Vincenza Caruso-Valente of Sterling: The Future of Retail Over The Next Five Years

September 3rd, 2020

Interview written and published by Authority Magazine.

As part of our series about the future of retail, I had the pleasure of interviewing Vincenza Caruso-Valente.

Vincenza is the General Manager of Sterling’s Staffing, Retail, and Franchise group at Sterling — a leading provider of background and identity services. She previously held SVP roles leading teams that supported Sterling’s largest clients in Staffing, Retail, Gig, and Tech. She also played integral roles in Sterling’s M&A growth strategy. Her teams are dedicated to consulting clients on building best-in-class programs, optimizing the candidate experience, managing scale in growth eras, reducing time-to-hire, and driving profitability. Prior to Sterling, Vincenza spent over 11 years in leadership roles in sales, business development, and finance at Dun & Bradstreet, AT&T, and EDS.

Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

At my core, I have always had a great passion for service and problem solving. At the age of 10, I watched my parents start their business (still successfully running today after 34 years!) out of the basement of our home. I learned so much, working alongside them. They taught me everything about the importance of work ethic, taking pride in my work and defining success not just by delivering product to their clients, but by how clients responded to what was delivered to them — did it meet and exceed their expectation? — and earning it every time. Out of college, I started my career in business and, several years later, this brought me back to my roots in retail and I have often returned to what I had learned as a kid while working alongside my parents and being in direct contact with clients on a daily basis (more to this story, later).

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

One of the most interesting things that happened to me was during a sales kickoff conference many years ago. I was a new leader at the time, trying to find my way and develop my leadership style. At this kickoff meeting, one of our days was spent doing volunteer work in the city where the conference was held. I was assigned (on the same day as the event) to lead a team of 20 people in building a wheelchair ramp for an elderly couple who could no longer use the stairs to their front door. Owning and executing this task was overwhelming and I was scared of failing and disappointing my organization and the elderly couple who were counting on me to lead the project. We had been given only four hours to complete the build, and to add insult to injury, what was forecast to be a sunny 80-degree day quickly turned into a 3+hour rain storm. I could tell that many on the team felt uncertain on how we would get it done. At my biggest moment of pressure and anxiety, I found an unwavering desire to complete the mission at hand. I strategized my approach to the situation, communicated to my team and knew that by engaging others and simply leveraging the strengths of every single person in our team — whether it be their ability to use a drill, manage a power saw, serve lunch, or be on clean up duty — each person had a part to play. Together we finished the project, even in the middle of the pouring rain. We found a way to work together. Nothing was more gratifying than being able to invite the couple out of their home at the end of the day to deliver them a fully built wheelchair ramp. Their gratitude has forever stayed with me, along with the profound power of people working together toward a shared goal. No one person is responsible for the success of something — it’s the ability of people deciding to rally together — and have each other’s backs — to get to that end goal. This one experience offered me a great leadership lesson that has stayed with me over the years.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson or takeaway you learned from that?

Right before I started my career in sales about 14 years ago, I stood in for one of my peers in another sales office for the week. I walked into the office thinking it would be a week of fun, exciting sales calls with clients and contract signatures. And while we did have some good times in the office that week, I was not prepared for some of the harder situations that occurred, which included losing a new sale that was in the forecast for the whole quarter, leading through the emotion of the loss of this deal felt by the sales rep and team, and galvanizing the team back from the loss. It was a great lesson on humility, preparation and leadership that has stayed with me ever since.

Are you working on any new exciting projects now? How do you think that might help people?

I am currently working on an initiative to enable continued safety in our communities by facilitating and incorporating COVID-19 health testing as part of our service offerings to our clients. It is exciting to be part of an organization whose focus on building a foundation of trust and safety continues to evolve in these ever-changing times. We are able to continuously support clients’ safe hiring practices so that they can deliver a safe experience to their customers and get their employees safely back to the workplace. It is very humbling to be a part of the team making it all happen.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

My tips are simple but important:

  1. Stay connected to everyone in your network as often as you can — both personally and professionally. Take time for 1 on 1 interactions with your team and your colleagues, whether virtually or in the office. Connect with family and friends and — most importantly — take time for YOURSELF. The personal connections are critical to staying centered; time alone is equally important. I have built a habit of taking a two-mile walk by myself at the end of each day, at least three times a week, to help wind down and reflect.
  2. Keep things in perspective. Remember that the uncertainty we have been experiencing at work, home, and in the world around us has taught us to be resilient and understand ourselves better. Be proud of what you have been able to work through, even if it is as simple as getting through a conference call. Determine when to tune in and tune out what is going on around you and not let it consume you — balance is key.
  3. Restructure how you plan. We are living in a very fluid world right now, which requires agility. If you are used to planning out longer term, shift your planning to be more for 1–3 month game plans.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

Approximately 14 years ago, a few leaders and peers invested in me and my aspiration to move out of a corporate leader role and into the sales side of our business. Over the course of 18 months, they each played a critical role in teaching, coaching, and helping me build my skillset and knowledge to make the leap. I will be forever grateful to that team of six peers and two executives who helped and challenged me along the way.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

I am very proud to have worked for an organization like Sterling for the last 10 years. Our goal is to help organizations make safe and smart hiring decisions by delivering on our mission to develop a foundation of trust and safety. From driving an organization’s business objectives to hiring the best talent and enabling people to get jobs that progress their careers and support their families, the meaningful work we do — for the organizations we partner with and the people they hire — inspires me daily. It is a great reminder to me what we do every day matters. I extend that same simple message to my team and colleagues daily — what they do every day matters.

Ok super. Now let’s jump to the main question of our interview. Can you share 5 examples of how retail companies will be adjusting over the next five years to the new ways that consumers like to shop?

Yes, retailers are no strangers to change in the needs of their consumer and employees. In this environment, like in many before, retailers will need to:

  1. Reset business models to meet their customer and employee expectations.
  2. Modernize the experience they provide by evolving how they deliver a great product and service to their consumers. It will be important to understand how traditional and evolutionary delivery methods can co-exist successfully (brick & mortar + BOPIS + e-commerce).
  3. Prioritize SAFETY in their business model, both for their consumers and for their employees. Their employees need to feel protected and know that they will be trained on tools and processes available to them to stay safe when coming to work, so they can do their jobs and be set up for success in serving customers. Customers equally want to know they will be safe by having confidence that the people who are serving them are being treated well and following safety protocol, as it will directly impact their confidence and experience as a consumer. If their employees feel confident and safe, it will be felt by their customers.
  4. Be agile. The last several months have shown that our daily life situations can change quickly. Adapting quickly to the environment around them and how quickly consumer sentiment and spending habits may change (need vs. want) takes on new importance in times of uncertainty and change.
  5. Assess more frequently how well their strategies are working, pausing more frequently for feedback and having contingency plans.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 

I have learned through these past several months of the COVID-19 pandemic how essential we are to each other — how human, yet amazing, we all are as individuals — and how much we have to be grateful for that we may have taken for granted. A great example is how essential grocery and convenience store employees are in our everyday routines. Not having the ability to pick up my cup of coffee daily — or a gallon of milk or loaf of bread — makes us all realize how critical those interactions and daily habits are to our personal and professional wellbeing. I have witnessed some amazing acts of kindness and selflessness, both in my personal life and professional life. As individuals, we are capable of having a profound impact on society in what we do daily. I do my best to live by my mantra: Leave it better than how I found it (whatever it may be).

How can our readers follow you on social media?

You can follow me here on LinkedIn!

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

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