GROWING up in Victorville, California, Peter was the youngest of seven boys. "We were very sports-oriented, very competitive," he recalled. "And that taught me the value of discipline, team work, and understanding individual roles--those are skills that have helped me throughout my career."
After graduating from high school, he moved to Orange County, CA and went directly into the work force. His introduction to the financial industry was at its entry level: a bank teller. But that position served as a launching pad to a 25year career in the banking industry that brought increasing responsibilities. He survived over a dozen mergers with other banks, culminating in the acquisition of Washington Mutual, his then-current employer, by JPMorgan Chase in 2008.
"There's no class or education where you can learn how to navigate through a merger," he said. "It's like building a plane while you're flying it. You need to embrace the new internal culture while you continue to serve the external needs of the community and consumers." In 2014, Villegas was the bank's National Director for the Office of Corporate responsibility when The Coca-Cola Company came knocking on his door.
Working with Opportunities
"At the time, I wasn't looking for a change," he said. "I enjoyed banking --but I realized Coca-Cola was offering me a unique opportunity." The offer to head up an independent department that would focus on the Hispanic marketplace, reporting directly to the president of Coca-Cola North America, included further enticements: a seat on the president's executive leadership team, and the opportunity to help strategize the company's growth.
And though the two industries are quite different, Villegas found some common ground.
"It comes down to understanding the various issues and needs of the communities you serve," he said, adding that a given community in Texas won't be the same as its counterpart in Florida or New York, it's imperative that you understand the uniqueness of each community. "You do that by actively engaging with key stakeholders in those communities and the organizations that support them. My responsibilities as a banker included managing those relationships with civic, community and political leaders, and then helping position the bank to engage appropriately. Those skill sets and experiences have been extremely helpful to me at Coca-Cola."
Three years later, he has no regrets about switching fields. "I get to work for one of...