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Benny Paulino - Retail

Senior District Manager
“Where I've been most successful as I've grown my career has been because I've had a mentor.”

Today, Benny Paulino is Old Navy’s senior district manager for Manhattan and a mentor to Old Navy staff who are just starting their careers. 

But in 1998, when he joined Old Navy’s sister brand Gap as a seasonal sales associate, he didn’t see a future for himself in retail. In fact, Benny already had a full-time job working in a warehouse. “My wife had lost her job,” Benny remembers. “We had two kids and we needed money to buy them Christmas presents.” 

Benny started working immediately after getting his GED and had never worked in retail. He is one of the 70 million workers in the U.S. who are STARs - Skilled Through Alternative Routes, rather than a bachelor's degree. As a STAR with no retail experience, Benny assumed his part-time work with Gap would end after the holiday season. 

Much to Benny’s surprise, Gap asked him to stay, recognizing the many transferable skills he developed through his warehouse experience. “I was good at problem-solving and organization,” Benny explains “I was a fast learner of new technology. I had operational skills, data management, inventory, scheduling, and billing.”

Even as Benny worked two jobs he was able to move up at  Gap. “After every position, I started seeing the next position and kept getting encouraged and promoted,” he says. “I believed in myself, but I also was surrounded by people who were investing time in me.” 

After two years, he left his warehouse job and joined Gap full time. By 2003, Benny was a general manager of his own store with dreams of becoming a district manager. Just when the future looked brightest, it seemed Benny might hit the paper ceiling. “I was told by a senior leader that I could never be a district manager for this company,” he recalls. Back then, skills-based hiring was in its infancy and most retail companies required district managers to have a bachelor’s degree. 

That lit a fire under Benny. He remembers thinking, “Nobody has the right to tell anybody what their limits are.” By 2007, Benny had been promoted to district manager at Old Navy. His skills, resilience, and hard work helped him tear the paper ceiling. But he also credits something else: mentors. 

“Where I've been most successful as I've grown my career has been because I've had a mentor to encourage me and keep me on the right track,” Benny explains. “I feel like I have a responsibility to continue to pay it forward.”

Benny’s experience as a STAR has helped shape Old Navy’s This Way ONward - a program that boosts confidence in young people looking for an opportunity to shine, with a focus on serving Black and Latinx communities. This Way ONward provides one-on-one mentorship, coaching, and on-the-job skill building to help young STARs find a way in and a way up. Since 2007, This Way ONward has benefited more than 15,000 young STARs.

“Mentorship is critically important,” says Benny. According to research from LinkedIn, in the U.S., degree holders are three times more likely to have a strong network than non-degree holders. “This Way ONward focuses on mentorship right from the beginning.” 

Old Navy sees the future of retail very clearly - one in which all hiring is based on skills. In 2021, Old Navy formally removed education requirements for 99 percent of its advertised jobs. Next for Old Navy is delivering on its commitment to hire five percent of entry-level brand associates through This Way ONward by 2025.

Benny says, “We provide a place where they feel that they are contributing to the communities they're in, but also they're building skills for the future.” 

That’s a future every STAR can look forward to.

Alternative Routes:

  • Work Experience

Top 3 Skills:

  • Communication
  • Problem solving
  • Time management