Arthur Valdez, a first-generation college student from Pueblo, Colorado, is executive vice president of Target and a global expert in retail supply chain management and logistics.

By Electa Draper | Photo by Griffin Moores

When Arthur Valdez walked onto campus, a first-generation student from Pueblo, Colorado, he was anything but confident.

I doubted myself,” Valdez said of his first days at Colorado State. “The majority of students were from middle-class or upper-class families. Their lives were very different from mine. I wondered if I should even be there.”

Now he knows where everything should go and the best way to get it there skills developed through the retail giants that have hired him, including Walmart, Amazon, and Target. At age 49, Valdez is executive vice president and chief officer of supply chain and logistics at Target; he is responsible for the quick and efficient flow of merchandise from suppliers to consumers shopping at more than 1,800 stores and, increasingly, online.

How great is that responsibility?

Consider: Target, an on-trend discount retailer, ranked No. 8 among all retailers nationwide in a 2018 analysis by STORES, the magazine of the National Retail Federation. The publicly traded company ranked 39th on the 2019 Fortune 500 list, posting annual revenues of $75.36 billion, with an uptick of 3.7% over the previous year, “laying to rest the notion that Walmart and Amazon were leaving it behind.” Strides in the supply chain yes, that’s Valdez – were central to success, Fortune reported.

As a leader at one of the nation’s top retailers, Valdez, by his own accounting, has come a long way. He is one generation removed from a Mexican American family that picked fruit in Southern Colorado. He is one generation away from a mother and aunts who fled Cuba in 1962 and began their life in America at Sacred Heart Orphanage in Pueblo.

“I didn’t want to let my family down,” he said of his motivation in college. Valdez, who lives in Minneapolis, where Target is headquartered, graduated in 1992 with a bachelor’s degree in business administration.

Growing up, he was introduced to product distribution while tagging along with his grandparents as they made deliveries for their pharmaceutical business. His parents worked for UPS, and he was captivated watching packages move along conveyors and into trucks.

The youngster soaked in lessons about work ethic and resilience as his mother made decisions about family business and his father rose to run a large region for UPS. “I had two wonderful parents who were willing to provide for me and help me understand how to get better,” Valdez said. “Both demonstrated vulnerability and authenticity.”

At CSU, Valdez grew confident as he studied production operations management, the field now known as supply chain management. Now, he’s committed to giving back to first-generation and minority students: A few years ago, he established the Valdez First Generation Scholarship for students at Colorado State. He also serves on the College of Business Global Leadership Council and visits as a mentor and speaker for its lauded supply chain management program.

Beth Walker, dean of the College of Business, said Valdez is a relatable role model with a special heart for first-generation students a mentor who hands students his business card and takes their calls. “He’s incredibly inspirational. He’s such an authentic person,” Walker said. “He is one of those rare individuals who wants to reach back and help others, a person of the highest integrity.”

Keys to his success, Valdez said, include honing technical expertise, developing his teams, and problem-solving. “Solve the hardest problem first,” Valdez advised. “Don’t avoid the ugliest thing in the room. Solve it. The smaller things fall into line.”

He also has a compelling take on work-life balance, a concept that has become ubiquitous in the business world.

“I don’t consider life at work or life outside of work different. I’ve chosen the field. Whether I’m in the office or at home, I am who I am. The way I engage with my team and with my family I don’t separate the two. I’m constantly available to both,” said Valdez, the father of two grown sons. “When I leave the house and come into the office, it doesn’t feel like I’m going to work. It feels like I’m living my life.”