Building From the In-House Out

Jenny Maldonado of DXP’s small but mighty in-house legal department helps the Houston-based company stay one step ahead of the competition

When DXP Enterprises hired Jenny Maldonado in 2013, she wasn’t asked to the company’s legal department. She was asked to help build it.

As assistant general counsel at DXP Enterprises, Inc., Maldonado’s role is varied. She spends most of her day drafting and negotiating agreements and closing deals with a range of customers, from small independents to Fortune 500 multinationals. She is responsible for protecting the company against commercial and legal risks while keeping business flowing and customers happy. She’s the go-to counsel for the DXP commercial team, which includes DXP and many of its subsidiaries.

Jenny Maldonado Assistant General Counsel  DXP Enterprises
Jenny Maldonado
Assistant General Counsel
DXP Enterprises

It would be impressive enough if Maldonado handled these duties as a member of a large legal department, but the DXP legal department consists only of three individuals. Doing a lot with a little, the Texas distribution company relies on its general counsel, assistant general counsel, and their assistant to navigate legal matters. The legal team benefits from Maldonado’s specialized prior experience in negotiating hundreds of deals in the energy field. Her internal clients trust her to not only protect them, but also to help them manage relationships with their customers.

“I think the most important thing we have in our department is a unified front, and we’re able to maximize our efforts through disciplined processes and organization,” Maldonado says. “We are a small legal team, but it’s kind of an advantage because our general counsel is very supportive, and we are able to quickly come to agreement on how to serve the clients’ needs.”

Prior to her arrival, DXP used outside counsel to serve some of the commercial needs of the company, which was costly yet lacked cohesion.

“One of the biggest challenges is showing an already successful company that doing things differently can actually impact important areas of the business. We can be better protected, and as a result, improve the return to the business and its shareholders,” Maldonado says.

In creating a new legal department, one of the initial challenges was to win over colleagues who had never worked with an internal legal department before.  “It was up to me to get in there and prove my value and show my worth,” Maldonado says. She was quickly successful in building the trust needed between the business team and the legal department.

Maldonado was the first in her family to graduate from both high school and college. After graduating magna cum laude from the Honors College at the University of Houston in less than three years, she went on to get a master’s degree in English, and finally her law degree from the University of Chicago. After establishing her practice as an attorney, she taught English classes at Houston Community College, and found that drafting agreements is surprisingly similar to grading papers. “The good ones are a pleasure to work with, and the bad ones are painful,” she says.

At DXP, her work is challenging, complex, and always has to be good. DXP distributes products and services to a wide range of markets and is currently facing a push from Amazon. While new competitors always put pressure on the company and the legal department, DXP sees the business from a different perspective than most competitors. “There are many competitors in this business, but DXP differentiates itself because it partners with the customer, not just a distributor. Many customers are up and running 24/7, so DXP has to be able to anticipate their needs, fill them, and service what it sells in order to win their business,” Maldonado explains. This means the sales team must be increasingly agile and flexible—as do Maldonado and the legal department.

As Maldonado says, “negotiating, structuring, and closing deals in a way that adequately protects DXP isn’t always conducive to closing deals the fastest.” And while Maldonado will be the first to admit the team is small in size, she knows it’s big in know-how and experience, which is why the team can achieve its goals efficiently.

“We’re drawing on our collective knowledge and experience to the benefit of DXP and its customers,” she says. “That’s what the business and the legal department are focused on, and DXP is really good at that. We’re there for those customers.”