Thursday, January 18, 2018

Meet a Roadrunner: Jesse Vargas ’96 is the general manager of Ferrari World Abu Dhabi

(Nov. 1, 2017) -- Meet Jesse Vargas ’96. He found his calling in leadership at UTSA and now manages Ferrari World Abu Dhabi.

Growing up in Crystal City, Texas, Vargas had a head for business from a young age.

“I went to my elementary school with a briefcase instead of a backpack,” he said.

Vargas was likely taking after his father and grandfather, both entrepreneurs whom he admired deeply. His father, who owned an electronics repair and sales company, took Vargas along on buying trips when he was a child.

By the time Vargas was in high school, his family had moved to San Antonio and was adamant that he earn a college degree.

“We went on tours of campuses, and I applied to various schools, but UTSA always felt like my home university and the one I needed to attend,” he said.

When he arrived at UTSA in 1991, he quickly immersed himself in the campus culture, finding a welcoming, diverse community that allowed him to have an active social life to balance with his studies in the College of Business.

“I applied myself in the right ways,” he said. “UTSA really helped me to learn how to learn. I’ve always been a very curious person but I think college is the best time to seek out knowledge, because what you learn as a college student tends to inform the rest of your life.”

Vargas recalled that the last two years of his time at UTSA were the most challenging as well as the most rewarding. He participated in a mentorship program with the management team at SeaWorld, which helped him learn how to craft business objectives for a company. The experience continues to inform his work today.

In 1996, Vargas graduated from UTSA with an undergraduate degree in business, with a concentration in leadership and management. While in school, he worked nearby at Six Flags Fiesta Texas.

Eventually, he moved on to other jobs in the entertainment and hospitality industry, including senior management roles at the San Francisco Zoo and at the Atlantis Resort in the Bahamas.

In 2014, he discovered an opportunity to work for Ferrari World Abu Dhabi as its general manager and immediately jumped at it.

He now lives in the United Arab Emirates, and among his many responsibilities is bringing people from all over the world to the park, which is home to the world’s fastest roller coaster.

“Living and working in Abu Dhabi has been an invaluable experience,” Vargas said. “We have 68 different nationalities working in the park and people from 167 different countries have visited. It’s an incredible mix of cultures and approaches to business.”

Vargas frequently draws on his time at UTSA to lead a diverse group of people and motivate tourists from other cultures to visit Ferrari World.

“I really enjoy seeing visitors experience the park,” he said. “Everyone sees it a different way, and it’s great being a part of their vacation. We’re creating memories. People save their whole lives to experience this once-in-a-lifetime visit; it’s definitely something I hold very dear to my heart.”

Vargas also travels internationally quite frequently for his job and has been moved by the presence of UTSA t-shirts, hats and sweatshirts in airports on the other side of the world.

“It’s amazing to travel to London and see people wearing UTSA gear in the airport, in this international crowd,” he said. “It’s been amazing to see UTSA grow, and I’m proud to be a part of it.”

- Joanna Carver

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