Michael Camuñez grew up in Las Cruces, New Mexico, about thirty miles north of the US-Mexico border crossing in El Paso, Texas. He remembers a time and place where most everyone was bilingual, there was minimal border security, and shopping trips to and meals in Juárez, Mexico, were common. He saw Hispanics in positions of prominence: his great-grandfather was sheriff of Doña Ana County, and his grandfather was a successful farmer.
“Growing up in the border region gave me a real appreciation of my heritage and a belief in an integrated and interlocking future for the US and Mexico,” Camuñez says. “I’ve always believed that we’re stronger together than we are apart.”
He has carried that perspective with him throughout his career as a partner and international litigator at O’Melveny & Myers LLP; as a member of the 2008 presidential transition team for Barack Obama; in subsequent positions at the White House as special assistant and special counsel to the President; and, eventually, as assistant secretary at the US Department of Commerce, where he helped manage trade policy and bilateral trade relations globally and was a principal advocate for US commercial interests abroad. While in that position, he recognized the strategic importance of Mexico to the US. So, he proposed and helped launch the High Level Economic Dialogue (HLED), an initiative to position the US and Mexico as partners to promote competitiveness and productivity, which was led at the presidential level.
Camuñez, who traveled with President Obama to Mexico City to launch the HLED, considers it his greatest achievement with the Commerce Department. “It appropriately positioned Mexico as a strategic ally, integral to our success as a nation and able to help us compete against rising economies like China and other ascending powers,” he notes.
His experience, expertise, and commitment to strategic partnerships led to Monarch Global Strategies, where Camuñez is president, CEO, and cofounder with Jim Jones, the former US Ambassador to Mexico. The firm provides consulting and strategic business advice to companies seeking to invest and do business in Mexico and Latin America.
In an era when Mexico has been the focus of what, Camuñez feels, has been extraordinarily negative and insulting characterizations by the current US administration and its supporters, Monarch has provided a kind of private diplomacy. The firm shows that many Americans believe in the promise of Mexico and the importance of strong relationships with American businesses.
“We’re able to help build trust and cooperation, dispel misconceptions, and help develop successes on both sides of the border,” Camuñez says. “I enjoy seeing the aha moments of Americans who haven’t been to Mexico recently. They discover it’s the eleventh largest economy in the world, with a vibrant and growing middle class, and it’s a manufacturing powerhouse. They’re blown away by what they see.”
Monarch’s US clients are working to bring state-of-the-art technologies, such as renewable energies, to Mexico, in addition to healthcare and investments in the automotive, manufacturing, transportation, and energy sectors, as well as the country’s infrastructure.
One major project is developing Mexico’s new international airport, which Monarch’s client Parsons is helping to manage. The current facility, Benito Juárez International Airport, is already the busiest in Latin America; it serves approximately 42 million passengers annually. Now, new airport is projected to serve 70 million yearly passengers, expanding to accommodate 125 million passengers as subsequent phases are completed, which will make it the second-largest air terminal in the world.
Camuñez points to the firm’s intimate understanding of Mexico as the greatest value that Monarch offers its clients. “We’re a multidisciplinary team that knows Mexican culture, the regulatory environment, political dynamics, unique attributes of the private sector, and how to avoid risks that are inherent in any business environment,” he says.
In addition to his client-based responsibilities, Camuñez is an active mentor to up-and-coming Hispanic professionals. He has been involved in mentoring his entire career, beginning during his legal career, when he advised young law students and associates, and extending to his responsibilities with the Obama transition team and his service in the White House Office of Presidential Personnel, where he recommended a record number of Senate-approved Latino appointees.
“I really enjoy being of service and being able to offer hands-on direction and active guidance to young professionals,” he says. “I didn’t have that available to me when I was starting out, but as I have continued to reach new levels of opportunity, I’ve made sure to leave a door open for those who follow.”
One of the perspectives he tries to offer his mentees is that there is no linear path from A to Z. As a result, they need to position themselves within what he calls “the arc of their careers” and stay as open as possible to the opportunities that present themselves.
“You have to make sure you’re doing what’s required for the career you want, but you should still be open to the unique chances that come along because of who you are and what you know,” Camuñez says. “Many of the young people I work with appreciate hearing that because it reduces their anxiety about the future and gives them a sense that there’s some method to the madness of planning a career.”
Serving the Pubic (and Personal) Good
Michael Camuñez serves on their boards of directors of several organizations that enable him to use his experience and expertise to support a variety of causes that he believes in.
Edison International & Southern California Edison, Director
Camuñez draws on his experience in public policy, politics, and governance. “Michael brings a wealth of expertise to our board,” says Pedro Pizarro, president and CEO of Edison International. “His deep knowledge of public policy issues, along with his legal acumen and business leadership abilities, are invaluable to us.”
David and Lucile Packard Foundation, General Trustee
The Foundation aligns with his strong interest in children, families, and the environment.
Pacific Council on International Policy, Director and Chair, Mexico Initiative:
Camuñez leverages his experience in foreign policy to promote US-Mexico relations and to fight negative stereotypes and misconceptions about Mexico.
Center for Law and Social Policy (Washington, DC), Director
His work with the center enables Camuñez to advocate for the needs of at-risk children and families.