Victor Berrellez is one of the most recognized names in the San Fernando Valley’s business community.
One main reason for that is his considerable leadership in civic affairs. Among other duties, he was on the board of Valley Community Healthcare for more than 10 years, two of which he was chair, and he long served on the board of St. Cyril of Jerusalem Catholic Church as well as its school.
Next month he finishes his highest profile role: his two-year stint as chair of the Valley Industry and Commerce Association, the organization that lobbies for business interests at the federal, state and local levels.
The Business Journal caught up with Berrellez and asked him to reflect on his career, what he thinks the Valley needs for future success and to explain why he constantly performs civic service.
Tell us about your career. What jobs have you done in the past and how did they lead you to your current job?
My career can be broken down into three parts. The first one out of college about a hundred years ago, had me as a sales representative for Xerox Corp. in Woodland Hills. I shlepped a copier on a cart door-to-door through three ZIP codes in North Hollywood. Not the most comfortable to wear a suit and tie in the summertime. But I learned a lot about selling and what motivates people.
Later, with my father and brother, I owned and operated a wholesale distributorship that dealt in electronic cables and connectors that we sold to mom-and-pop video stores, the ones that used to rent movies on video for $1 a night. We would order and receive product in a 40-foot container from Taiwan. We would package, label and stock our clients’ stores with products on a rack. A ton of work, being the first one in and the last one to be paid.
As an owner, you do everything – from ordering, packaging, stocking, shipping and personnel. I think that’s where I developed my respect for anyone who runs a business here in California. It’s tough to make a profit and to follow all of the rules.
In the mid-1980s market conditions changed and many of the mom-and-pop video stores (our clientele) closed due to competition from Blockbuster and Hollywood Video. They took our inventory and A/R with them, so we had to close our doors, too. I went to graduate school at California State University – Northridge at night and earned an MBA. At the end, I became a commercial banker.
Thirty-one years later, I still am. I work with companies with revenue from $25 million to $1 billion per year, providing for their credit needs, cash management, trade finance and merchant card needs. I work for U.S. Bank in Warner Center, and I enjoy coming to work most days. My “happy spot” is helping businesses achieve their goals by watching out for their banking needs. They sell their products or services and let me worry about the banking side. I know what they are going through.
Tell us a little about your considerable work in the community over the years, not just with VICA but with other organizations. Why have you done that?
When I first started out there were so many people who helped me or my family. By volunteering in the community – whether it’s for a church or a nonprofit org – I feel that I am giving back for the help that I received. It’s enjoyable work, and I have met so many wonderful people. I hope that I am able to help some of the people around me through this work. I feel that we all should be giving back, in some way.
Nonprofits need help. Not only in funding and fundraising, but in administration, organization and community building. I hope that I can do well by “doing good” and perhaps help a few people by making their lives easier.
I was in a restaurant a while back when I was approached by a boy in his early teens. He said that he remembered me from my volunteer work with Granada Hills Little League. Some years before I chose him to say the Pledge of Allegiance on opening day and he wanted to thank me. One never knows what seemingly small act will have a positive and lasting effect.
You’re closing out your two-year chairmanship of VICA soon. What stands out to you about those two years?
It feels like it’s gone by so quickly. VICA is a great organization – the members do wonderful things, and the staff is great. We have done so much but there is so much more to do to make the Valley a better community for the residents and for the businesses that provide so much.
What surprised you most?
Just how many other organizations like VICA there are out there – just too many to list. But each has their own community, their own agenda, and their own tools to make things happen. And they are all wonderfully successful in their own ways. I don’t think that most businesspeople know of all the resources that are available to them. They should take the time to find out.
Did you learn anything unexpected during those two years?
The job took a lot more time than I expected. There are a lot of meetings and a ton of events. I couldn’t attend them all, as much as I tried! But I was a little disappointed, too, because I could have done so much more during this time. I hope to continue working with the members and the staff after my tenure ends so there’s a chance to do more.
Honestly, about how many hours a week, on average, would one expect to work as a VICA chairperson or for any similar organization? This takes dedication, right?
Yikes. It can be a full-time job in itself. You don’t get into the details of managing operations but even setting a general direction or providing guidance takes a lot of time in discussion, review, and building a consensus. Deciding what is important today or working for a better tomorrow involves understanding many aspects of an issue. And the regulatory apparatus is quite active. Local, state, and national government oversight never rests, and they are constantly cranking out new rules or regulations that affect how businesses operate. It’s VICA’s job to help their members navigate these rules successfully.
When it comes to business and the economy, what does the Valley have that’s a true asset?
It’s the attitude of the people here. Not only are they hardworking and entrepreneurial, but there is a sense of perseverance. No matter what hardship or obstacle may arise, Valley folks have the strength to rise to the occasion and carry on. Maybe it’s geography, maybe it’s the area code but there is a unique attitude about life here. It’s not every place that has songs written about it or movies made about their history but the SFV has. Those facts say something right there.
What does the Valley most need to be successful going forward?
I think that we need the space to succeed, and I don’t mean a physical space. I mean they need the freedom to expand and explore the business opportunities out there. We still have many technological and scientific discoveries happening every day and the right thought or application can bring large benefits to society if just given the right incentives.
Do you see leaders focused on that?
There are some who are. But there are others who feel that they can regulate and legislate a way to a better life. It’s up to organizations like VICA to make everyone aware of the benefits of a strong business community, one that creates jobs and a sustainable path to a strong economy.
What’s next for you?
What I plan on is trying to learn something new every day and to be the best banker that I possibly can be, to help those around me (and to) be grateful for what I have received.