Nichol Garzon is the chief legal officer and senior vice president of corporate development at Glass Lewis. In that role, she provides management, leadership, strategic direction, and oversight for all of the company’s legal, compliance, and regulatory affairs. Beyond those global responsibilities, Garzon has made it a mission to inspire Latinx executives all over the US, leveraging the lessons she’s gleaned from her career journey to uplift others.
Garzon shares that journey with The Alumni Society, including her multicultural upbringing, how she got her start in law and her mentorship aspirations.
What do you do today?
I am the chief legal officer and senior vice president of corporate development of Glass Lewis, a proxy advisory firm and one of the leading providers of governance solutions in the world. In that role, I am responsible for providing management, leadership, strategic direction, and oversight of all of Glass Lewis’ legal, compliance, and regulatory affairs globally. I also work closely with the board and other members of the C-suite to identify and evaluate new strategic and growth opportunities, and I manage the company’s mergers and acquisitions. In addition, I am the corporate secretary, chair of the compliance and regulatory committees, and member of the risk committee of Glass Lewis, as well as a board member of Glass Lewis’ international subsidiaries.
What was your biggest professional accomplishment over the past year?
Last year, I took on the added role of SVP of corporate development (in addition to my existing legal function as chief legal officer). In my new role, I led the acquisition of a company based in Paris, including its successful integration into the Glass Lewis group. In getting the deal closed, I was not only able to demonstrate my added value as a business partner, but I was also able to leverage my French language capabilities and knowledge of French business culture.
Being able to conduct all meetings in French with the team, as well as with the French regulator, which was a bit skeptical about the company’s acquisition by a US company, went a long away and resulted in a much smoother transition. The deal structure and economics were complex, and discussions were delicate because of the differences between the US and French ways of doing business.
How has your identity and your connection to your culture evolved as your career has progressed?
I was born in Los Angeles, but moved to Guadalajara, Mexico, when I was seven years old. My dad is Colombian, and my mom is half Mexican, half German-Irish. Growing up, we moved back and forth between the US and Mexico, and I ended up spending an equal amount of time in both places. I chose to go to college and law school in Mexico, after graduating from high school in the US. After law school, I worked for a corporate law firm in Mexico, mainly focused on helping US companies interested in doing business/investing in Mexico. After two years, I moved to San Francisco, and took and passed the California bar exam. In 2003, I moved to Chicago to pursue an LLM in corporate and securities law from Northwestern.
After graduating, I moved back to San Francisco and came across a posting for a start-up called Glass Lewis, which was looking for professionals with a background in business, law, finance, or accounting and with multiple language skills (including Spanish). I took a leap of faith and started working for Glass Lewis. My first two years were spent developing the first set of policy guidelines for companies in LATAM and continental Europe, writing and publishing research reports, and ultimately hiring and training the first international team of research analysts for those regions. In 2007, when Glass Lewis’ founders (both former lawyers), left the firm, I became Glass Lewis’ first general counsel.
During the first part of my career, the connection to my identity and culture was very present and reflected in the nature of the roles I took on and the work I was interested in. Today, my day-to-day job may not be as directly connected to my identity and culture, but I have not lost sight of this. My approach has just shifted slightly.
For the past few years, I have made it a personal priority to elevate my profile and document my journey as a Latina leader, to hopefully lead the way and inspire other Latina executives in the US to do the same. I am a proactive member of several Latinx organizations that are committed to paying it forward. I regularly speak at events sponsored or hosted by the Latinx community. I actively participate in leadership initiatives and programs geared toward elevating Latinos and Latinas in law and business. And I aspire to serve as a Latina mentor.
What community involvement is important for you outside of your role? How have you seen your own community change during your career?
I am a member of the Latino Corporate Directors Association, the Hispanic National Bar Association, the San Francisco La Raza Lawyers Association, and the Association of Latino Professionals for America, among other groups. It is important for me to continue to promote the importance of embracing one’s culture, particularly that of the Latino community. It wasn’t that long ago that people were embarrassed to admit they were Latinos or tried to hide their identity. In fact, many Latinos do not speak Spanish and wish they did but their parents refused to teach them because they thought they would more easily blend in.
While this still happens in certain parts of the country, the newer generations of Latinos are different in that they have learned to value their diversity and see it as an advantage, as opposed to a disadvantage. They understand that being able to share a different perspective, shaped by the experiences they have had as a Latino, is a unique gift. We owe it to our community to ensure all Latinos continue to feel supported and proud of their cultural differences and heritage.
Given the increased focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion—particularly in the last few years—I have been lucky to witness such a huge shift in our community during my career.
The theme of this year’s Leadership Summit is Conexión: a reminder of the cultural connection that bonds Latinos and a call to embrace the exponential power we wield when we move as one. What does conexión mean to you and how has it helped you in your life and career?
There are many types of Latinos, and there is more to us than our physical appearance, names, and languages. Even with the enormous diversity within our Latino community, there is one thing that will always connect us to each other: the strong emphasis we place on family and the value we find in close personal relationships. This connection has been consistently present in my life and throughout my career and it has undoubtedly shaped who I am today.
This is the first generation of Latinos who have the potential to see people that look like them in virtually every kind of role and leadership position. Many of us, and those who came before us, had to make our own way and find mentors who may not have shared our experiences. What does mentorship mean to you and how are you passing your own experiences forward?
Most of the mentors I have had throughout my career have not been like me nor have they had the same experiences that I have had either because they have been men, non-Latinos, or simply not had the same family commitments/cultural expectations. My aspiration as a mentor is to be able to share the experiences I’ve had and lessons I’ve learned, as well as the strategies that have helped me accomplish my goals. Also, to convey how to balance a full-time executive role while being a Latina who is fully dedicated to her multi-generational family.
In December of last year, I was selected to be part of PODER25, an initiative aimed at increasing the number of Latinx attorneys occupying senior positions within corporate legal departments, with the immediate goal of increasing the number of Latinx general counsel in Fortune 500 companies to a minimum of twenty by the year 2025. PODER25 also fosters opportunities to serve as a general counsel mentor to other members who may not yet be as advanced in their legal journey but aspire to be, as well as to help grow the talent pipeline of Latinx attorneys (including those who may be a good fit for the program in the future).
This is something that is of great interest to me and that I will actively pursue this year.