Success in any field requires an edge, Raul Villar Jr. ’89 told students in Assistant Professor of Management Zahra Heydarifard’s Global Dimensions of Human Resource Management course. “Whatever motivates you or inspires you, whatever the chip on your shoulder is, you have to leverage that to push your success,” said Villar. “You always have to be chasing something because if you're not, you're actually going in the other direction.”
Returning to Bryant as a guest speaker, Villar, the CEO of international human capital management platform Paycor, shared the lessons he’s learned in his journey from sales representative to CEO.
“I sat in the same seats you’re sitting in now, a little more than 30 years ago,” Villar said, noting how his experiences as a Bryant student, including meeting his future wife, have shaped his life. “I'm on a group chat every day with at least 20 people from Bryant that I went to college with.”
Bryant’s Global Dimensions of Human Resource Management course is designed to provide future HR leaders with the skills, techniques, and knowledge to meet the unique challenges of an increasingly globalized world. In a high energy conversation with the students, Villar explained how developing skills in collaboration, strategic planning, perseverance, analytics, and problem solving were the keys to thriving in a fast-paced business world. He also took questions on managing an international workforce, bridging cultural divides, and how, in his role as a CEO, he helped to steer a company forecasting more than a half-billion dollars in revenue.
“I think the biggest cultural barrier that we have with any company that we acquire, whether it's domestic or international, is trust,” noted Villar. Building that trust, he said, means relying on a diverse team and working to understand your partners. “I have a phrase I use with my team, ‘Put your elbows in and your hands out instead of your elbows out and your hands in,’” Villar noted.
In addition to discussing the intricacies of his work and the nuances of international business, Villar spoke with the students — all juniors and seniors preparing to begin their professional lives — about what they could do to create their own successful career paths.
“The riskiest assignments in your company are the jobs that no one ever did before. And they're the best ones to take—if you want to bet on yourself."
One of the guiding precepts of his life, Villar said, came from his mother. “She always told me, ‘You can do whatever you want to do as long as you work hard. Don't let anyone define what you can do or you can't do,’ ” he reminisced.
He offered that same advice to the students. “A lot of people are going to tell you what you're not good at,” he said. “Focus on what you are good at instead. Put yourself in a position to leverage your strengths. Figure out what you really like, what creates passion, and what you're good at—and then do it. Don't let someone tell you, ‘I want you to be different than who you are,’ because that’s never going to work. Be who you are. If you do that, you will be a better person for it.”
He also encouraged students to find opportunities to try new things as they enter the workforce. “Find great companies and find growing companies because they're adding new jobs, they're adding new leaders, and they're investing more in the company,” he suggested, noting that when he started his first job at ADP—he interviewed for the position on campus through Bryant’s career services office—they generated $700 million in revenue. Today, they’re at $15 billion. “They say high tides raise all boats,” Villar said. “If you want to be on a high tide, find a growth company.”
Rising to the occasion, he said, also means putting yourself on the line. “The riskiest assignments in your company are the jobs that no one ever did before. And they're the best ones to take—if you want to bet on yourself,” he advised, noting that volunteering for those opportunities had been essential throughout his career.
“Sometimes, they didn't all work out,” he admitted, “but the people around you look at you and say, ‘They're stepping up. They're willing to take on risk. They're trying to help the company and they put the company first.’ ”
“Build a plan, think about the skills you’ll need, and then start to execute that plan.”
Standing out doesn’t have to mean stepping over others, stated Villar, arguing that the best advice he could give was to treat others well. “Do the right thing every day and make the right decision the right way. Treat your peers the right way and treat your direct reports the same way,” he entreated. “Business is competitive, we all know that but, in the long term, doing the right thing is the best thing that you can do.”
Being the best version of yourself, Villar advised the class, means constantly striving to learn and grow. “Everyone's in a rush. Everyone wants to get promoted immediately, everyone wants to make more money immediately. You have 40 years to be successful,” Villar reflected. “At every step, think about what you’re trying to accomplish.”
He gave the class a homework assignment that he promised would pay dividends. “When you go home tonight, I want you to write a timeline: take today's date and take the date you want to retire,” he recommended. “Build a plan, think about the skills you’ll need, and then start to execute that plan.”
Hallie Campbell '23 left the class feeling energized and ready to put what she’d learned to use. "As a senior trying to figure out what to do with my life, the advice he shared really resonated with me," she said. "Hearing about where he came from and what he's done was really inspiring."