Achieving success with passion, determination and a vision: The journey of Wally Guerra
Moving to a new country brought out many challenges, but also became the basis of an inspirational story that he has seen play out.
When Wally Guerra moved to the United States from Mexico, he was starting a whole new life from scratch.
He was 14 years old when he arrived in Texas, often moving around to live with relatives, friends and others he came in contact with over his first few years in the country.
He also stayed in his car for some time, and also spent time living in a mobile home near a farm.
It wasn’t the easiest or most appealing situation as he navigated his new life in a new country, but Guerra wouldn’t have had it any other way.
“I love my journey because I witnessed this journey,” Guerra said during an interview with AL DÍA.
At age 19, he moved to Ohio after finding a new job there, and stayed for about four years. In that time, he took English courses to help him learn the language before later earning his GED and then his permanent residence card.
“I had this renewed energy to try to build something, make something of myself,” said Guerra.
Growing up, Guerra watched his parents often struggle to make ends meet, and as a result, he was determined to ensure that his future family would not have to endure the same experience.
The immediate aftermath of that proved to be a bit turbulent. He tried enlisting in the Army, but was declined due to his age and because he wasn’t fluent in English. He then tried to enroll in a private technical school, but was denied because he hadn’t yet obtained a social security card.
Nonetheless, Guerra didn’t give up. A couple weeks later, he returned to the school’s administration office after applying for the card, and convinced the administrator to accept him into the school pending he received the card.
He credited the fact that he grew up in a faith-based home as the basis for him not to be discouraged or give up while facing various obstacles.
“It's great that I witnessed those processes, whether they were, at times, uncomfortable, or maybe a bit painful. But I love it,” he said. “I love that I could share it with people [who] have been inspired and motivated. And I just love having this opportunity to share with people and hopefully inject positive energy and allow people to dream and inspire them to go for it.”
While Guerra attended classes during the day, he searched for a night job. He eventually landed one at Whataburger, where he was originally hired as a night porter.
As he spent more time at the fast food chain, Guerra worked his way up to be a team leader, helping grow the chain.
He was later promoted to assistant manager, achieving several levels of assistant manager positions, before then becoming general manager and store director, where he ran Whataburger chains across the regional district.
Guerra described his leadership style while working at Whataburger as being built on treating everyone with respect, dignity, honesty, sincerity, transparency, as well as accountability.
Those principles, he learned, led to his employees also becoming leaders in their own right and building the right kind of workplace culture there.
“Because I was intentional about making people feel good about themselves, it created an environment where, in response, what I received was extremely loyal and dedicated employees,” he said. “That facilitated my success and my growth at Whataburger.”
Overall, Guerra spent a total of 23 years working at the fast food chain.
Having spent so much time working at a single job, taking on a lot of different roles and responsibilities that helped strength and develop his skills, Guerra felt he could utilize the things he’d learn in other areas.
While at Whataburger, his endeavors included opening a Sprint store, then a Cricket store and AT&T store, and also a Mexican restaurant. He also engaged with real estate and construction.
After spending more than two decades at Whataburger, Guerra decided to step away from the fast food chain and take a chance at a new journey.
His decision to start a new journey, he said, was guided by his strong faith.
“I just think that everything that I process, I process it within that context,” he said. “The understanding of being created with a purpose.”
“I think that processes in life play out according to their purpose,” Guerra added.
His belief is that God created him — and everyone — with gifts and talents, and coupling that with his passion, drive and vision, Guerra strived for more.
“It’s almost second nature to me,” he said. “I’m really good at describing my vision and making it so appealing that I have no option but to really try to get there.”
After exceeding his own expectations at Whataburger, Guerra started to think bigger, he started to think ahead.
He began to wonder: What if I could do this on my own? What if I could build my own company and hire my own people and do it independently from anybody else?
Those questions eventually led to him becoming president of ASA Communications, Inc. as well as an authorized retailer.
That path is what has allowed him to now reach the level of financial stability and freedom he had strived for upon settling in the United States.
“I went through those processes in my life [and] it brings joy to me to go back and revisit the process,” said Guerra. “I am forever grateful for that process because I can now share them with my kids.”
A husband and father of three children, Guerra also gets inspired by the successes they achieve. His two oldest each have a master’s degree, one of which is in the process of becoming a doctor, while his youngest is currently attending a good university.
“This is a great country,” he said. “And people don't have to tell me that. I have witnessed what this country has to offer for anybody, from any ethnicity, that is willing to endure some self discipline and hard work.”
“In my opinion, this is the greatest country in the world, that allows somebody like me to be able to achieve an even moreso, keep on dreaming,” he added.
Perhaps Guerra’s proudest accomplishment is seeing his efforts and relentless hard work become not only beneficial to him, but also those closest to him. That is, he helped propel his family forward.
“I just think that when people have gifts and talents, like we all do, if you accept the responsibility of using those gifts and talents and allow God's purpose to be played out, you get to witness how the people around you get very positively impacted,” he said.
In addition to his work operating his business and stores, Guerra is also involved with a number of mission groups in different countries.
He noted one specific country he has worked in that has had a profound impact on him — Honduras.
Years ago, while returning from a leadership conference in Chicago, Guerra decided to stop in Ohio to visit his cousin.
While there, the two of them went to church where the pastor was recapping and celebrating the accomplishments that occurred during a recent missionary trip to the Central American nation.
“I was just intrigued by it,” Guerra expressed. “These people don’t have to go to Honduras, but yet they do and I was kind of moved by that.”
He was grateful and inspired to see Hispanics and the people in Latin America being helped, and it prompted him to send some funds as a token of his own gratitude and appreciation.
A few years later, the same pastor reached out to him and scheduled a trip with Guerra to Honduras to show him what was done with the money he had donated.
Upon his arrival to Honduras, he saw a village that was built, as a result of those funds. After meeting and interacting with the woman who led the village and later being asked to lead in prayer, Guerra all of a sudden got emotional.
The house he had helped fund resembled the house he grew up in while in Mexico, and the woman reminded him of his mother.
“I became extremely emotional,” Guerra said. “It was this powerful feeling of gratefulness.”
That experience brought back memories of his own family decades ago. He thought about the times when he was the one on the receiving end of an extended hand.
But now, he was in a position to extend his hand and help out another person.
“I thought it was amazing how God orchestrated my life in a way that I can go back to these places, [and] as you can imagine, I'm forever grateful,” said Guerra.
Since then, Guerra has made it a point to visit the country multiple times a year to continue making a positive impact for more individuals and families.
“I feel extremely fortunate because every time I go, it feels as if what I'm able to give is nothing compared to what I get from those people,” he added.
“I consider it an opportunity, I don’t feel like I’m giving anything. I’m, in fact, receiving a lot every time I go. That’s kind of the reason why I go.”
In addition to Honduras, Guerra has also done work to help people in Cambodia, China and Kenya.
With passion, drive, hard work, commitment, determination and vision, Guerra has been able to fulfill the goals he set out for himself upon his arrival to the U.S. more than 40 years ago.
His journey has been filled with many ups and downs, but those qualities are what has kept him in the race and it’s those qualities he often advises to others on their own journeys.
“Make it count,” he said. “We only have one opportunity to live our life and hopefully make a mark.”