That’s what his Spanish friends called Alfredo Simón. His family fled from Cuba to Spain and eventually settled in New Jersey. His parents were still teenagers when they arrived in Newark shortly before his birth. Each summer, Simón visited his grandparents in a rural village north of Madrid. In the US, he learned English in elementary school as part of a natural assimilation into a mostly immigrant community. In Castilla y Leon, he was defined by his country of birth.
Today, Simón is regional lead and senior counsel for the Americas as well as the head of Latin America’s legal operations at Mitsui & Co.’s Americas HQ. In that role, he supports the global investment company’s work on climate change and infrastructure, among other initiatives. To find success, Simón must bring stakeholders, clients, and communities together through a focus on common interests. Although uniting people from various backgrounds can be a challenging task, Simón is the right man for the job. It’s a skill he perfected as a child in Spain.
At first, Simón was just the American kid who came to town each summer. As an outsider, he wasn’t immediately welcomed by a group of kids his age. Yet he persevered, and eventually broke through by finding a shared passion—the game of frontenis, a derivative of basque pelota. Simón spent hours watching from the sidelines before finally receiving an invitation to play. He demonstrated an interest in actually learning the sport, and that interest gave him instant credibility. Soon, Simón found himself playing in local tournaments.
El Americano shed his nickname and became part of the group. “Finding common ground is about having the curiosity to learn. It requires humility, empathy, and effort,” Simón says. And the practice shatters barriers. Once Simón showed an interest in frontenis, among other local activities, his new friends asked questions about his American culture. Simón taught his peers the game of baseball and developed lasting relationships.
The profound struggle and sacrifice of his parents compelled Simón to become the first in his family to attend college. He worked evening shifts at Newark’s airport to help cover tuition at Rutgers University and later became an RA to make campus living possible.
Although he first studied political science, Simón’s heritage drove him to law school. “My family suffered under authoritarian regimes in Cuba and Spain,” he explains. “I saw law school as a way to develop skills that would position me to make an impact and pursue causes that resonate with me.”
Simón’s diverse background and innate drive to understand other people has helped him serve as a “cultural bridge” throughout his legal career. Upon graduation, he took a job at a large Wall Street law firm, Weil, Gotshal & Manges, whose leaders sent him to South America to oversee a deal and ultimately close on the sale of the second largest bank in Peru.
Simón navigated diverse perspectives and interests, advancing the deal while being responsive to his clients in Milan, his bosses in New York, the counterparties and their lawyers in Toronto, and the target company on the ground in Lima, which in turn had a host of diverse stakeholders. This experience, early in his legal career, revealed a role of a corporate lawyer that he later realized played to his strengths. It was a skill developed through personal experience rather than a lecture hall.
As Simón progressed in his career, the desire to use his legal skills to make a significant impact never left him, and when a Mitsui recruiter made contact in 2008, he recognized a cultural match. “Mitsui strategically deploys its resources to address some of the most challenging issues of our time. We seek to bring strategic businesses into the Mitsui family so we can leverage our diverse strengths to create synergies and unleash hidden value,” he says. Innovative solutions in infrastructure, energy, healthcare, and nutrition help people flourish and societies thrive.
Although he was originally hired to support the development of water treatment projects in Mexico, Simón now leads regional M&A activities and oversees the legal function for various portfolios of companies. His goals include creating value and helping drive growth forward. Since joining Mitsui, Simón has worked on multiple power projects throughout the Americas, and has seen the company become the second-largest independent power producer in Mexico. He has also led negotiations for key strategic corporate development investments with a Chilean salmon company, fertilizer ventures in Chile and Peru, and renewable solar and wind energy projects throughout the US, Mexico, and Argentina.
Mitsui forms partnerships for M&A activities and joint ventures alike. Simón works behind the scenes to help those partnerships come alive. A typical day, he says, is atypical, but whether he’s leading high-stakes negotiations with a local stakeholder, advising a board of multinational directors, or chairing a legal conference among general counsel of portfolio companies, he knows that connecting with people goes a long way to establishing trust.
“Early in my childhood and legal career, I learned the power of connecting with people from diverse backgrounds to achieve a common goal, and in many ways that’s what I’m still doing today with Mitsui,” he says.
“The work I do is rewarding on a personal level,“ adds the senior counsel. “Renewable energy, clean water, nutritional security, and reliable electricity should not be the privilege of a fortunate few. My family’s difficult journey brought me to a place that allows me to do my small part in creating a more sustainable world with Mitsui.”
For Simón, bringing people together is fundamental in advancing Mitsui’s mission of “building brighter futures, everywhere.”