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Luis Aguilar’s interest in law began when he was in grade school and he moved to Little Rock, Arkansas. The schools had recently desegregated, but social separation persisted, and Aguilar, a Cuban immigrant, was in the middle.
As he witnessed the aftermath of desegregation, Aguilar was struck by the power of the legal process. “The thought of being a lawyer starts to creep up because you realize there’s this power out there that can force people to do things they don’t necessarily want to do volitionally—things I thought were good,” he says.
Aguilar began law school with the intention of becoming a civil rights lawyer, but he soon shifted his focus to corporate and securities law. He began his career as an attorney at the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), and for more two decades, he worked at both nationally recognized law firms and as general counsel, head of compliance, and executive vice president for a global asset management firm.
His term as commissioner began on July 31, 2008, six weeks before the stock market crashed, and the agency entered one of its most active periods. “I was in the middle of the eye of the hurricane of what they call the Great Recession,” Aguilar says. “For better or for worse—and I hope for the better—my fingerprints are on the new generation of regulations that are going to govern the capital markets.” He then entered a brief retirement, but it soon became clear that sitting at home wasn’t satisfying for the self-described “type-A workaholic.” He became a partner at Alston & Bird before moving to McKenna Long & Aldridge. Shortly thereafter, he received a call on behalf of the majority leader of the US Senate asking if he would consider joining the SEC as a commissioner.
Originally appointed by President George W. Bush, Aguilar was reappointed by President Barack Obama in 2011, becoming the eighth longest-serving commissioner in history of the SEC and only one of three commissioners who were appointed by presidents of two different political parties.
He has often heard himself described as a no-nonsense communicator—a trait that was a job requirement for years. “As a commissioner, I didn’t have the luxury of straddling fences,” he says. “You actually have to vote yes or no on things. If you’re going to vote yes or no, I think you owe it to the American public, to the SEC staff, and to your fellow commissioners to be clear as to why you’re a yes or why you’re a no.”
Donnelly Financial Solutions Inc.
MiMedx Group Inc.
When he left the SEC at the end of 2015, Aguilar was approached by various companies about serving on their boards. In due course, he joined the boards of Envestnet Inc., a provider of portfolio, management, and reporting solutions to financial advisors and institutions; Donnelly Financial Solutions Inc., a financial communications and data services company; and MiMedx Group Inc., a regenerative medicine and biopharmaceutical company.
MiMedx’s chairman and CEO Parker H. Petit is grateful for the work Aguilar has accomplished throughout his career. “We thank you for your dedication and commitment to improving diversity, especially for women and minorities throughout your career and all you have given back to your communities and constituents.”
In addition, Aguilar became a partner at Falcon Cyber Investments, an equity investment firm.
If he represented the American people as a commissioner, then as a board member, Aguilar works with his fellow directors to oversee the overall direction and strategy of the company, with the goal of maximizing the company’s growth and, ideally, benefiting the shareholders, the employees, and the community at large. “In a way, a successful company lifts the boats for everybody,” he says.
Aguilar has also been public about the importance of increasing diversity. As a commissioner, he often drew attention to the lack of women and minorities on boards, and in wealth management firms, C-suites, and the SEC itself. He has also advocated for the Rooney Rule, an NFL policy named after former Pittsburgh Steelers chairman Dan Rooney that requires teams to interview at least one minority candidate when hiring coaches.
“At the end of the day, I think you hire the best and the brightest that you can, but I’d like the process to make sure that it includes women and minorities, otherwise you’re likely to leave good candidates out of the loop,” Aguilar says. “My belief is that by broadening the search process and finding the best and the brightest, it’s common sense that your employee demographics will mirror what our diverse community has to offer.”
Both in and out of the boardroom, Aguilar uses his position as a lawyer to promote the changes he believes in, and to give back to the communities that have supported him. “I came to this country with three pairs of underwear and two changes of clothes. I was a product of the generosity and the charity of the American people,” he says. “When I was asked to go to the SEC, I viewed it as a way of beginning to pay back a debt to what I think is the greatest country in the world.”
Thoughts from Guest Editor Victor Arias
“Hay que dejar huellas. We need to leave evidence that we have been here. Luis has left his prints as a game-changer in corporate governance for this country. Muchas gracias Luis!”