November 13, 2022

Michael Gossie

How Gila River’s Robin Villareal went from food service to CIO

In the gaming and technology industries, women in leadership can be hard to find. But Robin Villareal is shattering the glass ceiling and leading the way for the future of women — not only in the gaming industry, but in the tech industry, too.

Villareal is chief information officer at Gila River Resorts & Casinos, the largest gaming destination in Phoenix, with three casinos, and another on the way. As a Gila River Indian Community Member, Villareal has had a unique experience to get into her current leadership position —  starting in the food and beverage department and climbing her way up the ladder through the company’s mentorship program and transitional leadership opportunities.

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Villareal’s career motto is, “I choose to walk ahead to plant the seeds so those who come behind can enjoy the flowers.”

Az Business talked with Villareal to dig deeper into her incredible story.

Az Business: How did you move from food service to technology?

Robin Villareal: I had a call ticket into the IT department and told them my disc was stuck in my A drive. They never had anybody talk like that on the phone. They offered me a position two days and said that they would be interested in having me be a technician. I was like, “I don’t know anything about IT.” They said, “Actually, you know more than you think you do.” From there, that’s how it started.

AB: Most people would be scared, but you embraced it. How did you overcome those challenges?

RV: It’s that drive of having the responsibility of being a single parent and making sure you have food and a house. That was really the drive. I would do anything I could do to make a living for me and my son. But to be honest, I also love the challenge of learning something new.

AB: What do you think it is about you or your background that gave you the ability to be self-taught and self-motivated?

RV: It’s having a vested interest here in the community. I am a community member from Gila River. I’m also Hopi. Having my parents really instill in me the importance of tribal sovereignty and sustainability for our communities. And gaming revenues are probably the most important and vital piece for our community’s future.

AB: What does it mean to you to be an example for other members of your community to emulate?

RV: I’m very humbled and I’m very honored, to be honest. When I got into this role, it was an internal challenge for me because, culturally, we don’t want to put ourselves out there and boast about our accomplishments. Having mentors though, like Sheila Morago (executive director of the Oklahoma Indian Gaming Association) telling me, “You’re in it. You own it. You’re a leader and you can lead the path for other women to come behind you.” And so, being able to hear that and knowing that there is a bigger opportunity where I could be used as an example. But I don’t really look at the leadership aspect of it. It’s more. “What can I do each day to make sure that we are better than yesterday?