Suitcase for Success: Cindy Villafranca

Meet Cindy Villafranca, Manager of the Analytics Team in the Communications & Outreach department, at Southwest Airlines. Her role at Southwest Airlines is twofold. Cindy analyzes external platforms, such as Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter to determine what customers are saying about Southwest Airlines, and examines internal company channels to learn from Southwest Airlines employees. She then reports her insights to various teams across the company, so they can improve existing programs and implement new initiatives. By navigating her career with an analytical perspective and a “prove it” mindset, Cindy has gathered valuable knowledge that is all packed into her Suitcase for Success!    

Suitcase Item #1: Proactive Learning

Cindy received her undergraduate degree in Mass Communications. At the time, measurement and analytics were not part of her program so she made it her personal mission to develop these skills because she knew that any career she wanted to pursue would be rooted in these elements. Cindy explained, “I worked hard and studied through conferences and webinars. I honed in on like-minded individuals in the space and joined professional organizations.” She effectively utilized the people and resources around her in order to learn everything that she could about measurement and analytics. Although Cindy’s formal education did not teach her all of the skills she would need during her career, she was proactive and sought out other avenues to learn what she needed to succeed.

Suitcase Item #2: Passion as the Driving Force 

When you pursue your passion, the motivation to excel in your job comes naturally. Cindy found this to be true through following her passion for analytics. She shared, “I really love analytics. I love mining data and finding that “Aha!” moment or insight. It tells us something compelling about a situation or a moment. It tells us something we didn’t know before. I enjoy using data to make an informed decision or change.” Her advice to all of us is “to learn it if you have a passion for it.” Part of finding your passion is also finding what you are not passionate about, which can help you add new skills, but also pushes you to keep searching for what you love. Cindy encourages us all to “pursue something that you truly enjoy that gives you energy.” This passion may be something you did not study in school, and that is okay. If you want to learn about something, “Google it” and search for professional organizations to be a part of.  Cindy emphasizes, “Don’t be afraid to say I don’t know, but I want to learn. Take ownership of your ability to learn and grow.”

Suitcase Item #3: Personal Board of Directors

Both formal and informal mentors are extremely important at all stages of your career. Cindy spoke about the importance of her own mentors in developing her analytics skills. She stated, “Early on, I spent eight years working in television news media. My first boss in media relations was empathetic and patient. She saw my drive, desire, and potential. She taught me how to work hard and focus, and let me focus on what brought me joy from a professional standpoint. My current Senior Vice President and – Chief Communications Officer at Southwest Airlines is a mentor as well, because she is a champion in my space. She has helped build Southwest Airlines as a thought leader in the measurement space and inspired me to elevate my skills to the next level.” The mentors mentioned above are included in Cindy’s personal board of directors. She hopes we all create our own board with “a group of people that you identify with to keep you grounded.” These are individuals that are not afraid to “give you a reality check and the ugly truth.”

Suitcase Item #4: Learn from Mistakes

Mistakes happen, they are part of the learning process. It is what you do after that matters the most. Cindy shared that the best piece of advice she ever received was, “If you make a mistake, own it, apologize, learn from it, and move on. Try not to make it again!” She suggests that we use these learning moments to grow and see our mistakes as an opportunity to become a better employee, and teammate. A great resource to aid in in your learning is to ask specific feedback to help keep you from making that same mistake.

As Cindy demonstrates, we sometimes have to be bold and follow our hearts. The more you love what you do, the more empowered you are to continue to grow and learn, and build a network that supports and motivates you. If you were to pack for the rest of your life tomorrow, what would you carry in your Suitcase for Success?

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