J.J. Serrano Jr. can look out his office windows and see his alma mater across the way on Panther Drive.
“It’s crazy,” said Serrano, the facilities leader of H-E-B’s Weslaco Retail Support Center on 1100 Panther Drive. “That’s my high school over there.”
Weslaco High School is in his front view, but behind Serrano’s office is a cavernous 408,000-square-foot distribution and transportation center. It serves as the nerve center for H-E-B’s 42 stores in the Rio Grande Valley and Laredo. All dry grocery goods and the 5,400 different product items found at those South Texas stores come from the Weslaco facility the 35 year old oversees.
“It’s a big footprint,” said Serrano. That is obvious of a facility so sprawling that its corridors between the towering rows of products seem to go as far as the eye can see. The rows of dry groceries go east-west in the retail support center. Lift operators navigate the network or corridors efficiently and quietly. Pallets of products loom over them.
Serrano greets the drivers by their first names and with words of encouragement.
“You lead with a servant’s heart is how I see it,” he said. “It’s a natural fit for me. I’ve seen H-E-B values my whole life.”
Guided by roots
Serrano is an H-E-B man who’s the son of an H-E-B man. His father Joe has spent 42 years with the grocer and is the unit manager for the Mercedes store. Serrano’s father has been a primary role model for him in the company, but there have been others. They all left an impression on him as he worked his way up the leadership ladder.
He recalls a regional director who, on a rainy day, got his umbrella out and helped customers to their vehicles at the H-E-B in Alamo.
“That showed me it’s not the title,” Serrano said. “It’s the willingness to serve and help others.”
Full-time success branching out
Serrano needs wisdom from his past and more in managing a facility the size of the one in Weslaco. It’s a facility that has a near 24-hour schedule. Shipments go out daily from 5 a.m. to 5 p.m. It receives products from 1 p.m. to 3 a.m. Just shy of 260 employees work at the center with a retention rate of 90 percent. All full timers make $15 an hour and higher.
Serrano said his guidance comes from three basic principles in running the support center. One, take care of your employees, or in H-E-B lingo, “partners.” Second, emphasize safety. Third, minimize expenses as the facility is not a revenue generator.
Beyond H-E-B, Serrano was recently named to the board of the Weslaco Economic Development Corporation. He’s relishing that role as well, bringing his expertise in logistics and warehousing to the EDC.
“I’ve been very fortunate my career has allowed me to stay in Weslaco,” he said.
The office view across Panther Drive reaffirms the hometown values of an H-E-B man, born and raised.