Entertaining real-life stories with valuable lessons on how to succeed in business and in life
Entertaining and compelling real-life stories with valuable lessons on how to succeed in business and in life. The author is successful business, real estate, and media entrepreneur Dick Kazan.
Published on May 6th, 2014

Bill Davila: From floor sweeper to president of a giant supermarket chain.

That supermarket chain was Los Angeles area based Vons, a division of Safeway Stores. Today Vons has 274 grocery stores in California and Nevada and employs nearly 25,000 people.

And Bill, who at age 82 passed away in 2014, played a crucial role in Vons' success.

Born in 1931 in Los Angeles during the Great Depression, Bill's parents were Mexican immigrants and as many people did in that era, they endured major hardship.

Their marriage broke up, and Bill was raised primarily by his mother, who worked as a secretary.

As a high school student in 1948 Bill landed a part-time job sweeping a Vons store and his dream was to someday rise to produce manager. After serving in the U.S. Air Force, in 1955 he rejoined Vons.

And although he never graduated from college, Bill rose up the ranks becoming the president of Vons in 1984.

Bill Davila
Bill Davila, seen here in 1987. (Los Angeles Times)

What was the key to his success? He was often in the stores, not in the executive suite, mingling with employees and customers.

"He's constantly talking to customers, talking to employees, constantly picking up pieces of paper off the floor, darting behind counters and tasting things," Norman McMillan, a supermarket consultant told the Los Angeles Times in 1987.

In addition, Bill was also the Vons spokesperson in their ads.

For their English language ads, he pronounced his last name, "duh-VIL-a." For their Spanish language ads, he pronounced his name "Dah-vee-la," to make Spanish speaking people more comfortable.

"I'll respond to either pronunciation," he told the Los Angeles Times in a 1987 interview. "It does not make any difference to me. I know who I am."

During Bill's presidency, Vons opened several supermarkets that catered to Hispanic tastes.

Even after Bill retired in 1990, he remained on the Vons Board of Directors and being a popular spokesperson, continued to do Vons commercials. He also helped to promote business prospects in Hispanic communities.

Among Bill's projects, he established a foundation to award scholarships to students who intend to go into the grocery industry, particularly Hispanic students.

But Bill attributed his own success to hard work and dedication.

"There's always something you can be doing better," he told the Los Angeles Times in that 1987 interview. "The day that we think we have arrived is the day that we have taken our first step backward."

Editor's Note: To learn more, see http://www.latimes.com/obituaries/la-me-bill-davila. Thank you to Carlos Illingworth of Vons for the statistics in this story.

In the next KazanToday: A 4th grade dropout who built a cosmetics empire.

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