California Dreamin'

May 23, 2017 Elizabeth M. San Nicolas

KATHY SGRO HAS ALWAYS been a people person, with a head for business. She mused, “The overall aspect of a business and the dynamics of how it works. I think I’m more people-oriented, and looking at the big picture. I really enjoy organizing and dealing with people. Some things are just part of you, the things that you enjoy. And that’s what I enjoy. Organizing things, being around people, coming up with creative ideas.”

The soft-spoken chairwoman and executive vice president of Pay-Less Markets Inc. completed her higher education in California, at the College of Notre Dame (now Notre Dame de Namur University), Santa Clara University, and Golden Gate University.

Kathy started out at the College of Notre Dame in 1977 with her sister, Vera. She remembered, “I was part of a running group. I got involved in the international club. We performed island dances, and we invited people from the local community that were in the area, and my sister Vera and I danced the batsu.”

In 1979 she transferred to the larger Santa Clara campus, where she became a peer advisor, joined the Zeta Tau Alpha sorority, and continued to represent Guam in international days. “Throughout my four years in school I always ran. And Santa Clara had this awesome indoor pool, so during the winter I would swim. I was always keeping active,” Kathy revealed.

Her favorite classes were those in Business. “Small Business Entrepreneurship, that made an impact on me—the dynamics of running a business,” she said. “Before that I had a lot of my fundamentals in Management, Marketing, and Statistics, and bringing it all together was really neat. And then I did an internship when I was at Santa Clara. I worked for a brokerage firm in Los Altos. It was a very good experience.”

Kathy chose Santa Clara because it was the alma mater of her father, former Gov. Paul Calvo. He was part of the last all-male graduating class before the university went co-ed.

“That was really special, going to the school where my dad had been,”
she expressed. “It was also close by too; my parents have a home in the Bay Area, and it was convenient. So although I was away from home, I wasn’t too far away because I had family, and it was nice having my sister close by for two years of my college experience.”

Kathy finished her Bachelor of Commerce at Santa Clara with a concentration in Marketing in 1981, and took with her friendships for a lifetime. “My roommate from Notre Dame, she and I were born on the same day of the same year. She followed me to Santa Clara. And she, along with three other women, I continue to be close with to this day,” she said.

After a short break she decided to get her Master’s of Business Administration in financial planning. “I was looking for the fastest way to get it. So I looked at the track at Golden Gate University,” Kathy explained. “I was able to get my MBA degree and graduate in June 1984. I was a commuter student at my graduate degree. Did I get involved in anything? No! I was on a fast track. I finished it within a year and a half.”

When asked how she’s changed since her sorority days, she bubbled with laughter. “Oh my goodness! That’s a lot! If we could all go back and do what we know now!” she blurted out. “Certainly, I’m a lot more contemplative about some of my decisions. I’m less impulsive. I still enjoy running. There’s a lot that I still continue to do. Also, where I am today, you look at companies, people, structures in a different way. It’s not as elevated. Things make more sense now, through the years. [There’s] a better appreciation for our culture as we get older. Our roots are more important.”

Going into the family business was always the goal for Kathy. “I think, inevitably, I wanted to come back and work for the family business. Because who better than family to continue the legacy of a business?”

"People who have a passion and desire to work, to want to improve-those are the people that eventually end up in higher positions."

Keeping that legacy alive has become her goal, though the path may have been unclear in her youth. “A lot of my parents’ visions and passions, my dad in particular, I think here at Pay-Less we’ve been able to pretty much follow through with that,” she said. “Being a company that is community-centric and customer-centric, and progressive. I think, if I were to look back, I would say that some vague goals that I had at the time, I would say I’ve met them.”

She doesn’t regret a minute of her college days, but Kathy said an expensive degree is no guarantee of future success. “Going to college is important. Education is very important. But at the end of the day, it’s what you do with what you’ve got. Because we have many talented people who have not had the opportunity to go to college… People who have a passion and desire to work, to want to improve—those are the people that eventually end up in higher positions. The whole idea of going off-island and getting an education is definitely a learning experience, and I’ve encouraged my children to do it. But it’s part of life. It’s a growing experience.”

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