“As general counsel, I have to know when to step back from details and see a bigger picture when decisions are considered.”

Ivonne Cabrera’s path into the legal field began as an undergraduate when she was invited into a conversation with the dean of the University of Miami School of Law. She was headed for mathematics or for medicine, but that conversation about the law and what a young woman could achieve with a legal career made her switch paths. Now as vice president of business affairs and general counsel at Knowles Electronics, in Itasca, Illinois, a subsidiary of Dover Corporation, Cabrera handles the full panoply of corporate legal issues while also working closely with the management team and traveling extensively to Knowles’ far-flung company locations. With one foot on legal grounds and the other firmly planted on business affairs, Cabrera explains how her hybrid role has expanded her perspective—and career possibilities.

“I was sent to Knowles to become a different kind of corporate lawyer, and that is certainly what is happening.”—Ivonne Cabrera, Vice President of Business Affairs & General Counsel

After serving at Dover Corporation, the parent company of Knowles Electronics, I was asked to join Knowles—a growing and innovative subsidiary—in a combined business and legal assignment. The new assignment was an opportunity to take on more varied responsibilities, to get corporate-wide experience and to extend my legal knowledge in new ways. It’s a real challenge. Knowles is one of Dover’s largest operations, a leading designer and manufacturer of advanced micro-acoustic components for the consumer electronics and hearing-health markets. It is thriving. It has more than 6,000 employees and 16 offices worldwide.

I feel like I am thriving, too. At Knowles I am the key legal advisor; I oversee the company’s compliance with different business regulations and practices around the world—literally everywhere it operates. I am responsible for assessing risks, overseeing intellectual property issues, considering conflict of interest rules, and ensuring right and legal practices. But at Knowles I am also actively involved with the management team—targeting commercial matters from factory locations to new-product development. This is really unusual experience, the kind of experience that lawyers don’t typically have. I was sent to Knowles to become a different kind of corporate lawyer, and that is certainly what is happening.

One special responsibility is helping integrate new acquisitions into Knowles’ corporate culture. For me, working directly with an acquired company, solving the problems of aligning it with everything else we do, has been a great education. The legal issues are part of the challenge, but my involvement goes way beyond the legal issues. It is really interesting when the legal and the business aspects of an acquisition just don’t fit neatly together—both sides of my job are put to the test.

Traveling abroad has been crucial both to my work at Knowles and to my future with Dover Corporation. I came to Knowles with little day-to-day knowledge about manufacturing or marketing. Visiting the company’s sites and its people all over the world, I’ve had to learn a lot that I never learned in law school. I’ve learned the importance of automation and innovation. I’ve become familiar with manufacturing processes and the decisions that have to be made in the field. I’ve learned how standards are set for our products, and what’s important to our customers. In so many ways, my skills and my perspectives have expanded.

I come from a family of strong men and women, and maybe that’s the reason I am so dedicated to work and equally to family. My parents and grandparents emigrated from Cuba and had demanding jobs. They were ambitious; unstoppable, really. They raised me and my sister with ideals of hard work and high regard for others. They counted on us to do well. The Cuban community that surrounded us was warm and nourishing, too, and I think it also set a path for success.

Knowles has encouraged me to gain leadership experience. At Knowles, we have a solid group of professionals who work together, facing the risks and challenges of our business. We have conviction in what we are doing, and we have shared purpose. I have to make difficult decisions; we all do. But sometimes lawyers in particular have to advise in areas and on issues that are unusually grey and complicated. As general counsel, I have to know when to step back from details and see a bigger picture when decisions are considered. I have to look through a frame of law and policy. All of us have to get the questions right and find solutions that are practical.

What I enjoy most about my job is the broad array of issues that I encounter every day. I like the exposure to different countries and different cultures. I like working with business leaders internationally, confronting the global issues that impact business. I really look forward to taking all the experience I’ve had at Knowles back to Dover, where my next challenge is likely to be. What I really hope is that my training, my expanded interests in business and the law, are preparing me to get the best out of work and out of life.