It was Rudy Juarez’s grandmother who first provoked and encouraged his entrepreneurial spirit. When he was a child, she worked as an independent seamstress, crafting garments for neighbors around the Phoenix area. She invited young Juarez to work as her sales representative.
“She would ask me to go door-to-door and say, ‘I need ten dollars for this dress, but if you can sell it for more than that you can keep the rest,’” Juarez recalls. “It was a neat way to learn about business and the entrepreneurial mindset.” That business mindset became a calling and a mission: today, Juarez serves as group vice president of Latin America (LATAM) and specialty business at WW Grainger, a Fortune 500 industrial supply group based in Chicago.
Juarez grew up in a bilingual household in West Phoenix. His father was an aircraft mechanic, his mother a clerk at a supermarket bakery. With twenty-two cousins on his mother’s side alone—plus grandparents—the family was always energetic and busy. It was also the most important thing to the young Juarez: he often spent long weekends with his family, and from an early age he started looking for a way to contribute.
“Growing up in that kind of environment, it was always about looking for the brighter side of life, and asking myself how I could make things better,” he recalls. Juarez worked in grocery stores throughout his teen years and during his undergrad years at Arizona State University. He became deeply familiar with the back end of the business, the suppliers, and the consumer behavior that brought the system together. Eventually, those interests led him to leadership roles with major food brands like Kraft/General Foods, Sara Lee, Coca-Cola, and Heinz.
Juarez has created a name for himself as an expert on P&L and balance sheet management; B2C, B2B, eCom, digital, retail, institutional, and DSD (direct store delivery) go-to-market strategies; international operations; and mergers and acquisitions (M&A). In fact, he served on the M&A committee at Heinz and has worked closely with the M&A team at Grainger to divest of companies. But Juarez is especially proud of the impact he’s had on businesses during challenging times. For example, he joined Coca-Cola to lead a start-up company based in Toronto. At the time, that company was faltering, but Juarez led it back to profitability and integrated it into the Canadian operation. He went on to lead Coca-Cola’s eastern region, the largest in their system.
“Even if you’re challenged, I always believe there’s a silver lining. Finding that silver lining is priority number one,” he says. “It means having the resiliency. Understanding the numbers, understanding what we’re up against, synthesizing all that, and leading the team together to understand exactly what we need to focus on.”
When Grainger’s recruiters called in 2012, Juarez was intrigued by the opportunity to learn a new industry. A that time, the company held about a 7 percent market share—but Juarez decided to embrace that reality and use his history of transformative leadership and sales insight to help lead the company to new heights. “I thought it would be great to make a change and prove to myself that I could be successful in a new industry,” he says. “It was an incredible chance to expand my skills.” Since Q1 2021, his group has shown double-digit top line and bottom line growth.
Juarez also has an extensive history of nonprofit board service. His first experience was with the National Latino Education Institute, a community service agency based in Chicago that is committed to advancing the economic independence of the Latino community through education, advocacy, and employment. Juarez contributed by advocating for the institute and building connections with local businesses.
Juarez has also served on the boards of the Georgia Susan G. Komen Foundation and the Howard Brown Health Center, a Chicago-based healthcare and social justice organization dedicated to supporting the LGBTQ+ community. The latter organization is particular near and dear to Juarez’s heart: while he struggled with being out as a gay man in corporate America for many years, he now knows that his unique status as a gay Latino business executive is an asset to the organizations he has served (and those he will serve in future).
Today, his primary board commitment is to Ravinia Festival, the annual Chicago-area music series. Founded in 1904, it remains the oldest music festival in the United States; annually, Ravinia features over one hundred concerts in a variety of genres as well as musical education and professional development programs. Juarez chairs the board’s DEI committee and sits on the finance, executive, and development committees.
“I’ve always thought of myself as a steward,” he says of his board service to date. “There have been many generations of professionals before me committing themselves to being part of the solution in terms how they connect these major corporations and these not-for-profits to the future.”
Juarez has found insights from his industry career to be invaluable to his service for these long-standing, high-profile nonprofit organizations. His strategic, operational, commercial, and general management experience—coupled with that lifelong ability to find silver linings and fresh approaches—have enabled him to make a difference in a variety of settings. He says his next step is to find the right fit with a corporate board that can best leverage his skills and expertise.
“I think my experience could be very useful for a lot of Fortune 500 and Russell 3000 companies,” Juarez says. “Knowing that Latinos are still underrepresented in boards, I set out to be part of that solution—to help those companies get closer to the markets they operate in.
“I have to have the courage to engage,” he adds. “Growing up in Phoenix, in a predominantly Latino neighborhood, I never even envisioned these things would be possible. As I’ve developed as an individual, and as I’ve developed a professional perspective, I found that things were more in reach than I thought—but I had to have the courage to be myself and be authentic.”
Thoughts from Guest Editor Michelle Collins
Rudy has demonstrated leadership by successfully running a division for a Fortune 500 company. His résumé is skills-heavy: sales, marketing, M&A, new business models, and international business experience.
Rudy is also a trouble-shooter, a problem-solver. He is willing to help when needed, and his empathy and dedication to family signal maturity.
Rudy shows ambition in his desire to become a board member and continue to progress in leadership roles. His nonprofit activities, especially his leadership roles, highlight his ability to get along in board environments and his familiarity with governance processes. These qualities would make it easier to bring Rudy on as a first-time corporate board member—and with reduced risk.