STOCKTON — Carlos Villapudua plans to blend his experience in politics, business and social work into his new role as the San Joaquin County Hispanic Chamber of Commerce’s CEO.
He believes his background will help him succeed in the job.
“My position as county supervisor got me ready for this position,” Villapudua said. “A large percentage of my constituents were business owners needing help with business plans, knowing how to fill out a permit, and I really walked them through the planning process.”
Villapudua represented District 1 on the San Joaquin County Board from 2009-16. Prior to becoming a supervisor, he worked as a legislative assistant to the Board from 2005-09.
Helping run his own family’s Mexican restaurant in Stockton also gave him an up-close view of the problems many small businesses struggle with.
“It was a family affair. I would be doing the ordering, the balancing the checkbook, paying the bills. Sometimes you’d see me at the cash register or making food,” said Villapudua.
The experience made him aware of the effort necessary to keep an enterprise open.
“I had my own business, and I know the importance of having to make payroll. I know the difficult times — that just opening your door, that’s just not it,” he said. “You’ve got to be able to have workman’s comp, pay the bills, pay your employees. It’s that experience that also helped me land this job.”
Still, it’s his background in social work that most influences Villapudua’s hands-on approach to any job he tackles.
“I’m a social worker at heart,” he said. “I have to not just hear it. I have to see it and I almost have to touch it to be able to assist.”
Villapudua earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Social Work from California State University, Sacramento and in 1995 landed his first job in the field as the director of the Healthy Families Program in San Joaquin County. In that role, he worked with families that didn’t qualify for Medi-Cal but struggled to get medical insurance.
In 1999, he went to work for CalWORKs as a lead case manager in the Welfare to Work program. A year later he became the program’s Lodi office director.
“I was really working with staff trying to get people off aid and getting them back into the workforce,” said Villapudua. “We figured out where they left off. Either they needed an AA or they needed their diploma or a driver’s license, and we’d actually start a time clock on them.”
In 2000, Villapudua became the community social service director in San Joaquin County’s Department of Aging overseeing community centers that operated programs for children, seniors and needy families.
He decided to create a way for his senior and junior constituents to engage with one another.
“I got to know who the seniors were,” he said. “There were retired teachers and other professionals, so I created a way for the seniors to show our youth proper mannerisms, because a lot of these kids hadn’t seen this.”
His bond with the seniors grew and the relationships he developed with them was what led him to a future in politics. Those relationships paid off when a rumor circulated Villapudua was about to be fired. Seniors went to bat for him with the Board of Supervisors.
“They said, ’We voted you in, so we can vote you out. If you get rid of this guy, Carlos, we will get rid of you,’” said Villapudua.
Then-Supervisor Dario Marenco met with Villapudua to straighten out the confusion.
“That was how my relationship with Marenco started building, and over time he started asking about my interest in politics,” Villapudua said.
Ultimately, Villapudua took a job as a legislative assistant to the San Joaquin County Board of Supervisors, District 1, a job he held for almost five years until he was elected to represent the district.
Villapudua feels his varied career experience is a perfect match to lead the Hispanic Chamber.
“When I was terming out I heard about this job and I knew I worked well with the business community,” said Villapudua. “I’ve always helped in doing round table, because the faster you can get a business into the process, the faster you can start generating revenues for the city or county. I’ve always been proud of our county planning department because they were really fast.”
The Chamber looked for a new CEO for months to find the right fit.
“We are very excited to have Carlos aboard,” said Bob Gutierrez, president of the Chamber’s
Board of Directors in an emailed statement. “His wealth of experience as a previously elected official in the area speaks to his ability to engage both the private and public sectors in creating opportunities and advocating for our members and Latino-owned businesses throughout the county to more effectively and successfully thrive in their business ventures.”
One thing Villapudua didn’t recognize early in his career is that change is a constant.
“It may be scary at first, but don’t let that discourage you,” he said. “As scary as change is, it’s exciting.”
Villapudua believes his career has come full circle.
“I’m still doing what I went to school for and that was to help people. So now what I’m doing is I’m helping the business community,” he said. “I think that if you can help a business wear different types of hats, it goes a long way.”