When Opportunity Knocks

Longtime Wegmans executive Yolanda Benitez ’84 has built her career on seizing opportunities.

by Oliver Janzen ’18

Yolanda Benitez

“If you’re given an opportunity, say yes, because you never know where it’s going to lead you.” That’s the advice Yolanda Benitez ’84 gives to students leaving the sanctuary of higher education for the volatile real world. It’s the mantra that carried Yolanda up the ranks of one of the largest private companies in the country, Wegmans Food Markets, and the reason she has become involved in so many different niches of the Rochester community.

For Yolanda, opportunity wasn’t always knocking. “Going to college wasn’t necessarily on my family’s agenda,” she recalls. “My family was very traditional, especially concerning women.” When she was introduced to Nazareth by a friend, she saw the chance to break from the mold and carve her own path. She spent four years at Nazareth in the School of Management, immersing herself in the college experience and seizing every opportunity that came within reach.

Fast forward to 2018, and the genius of a seemingly simple piece of advice is evident. Yolanda is currently the director of Priority Projects and Workforce Initiatives at Wegmans, which essentially means that she coaches individual stores to help them achieve corporate goals. It's a position that may seem simple, but requires extensive oversight and the rare ability to work well with all types of people—from corporate executives to store employees. Luckily for Yolanda, working with people is not only something she loves, but something she excels at naturally.

Working at Wegmans has given Yolanda fulfillment, something that’s often a rarity in the modern workplace. Wegmans is an outlier in that regard: The company has been voted on the list of the “100 Best Companies to Work For” by FORTUNE magazine for 21 consecutive years, ranking #2 in 2018. “When I came to Wegmans it was very welcoming, they wanted to get to know you as an individual,” she recalls. “Everyone was happy about the work they were doing. There was always a lot of encouragement in everything you did. It gave me purposeful work, which is something I hadn’t experienced to that point.”

One example of that purposeful work is spending five years on assignment as a loaned executive to Hillside Work Scholarship Connection (HW-SC), a program that Wegmans started in 1987 to improve graduation rates of students in the Rochester City School District. “Each position I’ve held at Wegmans has been an experiential learning stepping stone for me. My time at Hillside Work Scholarship Connection was a chance for me to make an impact on someone’s life. I was one of those young people in the city school district looking for my opportunity, and it was so fulfilling to be able to be a guiding hand to those students.”

Yolanda embodies the Nazareth College mission, “to inspire dedication to the ideal of service to their communities.” It’s one of the many reasons she was presented the 2018 School of Management Distinguished Alumni Award. She has managed to provide service through both her position at Wegmans and in her spare time on a number of Rochester community boards and as a member of the Nazareth Board of Trustees, where she also chairs the newly formed Diversity and Inclusion Committee.

The last piece of advice Yolanda bestows is to find a mentor who can provide guidance for growth, both as a professional and as a person. It’s clear to anyone who has the fortune to meet her that she is the kind of mentor she describes.

Oliver Janzen ’18 (communication and media/legal studies) will attend the John Marshall Law School in Chicago this fall.