“Unequivocally Me”

People Led; Celebrating You

Meet the Sam’s Club manager who knows how to celebrate belonging.

Chico Montenegro posing for the camera in front of a row of Sam's Club shopping carts

At over 6 feet tall, with a tapestry of tattoos covering both arms, Esiquio “Chico” Montenegro is, in his own words, “unequivocally me.”

Chico displays his hands as an example. “I have tattoos. I have a full beard. I’m Mexican American. I’m a stepdad to kids who are half-Black and half-Mexican. Those aren’t parts of myself I cover up physically or otherwise,” Chico shares.

And Chico doesn’t think the associates should cover up any part of themselves either.

Chico is the club manager at Club 6328 in Cicero, Illinois, the highest-volume club in the greater Chicago region — and also one of the most diverse.

“What cooler place to be is there than where your people are? And not just your people, but people from so many different backgrounds and cultures.” – Chico Montenegro, club manager

“There are 206 associates here — mostly Mexican and African American, but also Polish American and associates from Puerto Rico and Venezuela. We have strong LGBTQ representation at all levels, from hourly to management. It’s a beautiful blend,” Chico says.

A close up photo of Chico Montenegro's arm tattoos

Leaders who see him

Throughout his career, Chico has had leaders who made him feel seen and valued.

“I started as a cart pusher, but it didn’t take me long to realize I could have more than just a job at Sam’s Club.” Chico says. When a supervisor role came open, his manager at the time, Joe Barton, asked why he didn’t apply for the role. It turns out that Chico was enrolled in night school, and his classes overlapped with times the job required him to be there (at least on paper).

Joe urged him to apply anyway because he saw Chico’s potential. “He didn’t want me to put my education on hold,” Chico explains. “But he also didn’t want me to lose out on a great opportunity, because I was going to school.”

That kind of scenario would play out again and again for Chico over the next 20 years. “There were so many people across my career who set me up to be successful, and who wanted success for me both at work and in my personal life,” Chico shares.

“Now I get to do the same thing for other associates.” And that starts, Chico says, with seeing the unique values, skills and personalities every associate brings to the team.

two male associates in the beef area of a Sam's Club

A gift for creating belonging

And that’s why Club 6328 is where Chico wants to be — for the diversity of its associates’ perspectives.

“I actively sought the opportunity to run the club in Cicero because of its diversity. I’m incredibly thankful my market manager Janice Trelewicz said yes and gave me this opportunity,” Chico shares.

“What cooler place to be is there than where your people are? And not just your people, but people from so many different backgrounds and cultures.”

Chico says he loves developing leaders, even if it means losing a tenured manager to another club. “It’s important to understand people’s passions, where they are in their lives and have honest conversations about where they want to go. Then, once you know their end game, you can look for opportunities to grow their strengths and start moving them to places that will help set them up for the next stage of success.”

“Chico is great at creating a sense of belonging, especially in the ways he promotes collaboration within his team, in the way he is constantly communicating, and in the way he works to create an exceptional associate experience for all,” says Matt Milbrodt, senior director of Sam’s Club Field People Team.

What makes each club special

After holding six different management positions across nine clubs in Illinois and Indiana, Chico has learned a lot about what makes each location special. He mentioned that it’s really easy to keep yourself so focused on fixing the day-to-day issues that you lose sight of what makes each club unique.

The key to remembering the special quality in every club is to pay attention to associates. They are who make the club what it is. “I think being unequivocally you is so important,” Chico explains. “I remind associates that you got you here.”

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