NEWS | April 30, 2020

Hidden Heroes: The ‘Maradona of Retail’ Leads Commissary to Singular Goal

By MC1 Scott Wichmann

NAVAL SUPPORT ACTIVITY NAPLES, Italy -- NSA Naples Commissary Director Lawrence Maravilla is no stranger to adversity.

In 1998, after Hurricane Mitch caused devastating landslides in his native Nicaragua, Maravilla found himself rolling up his sleeves and pitching in to distribute essential supplies to the affected locals.

Now directly responsible for sustainment operations for NSA Naples, the fifty-three-year-old Maravilla finds himself an essential employee, leveraging a lifetime of experience to meet the logistics challenges of the global COVID-19 pandemic.

“I’ve been through every experience you can imagine,” said Maravilla. “From Civil War, earthquakes, tsunamis, and volcanoes in Nicaragua to hurricanes in Miami. Every type of disaster you can think of, I’ve been through. For the first time I’m facing a situation with a pandemic. I’ve been preparing for this challenge.”

Maravilla said his experience with emergency logistics response efforts aided him in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, as he and his team sprang into action at the first sign of trouble.

“When the news of the virus started in Northern Italy we immediately knew that we would eventually be affected here in Naples,” he said. “We started to load up our warehouse and routinely increased our orders by 20 percent. Then we started looking for alternate approved local distributors to see what product substitutes we could bring in if there were any supply chain issues.”

Maravilla said that early action put the Naval Station Naples commissary on a solid footing.

“When Southern Italy shut down it was just a matter of re-stocking the shelves to meet the demand and continuing to provide great customer service,” he said.

Maravilla, who moved to the United States from Nicaragua in 1988 and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in public administration from Florida International University, has worked for retail giants such as Target and Kmart. In 2007, he applied to the Defense Commissary Agency (DECA) and was hired as front end manager at the Fort McCoy, Wisconsin commissary.

Maravilla soon embarked on a global service tour that took him to 10 commissaries in 13 years. Along the way he learned to simplify the logistics process for subordinates and colleagues in many host nations, often across language and cultural barriers. 

After a three-year tour as commissary officer at Chievres Air Base, in Chievres, Belgium, Maravilla took on the role of commissary director at Naval Support Activity Naples in 2018.

Maravilla said upon his arrival at NSA Naples, he immediately identified a unique feature of the commissary that set it apart from the others.

“What makes this commissary special is that this team has been together for over 20 years,” He said. “The experience level they have is outstanding and they already understand the importance of the commissary 100 percent.”

Maravilla said both he and the team in Naples already spoke the language of logistics.

“When I arrived here I didn’t have to retrain anybody,” he said. “That allowed us to simplify the process and keep the shelf full.”

DECA Naples financial technician Conchita Pellecchia, a Naples native, said Maravilla routinely solicits ideas from the entire store team, a practice that builds trust and reinforces unity.

“I suggested to him that they should have Plexiglas to protect the cashiers,” said Pellecchia. “He took that idea and really pushed it. It allows the cashiers to feel happy and safe.”

Pellecchia said she appreciates that continuing collaborative leadership approach.

“He really thinks about every suggestion we make,” she said.

DECA Naples grocery support manager Giovanni DeRosa praised Maravilla for his team-building skills and can-do spirit.

“Mister Maravilla, he connected with us and he created one team,” said DeRosa, “We work together and we can do it. Forza America, forza Italia, forza Napoli.”

Maravilla’s Latin background, and his ability to elevate the performance of his team, have spurred several local national commissary employees to nickname him “The Maradona of Retail,” a reference to legendary Argentinian soccer star Diego Maradona, who became a phenomenon when he came to Naples in 1984.

Maravilla, a longtime soccer fan and Maradona devotee, said he appreciated the comparison.

“Maradona is adored here in Naples,” said Maravilla, with a smile. “It makes me feel comfortable that they embraced me as part of their family and it definitely helps me to communicate with them in a more intimate way.”

Adm. James G. Foggo III, commander, Allied Joint Force Command Naples, and commander, U.S. Naval Forces Europe and Africa (CNE-A), said Maravilla’s contribution to the fight is invaluable, particularly when finding local workarounds for regional distribution delays.

“We’ve actually seen a supply surge here," said Foggo. "And the good news is that he’s buying locally. We do not see a shortage thanks to Larry and his very innovative solutions.”

Maravilla offered advice to commissary customers who may be wondering how to best help store employees face the challenge of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The best way customers can help us during this challenging time,” he said, “is to understand that we’re limiting the per-purchase quantity of certain products to give everybody the opportunity to buy them.”

Maravilla said despite the purchase limitations, his team will continue to work around-the-clock to make sure military members and their families can get what they need 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

“Don’t worry, there’s no need to panic,” he said. “We will be there for you. You are in good hands. We have an outstanding, proud, experienced team, and we understand our roles.”

“We’re not going to disappoint you.”