Written By: Shawn Whitsell
Victor Berrios was only five years old when his mother bravely packed up her life, her belongings and her two boys – departing Santurce, Puerto Rico, for Brooklyn, New York. Together, they formed a dynamic trio on a quest for opportunity.
Recalling his upbringing in a segregated New York, Berrios has mixed feelings. Although he was well-liked by his peers, his unwillingness to attach himself to a particular group caused him to feel somewhat isolated. Being friends with everyone was always ideal. This mindset, along with his heart for acceptance, diversity and inclusion would not only serve him well in his personal life, but would manifest years later in his professional life.
Although he loved the “Big Apple” and deeply appreciated his upbringing and education, Berrios hungered for something beyond it.
“I knew at an early age that I wanted to do something different,” he said. “I didn’t want to stay in Brooklyn and raise a family. I wanted to experience the world.”
Perhaps the desire for something greater led him to the United States Army, where he served for more than seven years before being honorably discharged. He traded army uniforms and military bases for civilian clothes and a college campus. He landed at the University of Colorado in Colorado Springs, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in Computer Information Technology.
Later, Berrios parlayed his military experience and educational background into the hotel business, where he worked for more than 25 years. In the late 90’s, he and a partner invested in Harmony Hospitality in Branson, Missouri. The pair successfully managed nine hotels for various entities before Berrios sold his interest in the company, and transitioned into vacation ownership. He opened resorts for the Florida-based company and was later promoted to Regional General Manager, with multiple hotels under his direction.
He then went on to open a furniture store in Seymour, Tennessee, before purchasing the rights to the Jani-King franchise in Nashville and, later, Memphis.
Though Berrios admits he never imagined being in the hospitality industry, he loves it and understands that just as he has helped grow his business, the business has helped him grow as a man.
“Once I was in it, I enjoyed the hospitality community. I enjoyed meeting and talking to people all over the world; from different cultures, different backgrounds,” he said. “I was actually growing as I was meeting these other people. I became a sponge and that was intriguing to me. That line of work gave me that opportunity and I really enjoyed that part of it.”
One of the many things Berrios finds most rewarding about his job is the people and the impact his company makes in the lives of all those associated with it.
“What my company does; it helps improve the lives of others,” he says. “When I looked at this model in this business, what appealed to me was the fact that I can help other people become business owners,” he said. “In franchising, you’re in business for yourself and not by yourself. I took that to heart.”
Berriors says his passion is to provide a workspace that his employees and franchisers can be proud of, as well as give them sense that after they leave Jani-King they will be worth more in the marketplace.”
Because Jani-King meets all of its obligations, is growing fast and honors what it promises to provide, Berrios considers his company successful by traditional standards. One might look at his life and career, concluding that he’s a successful businessman. Though he appreciates the sentiment, Berrios sees it somewhat differently.
“From a personal standpoint, I don’t believe I can ever be successful. The reason I say that is because once you say you’re successful at something, you’ve reached a pinnacle. I can’t reach that pinnacle because there are so many people depending on me continuing on and not becoming complacent because I believe I’m successful,” he says humbly.
It is because of this need to continue climbing that serves him each day, as if he hasn’t achieved half of what he’s accomplished. He calls the shots of a CEO yet hustles like a hungry intern.
“I challenge me more than anyone can challenge me,” he said. “Every day I get up to see what I can do: how can I build, what can I accomplish, what goal can I exceed?”
“With entering the military so young, my character, my personality was molded to that military mentality and when I went into civilian life, I carried a lot of that over,” he continues. “From a business standpoint, it was great because I was determined. I had deadlines I knew I had to meet and I would do those things to make you successful in business. However, from a relationship standpoint, it was tough to relate to people and for people to relate to me because there was a wall there. So, I had to break down that wall. The way I did that was first acknowledging that that was problem a for me.”
The hammer Berrios used to knock down his “wall” was adopting the idea that no one is a stranger; just people to better know.
This idea has helped him conquer the anxiety he felt when meeting new people and speaking publicly. It also helps facilitate the idea of inclusion within his company.
“People will do more for you and people will like to work with you if you lead them instead of managing,” he said. “There’s a big difference between leading and managing. You manage a process but you can never manage people. You lead people. You lead by example and by inclusion. You become a servant leader. You can’t be the head all the time. You have to ask for people’s opinions, ideas and contributions and include them in major decisions within the company. Make them understand that they are an intricate part of your company and you. I truly believe if you do that, people take more ownership of what they do.”
Berrios also believes in the importance of people taking risks and sometimes failing. His own maturation in the hospitality business was fostered partly by the wrong turns taken and the mistakes made, which he considers to be a necessary part of the journey. He wants the same for his employees.
“I like people to be themselves. I like people to be able to go out and make mistakes. I truly believe that experience is nothing but a collection of mistakes. I like my people to go out and do what they do, make the mistake and [then] learn from them.”
When he’s not manning the reigns at Jani-King or serving on the Board of Directors at the Tennessee Latin American Chamber of Commerce, the Brentwood, Tennessee, resident enjoys softball, golf and boating. He is also a married father of six. He refers to his five-year-old (his only child under the age of 21) as his “greatest passion” and from the sounds of it, he puts equal energy into making sure his son is successful as he puts into his own business –giving him opportunities he (and his older children) did not have.
“I want to see him grow up to be a solid citizen; a good man,” he says.
When asked if he is living the American Dream, Berrios, who stressed his unconcern with material things, says, “I’m living the dream I set for myself. My dream is to be satisfied with who I am.”