One month after Alberto Perales was hired as general counsel at cement and construction materials company Elementia, the Mexico City–based organization announced it would be spinning off a newly created entity that would comprise the metal products and building systems components of the business. While a spin-off of a public company is a common occurrence in US business, it’s rarely seen in the Mexican market.
“There have been maybe one or two companies that have gone through this sort of reorganization that have been listed on the Mexican Stock Exchange,” Perales says. “There are significant negotiations to conclude—from banks to bond holders to the stakeholders at the Securities and Exchange Commission here. And I was very involved from the onset.”
Hitting the ground running is one thing, but Perales had to do more than that: his experience was more along the lines of transforming a sixty-eight-year-old business while simultaneously creating a new public company. Fortunately, he came in with experience in telecommunications, technology, and oil and gas, all of which helped him learn the new business quickly.
Perales actually sees the spin-off as a best-case scenario, pointing out that it offered a crash course in learning exactly how the business works—an important part of the acclimation period for any general counsel. “Not only was I learning about our business, but we were doing presentations for our board of directors and stockholders to explain how we envisioned this would work in the future when the two units split,” he says. “That also meant explaining how things had worked in the past. It was a great education for me and a pretty one-of-a-kind experience.” The spin-off effort continues, and Perales says he hopes the transition will be complete by the end of 2020 or the beginning of 2021.
More Than a Last Resort
The new company structure wasn’t the only issue of concern for Perales when he arrived at Elementia. “When I got here, I think legal was really seen as a last resort,” he explains. “It was a department you came to when you had trouble that you couldn’t solve or you just wanted to have someone take it out of your hands. We’ve been working to enact significant changes to that kind of mind-set when it comes to our internal clients.”
Perales says he wants the legal department to be seen as enablers for Elementia’s business units. Accomplishing that has meant being proactive in explaining to various departments how legal can help them. “We had to do a lot of education because I don’t think the business understood what legal could do for them and how the earlier we see it, the more we’re able to able to help,” he explains.
Under Perales’s direction, the legal department started offering preemptive actions to business units from procurement to credit to sales, with the idea that those units could then go to their own clients and promote the initiatives made by the renewed legal parameters. “I think we have much more control over how we’re handling transactions from a legal standpoint now, and I think that’s really helped the business,” Perales says.
A Hands-On Approach to Leadership
While Elementia is the first company where Perales has held the role of general counsel, the lawyer’s extensive experience in multiple industries has led him to value open communication as part of his leadership. “Vertical organizations were obviously created for a reason, but I don’t see it working that way right now,” Perales says. “I like talking with my team every day; I dedicate a lot of time to communicating with my managers and attorneys at all levels.”
That also means that while part of Perales’s job is to see the bigger picture, he’s also comfortable with focusing on the specifics of whatever he works on. “I’m very hands-on and really enjoy getting into the details with my team,” Perales says. “When you get involved in the matters and provide whatever assistance you can when it’s brought to you, I think my team appreciates it, and it’s also very rewarding for me.”
Perales takes a candid and personal approach to communication outside of his department as well. “It obviously took some time, but I think I now have a very straightforward relationship with everyone on the executive team,” he says. “It’s just easier to knock on the door and start talking about something that needs to be done.”
Help at All Levels
Alberto Perales has managed successful transactions for a variety of organizations, but he’s also given his time to help those who need it most. The lawyer offered pro bono work for ShelterBox—an international disaster-relief charity that provides emergency shelter and other aid items to families who have lost their homes to disaster or conflict—when the organization was first entering Mexico.
He is also helping Elementia build out its sustainability and green initiatives. “We want to be the green provider of construction materials in Mexico and wherever else we’re located,” Perales says. “We know we can make a difference by being greener, and we’re currently working with an external firm to address efficiencies in all of our different business units. It’s a complicated process, but it’s one that we are dedicated to.”