by Nori Gale
Meet a WEXer: LaTaschia Velasquez
LaTashchia Velasquez is the team lead of the regional and national account managers in our Ogden, Utah offices and has worked for WEX for over eight years. Her early years traveling the world with her family and volunteering in a geriatric center set her on a path that would eventually lead to her work with WEX, contributing to the company with her single-minded work ethic, vast kindness, and open curiosity.
Growing Up In A Military Household
Growing up in a military family, LaTashchia Velasquez had the opportunity to live in a lot of different places in the U.S., including Kentucky, Georgia, and Texas as a child. In between Georgia and Texas, her family spent a chunk of time living in Nuremberg, Germany where her father extended his stay there for nearly three terms. She lived in Germany from grade school until her junior year in high school, and while there traveled extensively throughout Europe.
Velasquez feels grateful for the opportunities she had to see the world while growing up in a military family. She meets people all the time who have never left their home state. While she does feel gratitude about the opportunities she has had, she also recognizes that those who never left home have life-long friendships that she did not have the fortune of experiencing. “There’s no one that I can look to and say ‘I’ve known you since second grade.’ and a lot of my friends do have that and I envy that a little but I feel like I’ve been able to be a part of many different cultures and growing up we had friends of all ethnicities and religions and there was not just one thing that made someone great. I saw diversity in everyone and grew to love people as individuals who were not just like me.”
This experience of diversity growing up plays a huge role for Velasquez in how she is able to manage a diverse group of employees at WEX. “My experience [of moving around a lot as a kid] has helped me just deal with the world in general because I know that there is good in everyone and you have to feel that in this world.”
Growing Up With Religion In Her Life
While living in Germany, both of her parents became preachers at a local American Baptist church in Nuremberg. Her mother became a preacher first but it wasn’t until her parents separated that her father felt his own calling.
Velasquez describes what a powerful force her mother is and how that energy drove her mother to become a spiritual resource for others. “If you were to meet her, I mean everyone who has met her when she’s come to Utah over the years they say, ‘She’s dynamic,’ and I just love that about her.” Her mother’s independence and dynamism seems to have rubbed off on Velasquez in her own career, evident by her flexibility in a range of roles and natural tendency to push herself to always be learning and expanding her skills.
Passionate About Helping People
“I am passionate about people just because I know how precious life is. I always want to be the one to be the first to help.” Velasquez was brought up in a household where helping others was the equivalent of breathing or eating. It was just what you did as a human being. “At a young age, my mom, being an RN, would have us come up to the hospital and volunteer whether it be for the Red Cross or other events happening at the hospital. But we wanted to. When you are part of an organization like any type of church you’re all about service anyway.”
Both her parents were dedicated to service and Velasquez and her siblings were swept up in this way of seeing the world from their early childhood. “As long as I can remember I wanted to help.” Helping took on a variety of forms for Velasquez and her siblings, sometimes the tasks were as simple as taking out the trash at the hospital. As she got older, her volunteer work became more involved. “When I was 16 my mom ran a center for geriatric patients and I would volunteer to go in and read books to the residents on certain days.” She joined the CNA program and found it difficult because it involved sitting with people as they died.
After attending college Velasquez continued to think about how she might contribute to the world and continue in the path of service that came so naturally to her. She became interested in the possibility of becoming a doctor. She was working on pre-requisite courses for medical school and continuing to help her mom at the geriatric center, when she experienced the loss of witnessing a few patients die. She began to question pursuing a career in medicine. “I just thought, ‘This hurts my heart. I don’t know if I’m cut out for this.’ So I just started shying away from wanting to do that.” This led her down a completely different path that would eventually lead her to WEX.
Making A Career In The Truck Stop Business
Velasquez’ career began at Pilot Flying J Travel Center, which with over 550 locations and 19,000 employees is the largest truck stop chain in the United States. She started in the San Antonio, Texas location where she worked as a cashier to help pay rent. When she started at Flying J, there was no training program to speak of, so she decided to design one herself. Eventually, another employee in a different part of the company was tasked with developing a training program. He went straight to Velasquez and her training program became the archetype for training company-wide.
Velasquez quickly moved up the ranks at Flying J, a rise that seems directly correlated with her innate curiosity, will, and determination. She was still driven by a desire to help others, in this case, members of her team and new employees just starting out. This desire to contribute manifested itself in an excellent work ethic and ability to problem-solve.
This same curiosity and drive permeates Velasquez’s interests outside of work. A runner and hiker, she recently did the RAGNAR race in Utah and took an adventure-packed trip with her daughters to Costa Rica before the pandemic began. When asked what draws her to these activities, she says it’s just her looking ahead for ways to grow and learn in her personal life. “At Flying J I would volunteer to do extra projects and then suddenly someone would ask ‘Hey, do you want to open a new store, and train these people on what you’re doing in the store you manage?’” She was always ready for a new challenge and had such a strong work ethic and natural intelligence and determination that people often thought of her when new opportunities arose.
Velasquez started as a cashier, then moved to the accounting department, then to accounting deposits and then to an assistant manager position in charge of scheduling and training. When a position opened up to become a full-time trainer, traveling to stores all over the country, and working with groups of people to open new stores, she jumped at the opportunity. Velasquez’s roots as a military child imbued in her a love of that kind of change, movement, and excitement.
