From Summer Job to Career – and Unexpected Passion

By Mike Zakaras
June 3, 2015
Mike Zakaras_poster image for YouTube Video

Those were my words during a recent Walmart commercial shoot. And I sincerely meant them. In January, my wife and I welcomed our first son into the world. That continues to be the most rewarding and life-changing experience. I was still on cloud nine in March, when I learned I was being promoted to store manager of the Walmart at 1455 East Lake Cook Road in Wheeling, Ill.

But when I say, “I’m happy,” I’m not just talking about this year. When I was going to school, I wanted to follow in the footsteps of the rest of my family. My dad is a firefighter, my mom is a nurse and I wanted to go into law enforcement. The bottom line was, I wanted to help people. I just didn't realize I was going to find that calling in retail – as a Walmart associate.

For me, Walmart began as a part-time summer job in the suburbs of Chicago when I graduated from high school. It was a way to earn money until I went away to college. But Walmart helped find me a store to transfer to near campus. As a kid, you really do have a world of opportunity with Walmart. Whether you're into marketing, computers, planning, training – there’s a path for you to learn and grow. And I was pretty quick to realize that.

I started unloading trucks, and then moved into sporting goods and other departments. After graduation, I put my law enforcement studies to work as a loss prevention manager, and that really sealed the deal. I thrived on the team environment, support and interaction with people. I had opportunities to leave and go into law enforcement like I’d planned, but I didn’t. I stayed, and that’s turned out to be a great decision.

As store manager, I’m basically CEO of my building. I have roughly 300 associates I’m responsible for, and we work together to overcome challenges and achieve success every day. What started as a summer job has grown into a career and, honestly, the freedom to follow my passion.

Working with young associates and getting everyone to rally together for a common goal is where I’m at my best. I see myself in every new associate. I’ve been there, and now I’m the one helping open doors for them. All I ever wanted to do was help people. That’s what I do every day with Walmart.

Mike Zakaras is one of several real associates who can be seen in this Walmart ad about our investment in higher wages, education and training.