National Pen prides itself on obtaining and developing top level talent to help grow our company, compete in the promotional products industry and most of all, serve you, the customer the best way we can.
It starts with investing in people who are not only smart but embrace overcoming obstacles and solving problems. And with an ever-evolving customer base of diverse backgrounds, it’s important that National Pen’s employees reflects and meets their customer’s diverse backgrounds to better serve the marketplace. According to www.hispanicheritagemonth.gov, “each year, Americans observe National Hispanic Heritage Month from September 15 to October 15, by celebrating the histories, cultures and contributions of American citizens whose ancestors came from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean and Central and South America.” National Pen would like to highlight some of the superstar employees we have of Hispanic and Latino descent.
This month, our spotlight shines brightly on Ricardo Villalobos and Estela Haney.
Both Estela and Ricardo have a wealth of knowledge and sharing with anyone who shows an interest in what they do, is an example of how pleasant they are to work with. Ricardo enjoys the challenges of finding engineering solutions while Estela prides herself on finding winning products. But both truly embrace the opportunity to impact the super competitive promotional products industry for our customers!
First up, Ricardo! Who are you and what do you do?
My name is Ricardo Villalobos and I’ve been with National Pen for 12 years. Currently, I hold the title of Product Engineering and Quality Assurance Manager. I started back in 2004 after graduating from college at Tecnologico de Los Mochis, where I started as an “Assistant Engineer.” After 7 months, I became an “Engineer” and in 2007 I became “Quality Assurance Supervisor.” In 2008, I accepted a position in National Pen’s San Diego office as “Product Engineer” and since 2015 I’ve held dual titles and responsibilities as “Product Engineer and Quality Assurance Manager.”
Wow, Ricardo! Needless to say, you’ve climbed the ranks. Who would you say was your greatest influence for your career?
Both my Father and Mother. They taught me to always be honest, humble, a man of honor and always be committed to helping others. They led by example and showed me some very important life lessons I hold with me every day.
In your position, you’ve been able to come up with some creative and effective ways to save National Pen money in an effort to pass the savings onto customers needing affordable promotional products for their small businesses. What are some of your proudest professional accomplishments?
There were two projects I helped implement that I’m most proud of. Switching from bubble wrap to plastic trays for mailing samples saved the company an estimated $250,000 in the first year. I also helped initiate a more efficient New Product Introduction process. This process allowed National Pen to increase the amount of new products launched from 100 to 400 with the same resources, ensuring customers had access to the newest products in the market.
Those are some great things you’ve done. What about personal accomplishments you are proud of?
Marrying my wife, after having 3 kids together was one of the best days of my life. At our wedding in 2011, all 600 people from my hometown showed up to support us. In addition, I volunteer in the community and church as part of the music and choir group, leading Catholic retreats and Bible study classes.
I can tell you’re a man of strong character and big goals. What are your professional goals?
I envision myself in a position of leadership and work every day to align myself with those goals. There’s plenty left for me to learn from my team and the people I work with. When the time is right, I aim to prove myself just as strong of a leader from the ones who took a chance and taught me.
When asking Ricardo what he might say to other young Latino professionals who are looking for advice. His reply…
“Believe in yourself, your strengths and don’t be afraid to shine.” Well, we believe in you Ricardo and we’re happy you are here to share your talent.
Next up is the wonderful Estela Haney. Who are you and what do you do?
My Name is Estela Haney and I’m the Product Merchandising Manager for National Pen. I source and develop new products globally for National Pen. I’ve been with the company since 2008 helping to grow all product categories National Pen offers, and I now focus on sourcing our core products of writing instruments.
And how did you get your start in this Industry?
Well, I graduated from San Diego State University with my International BA degree in 2000 but you can definitely say sourcing is in my blood. I learned the ropes from my Father and his company in the textile industry where I started traveling globally at the young age of 19. After about 10 years there, I left his company and went to gain more diverse experience sourcing hardline accessories for another global manufacturer.
Sounds like you had a great mentor to guide you. Would you say your Father was your greatest influence?
Yes, definitely! He was a genius and truly amazing. I saw that especially when I got to work for him those 10 years and how his employees respected him. He is my hero and gave me his gift of being loyal to people, trusting in team goals and treating the people I work with like a family business and I truly cherish those gifts.
What are some of your proudest achievements at National Pen?
When I started in 2008, I was eager to help prove myself to my team. While exploring for a new product that would impact the company, my manager and I came across the LAK – LED Flashlight Key Chain. It fit everything on the technical side of what we were looking for while also providing uniqueness. The true test would be how our customers would respond to it. They loved it and it became a great example of winning products we supplied to the promotional products industry. It continues to perform well and I always enjoy reading reviews about how it helps small business owners successfully promote their business.
That’s awesome. And when you’re not at work, what would we find Estela doing?
My husband and I absolutely love taking our son Evan to Balboa Park. It’s just a wonderful place to enjoy some family time and show our son new and interesting things. It helps with my perspective and allows me to balance the analytical requirements of my position with my creative side.
You’re clearly respected by your peers and have some really rich experiences. What do you envision for yourself?
As much as I know, I still believe I come to work understanding I still have more to learn. My manager, Gregg Kornfeld SVP of Merchandising, has a ton of knowledge and I’m just trying to do my best to absorb as much as I can. I focus every day on finding the next winning product for my customers. I’m really open to a lot of different avenues. I would love to reach a level of Director where I could build a team focused on certain channels and the bigger picture of sourcing promotional products. And I even would like to run my own company that would provide solutions to companies needing assistance in global sourcing. The possibilities are endless and I’m glad I’m surrounded by a great team to help me grow.
I asked Estela that same question I always end with. Based off your personal and professional experience, what would you say to a young professional starting off in the industry? She answered with the same grace she brings with her to National Pen every day.
“Don’t stop training yourself, whether it’s taking professional courses, classes or while working with others. Don’t think you know it all because the truth is, we don’t. Be a sponge and learn from the people around you. It’s amazing how much you can grow when you give people a chance to teach and listen.”