Facing The Hardest Challenge Of Her Life
In 2010 Velasquez faced the ultimate heartbreak when her husband, Lance, was diagnosed with cancer. “My husband is my hero. He fought Pancreatic Cancer tirelessly for 9 1/2 years to see his daughters graduate and go off to college. He just taught me so much about strength and courage. He was an incredible example to all who dared to watch. He inspired everyone around him. He never took the days for granted and he took time to really tell you how he felt because he knew his time was limited. He just knew how to love right. I will forever be grateful for his endless supply of unconditional love and support. He lost the battle on Jan 30, 2019.”
When Lance was diagnosed with cancer, Velasquez’s job was very high pressure and involved a great deal of travel. All of the locations she covered were on the Wasatch Front, from Salt Lake to Logan, Utah, so the locations were easy to get to with no overnight stays required, but the hours and the breadth of the job required a lot of Velasquez’s time and energy. She was working 12-15 hour days, which became difficult when she was at the same time wanting and needing to help her husband through his illness. She needed to find a job that would be more manageable and closer to home. Her husband had friends who worked for WEX and knew from them that WEX was a great company. He suggested to her that she should apply for a job with WEX which she did, joining the company in 2011.
When Velasquez first started at WEX, she was a regional account manager. From there she became a national account manager and then the team lead of account management in Ogden. Regional account managers typically handle many smaller accounts with companies that have fewer than 2,000 trucks. As a national account manager, you have fewer customers, but they are bigger companies that each has over 2,000 trucks. For example, one of WEX’s accounts in Ogden has over 25,000 trucks. Currently, Velasquez oversees both regional and national account managers in Ogden, Utah with 17 people working for her in that capacity.
Similar to her career path at Flying J, at WEX, Velasquez has been curious and kept an eye out for new opportunities at WEX, while continuing to excel in whatever position she’s currently holding. She finds fulfillment in her work because she is again in a position where she is helping people: “Being in account management you’re dealing with constant questions and concerns and researching solutions. I have a pretty full day most days just researching issues or helping customers with reports and things like that for their business.”
Biggest Lesson From Her Husband’s Illness And Struggle: Quality Of Thoughts
Since she was a kid, Velasquez’s mind has always raced with the question of how she might improve in whatever she was doing. She was always concerned that she was not as good as she could be at any given activity. She describes these thoughts as the “not” thoughts – I’m not this, I’m not that, etc. Instead of encouraging herself and giving herself kudos for the work she had done she would be self-critical and expect more from herself.
Although the purpose of this way of thinking was motivational, the majority of thoughts she was having were negative. “I didn’t understand the negative impact they had on my outlook on life. That changed when my husband got sick. We had a great life and I needed to acknowledge that. In the past when we’d work in the yard I’d say ‘Oh, that’s good, but let’s do this better.’ But it was perfect.” When faced with losing her life with him, Velasquez realized that she had not spent enough time appreciating all that was good and right with their life and throughout the course of his illness she focused on turning those “not” thoughts into thoughts of gratitude and grace.
She is working to develop this positive thinking in her daughters, ages 21 and 23. She wants them to be kinder and gentler with themselves than she was with herself at their age, and to not put undue pressure on themselves. She explains to them that while they may perceive their own existence in the world as imperfect, they are perfect exactly as they are. They were 10 and 12 when their dad first got sick which has also had its own impact on their outlook. Velasquez is helping them heal and hopes they can give themselves the grace to be in the world without focusing so much on feelings of insufficiency. She wants them to give themselves more love and care and steer their minds away from the “nots.”
How Working At WEX Has Changed During COVID
“I read a quote recently that was inspiring to me ‘If you take care of your people your people will take care of your customer and your business will take care of itself.’ I thought that is great because we are kind of in that right now. We have to make sure that our customers have the tools to take care of their employees so that their employees can take care of their customers and then obviously their customers will take care of their business.”
Velazquez sees this kind of chain of goodness flowing from the top of the WEX organization down to customer-facing employees as well during COVID. “WEX is truly taking care of their employees to have over 5,500 employees successfully move to working from home and only the critical employees in the specific offices and as far as the team that I’m under, Nicole Olsen’s team, we did it seamlessly and it’s because WEX gave us the tools to be successful. We did not do anything by the seat of our pants. We were deliberate in everything that we did and it wasn’t in a crisis situation – we took precautions beforehand. Back to that quote, when you take care of your employees, when you show that care and concern, they really would do anything for you. And I feel that’s where we’re at with WEX is that they’re taking care of us and so we in turn take care of the customers.”
Velasquez describes how her team has excelled through the pandemic: “The team’s talent and their skill and their abilities have been nothing short of amazing at this time. They’ve all just jumped in and been incredible helping customers through tough times.”
She thinks the remote work has actually made them work better as a team which surprised her. “COVID has really brought us closer together as a team.” She will sit down with colleagues over video calls and have much more focused one-on-one conversations. They are better able to communicate without all the in-office distractions. They have group chats and the pertinent information is better shared than it had been when some of that communication was happening verbally and in person and not documented for everyone. “Communication is at such a high level right now, when we go back into the office we need to keep that going. And we need to continue to focus as we do now on what’s important.”
What To Look Forward To After COVID
Once COVID is over she’d like to go on a trip with her girls (location of their choice – they say Bora Bora) and also for herself she’d like to train for a half marathon. There’s one she has her eye on in Las Vegas.
Lataschia Velasquez is wise to the world in ways that allow her to be a better and kinder manager. Her care for others, ingrained in her character, is clear in the way she operates at work. These qualities, along with her undying curiosity and drive to learn and grow, make her the future of our company.