Next time you’re in Walmart purchasing an undershirt for your partner or pick up a printed tee for your nephew, think of Twilla Brooks. As a Black woman who has spent 10 years climbing the ranks within the mega-retail company, the Southern California native is a certified powerhouse. Overseeing all of the menswear across a variety of categories stateside, the Vice President and Divisional Merchandise Manager of Menswear knows exactly what loyal consumers need.

“Our motto is ‘We Dress America’ and we make sure that it is a representation of our customer base,” says Brooks. “I also want customers to know that we work hard to deliver products that are affordable, are relevant to current trends and that have a quality that’s just as good as department stores.”

Long before becoming an executive at the household brand, Brooks earned her stripes in the industry right out of UC Santa Barbara at two other retailers, Macy’s and Robinsons May, where she worked in many areas, including costume jewelry, small leather goods, watches, plus sizes and sportswear. 

Amazing stories of hard work, determination and success like Brooks’ empower and impact our communities positively. “My experience is unique because I don’t think an African American has ever had this role and especially not a Woman. My goal is to always bring my authentic self to work and show people that you can get where you want to go by being yourself,” she says.

ESSENCE spoke with her about how she leads, achieves her goals and works with Walmart to help foster an environment for the entire company to thrive. 

Essence: What is it like to be in a leadership role at Walmart? 

Twilla Brooks: A leadership role at Walmart means that you are always willing to pay it forward, be strategic and humble. You dedicate yourself to teach and train associates who are on your team or around you. You have to be curious, be willing to take risks and know that you will fail. The goal is to fail fast and learn from your mistakes so that you can improve as you go.

Essence: What would you say is your leadership style? 

Twilla Brooks: I’m a very transparent communicator. Right, wrong or indifferent, you will always know where you stand. You have to be willing to be wrong and open to listen.

Essence: How do you connect to your team to create synergy and success?

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Twilla Brooks: I get them involved. I like to give as many projects as I can. With my job, I cannot be everywhere and do everything on my own. I have to trust them and allow them to be present. When people feel like they are part of a team and are wanted for their talent, then working well together becomes natural.

Essence: How does Walmart support you and help foster your success?

Twilla Brooks: I have been very fortunate because I have a network of people who want to see me succeed. In my very first meeting, I wanted to give my opinion during a tough conversation with other colleagues and one of my fellow officers looked at me and shook her head. I knew immediately it wasn’t my fight and to stay out of it. Moments like that, you just can’t teach.

Essence: Did you set your sights on your current success at an early age? 

Twilla Brooks: No way. I had no idea that this was even possible. I don’t think I even realized that I would move up until my team won the Category Team of the Year award in 2014. And even then, I thought I would be promoted. I don’t know if anyone can dream of the opportunities that are being given to me. That being said, I am honored and will work tirelessly every day to continue to do a great job.

Essence: How do you hope your presence and work will impact the company currently and for years to come? 

Twilla Brooks: I hope I set an example of what is possible and I will work hard to pave a way for many leaders that will come after me. I also want people to know to never take things for granted, always be prepared and constantly create scenarios where you are two steps ahead. Create variables, pivot and react when necessary. Lastly remember that you can have fun along the way through your experiences of traveling to countries all over the world for work, playing Softball in the Executive vs. Intern Softball game or within your daily interactions at work.

Essence: Lastly, who or what has influenced you and continues to influence you as you continue to reach new heights in your career? 

Twilla Brooks: First, I would say my mentor Carol Tucker who was an elementary school teacher. She was the first one who started to push me at the age of 11 and introduced me to books, museums and people I would have never met if it weren’t for her. She always knew that I could do anything that I put my mind up to. Til’ this day I often think of her when I take a new role or try something new. Secondly, I would be remiss if I didn’t recognize the fact that not many women of color achieve success in the field of merchandising. That continues to drive me and will always influence me — understanding the importance of my presence at Walmart, who I interact with and the achievements I make.

I have a responsibility to the women of color who have come before me and the women of color who will rise behind me. It is my duty and obligation to keep striving and be worthy of that honor.