that with your jobs and how you live every day – and not scare people away. It’s just being able to love on people and know that we may not agree on everything, but we can certainly come to an acceptance and a respect of how each other views things.
The only other thing I would add is that Lifework is not just a class full of people; it’s definitely an area where you are not only going to network, but you are going to have a lifetime network of people – whether you met them one time or just through association of being a Lifework alumni. You have a connection with a community of like-minded people that will support one another. It’s such an incredible supportive network of people.
For more information, visit www.lifeworksouthflorida.com.