Sneaking into nightclubs and skipping class was routine for Jorge Wagner in high school. As a teen in Miami, his social life was priority number one, and at the time, he saw no reason it shouldn’t be.
Wagner’s parents (his German father and Bolivian/Czech mother) had met and begun to put down roots in Venezuela before he was born. But, sensing the impending instability and corruption in Caracas, they emigrated to Miami when he was six. Being the youngest of three by ten years, Wagner lived with certain freedoms often not afforded to his older siblings, and he enjoyed his parents’ hands-off confidence that he was smart and capable, and would handle whatever came his way.
That wide berth allowed Wagner to explore, grow, and develop a strong sense of self-awareness and independence. But when his junior year of high school rolled around and friends started applying to colleges, Wagner realized that his C-average wasn’t going to cut it, and he’d be left behind. Newly motivated, Wagner outperformed his peers from that point on, and by the time he set foot on University of Miami’s campus, he was working like a machine.
“I knew I wanted to be successful at something, and that I wanted to be self-sufficient and independent,” he says. “And I thought that choosing a major that fascinated me would guarantee that I would be successful.” So, Wagner dove into a major that interested him most: anthropology, particularly forensic pathology.
And his learning philosophy worked—at least for a while. Wagner did extremely well in school, spending time volunteering at Doctor’s Hospital on campus, traveling to crime scenes to assist with autopsies, and working weekends in the lab on his way to medical school. But second-level physics brought a new challenge that caused him to question whether he truly wanted to face up to eight more years of that kind of study.
Meanwhile, Wagner had landed a job working three days per week for a couple of attorneys at a personal injury law firm. From the end of his sophomore year until after graduation, Wagner developed the beginnings of a broad skill set and began to imagine a new path.
Thanks to the confidence and self-awareness instilled in him by his parents, Wagner recognized that forensic pathology was too dark for his personality, that advanced physics was not the area where his brain most naturally excelled, and that law school would be a more efficient way to reach his goals. So he applied, and after graduation moved to White Plains, New York, to attend Pace University School of Law.
It was the right move. Wagner excelled, and even got a job in legal at Starwood Hotels during school that led to his career as a transactional lawyer. It was also where he discovered his knack for business and his enjoyment of negotiating and deal-making. “It was fun and suited my attention span,” he says. “I need to be busy with twelve things at once. I need a fire under me, the pressure to close, the quick succession, the deadlines, the fast pace—I work better that way.”
Eighteen months later, Wagner had graduated, passed the bar, and started at his first job at a big law firm in the city. Not unlike choosing a major based on interest, Wagner chose a career in finance because of the people. He knew if he was going to work that hard, he wanted to do it with good colleagues, and Schulte Roth & Zabel fit the bill. “I had no idea what I was getting myself into with corporate transactional law,” he says, “but I spent six years honing my skills and developing what has become an expertise in finance law.”
In 2006, Wagner moved to CIT Group and worked his way to chief counsel of corporate finance before joining Ally Financial in 2015. “I was looking for something within my skill set but different enough to break into something new,” he says. “Ally was that, and has been phenomenal.”
Wagner is now general counsel of Ally Corporate Finance, a business unit under Ally Financial’s umbrella that primarily finances companies owned by private equity sponsors. This unit has substantially expanded in the last few years and is now highlighted as a growth target, because while it may represent a small portion of the whole of Ally’s operation, Corporate Finance also holds some of the organization’s highest earning assets.
“It’s fun to be part of a growth engine like this—almost like being at a startup—strategizing and looking for ways to help the team grow.”
As of 2014, Ally Corporate Finance has been fully funded by Ally Bank, meaning that it is a self-reliant operation using funds from Ally Bank to make its investments and provide a greater return for shareholders and customers. And while Ally Corporate Finance represents only a relatively small portion of Ally Bank’s capital with approximately $3.3 billion in assets, they are poised to more than double that amount in the next few years. “I’m excited to help build something that represents diversification of the company,” says Wagner, who was especially drawn to the new challenge. “It’s fun to be part of a growth engine like this—almost like being at a startup—strategizing, and looking for ways to help the team grow.”
Growing the team by onboarding additional talent is a particularly enjoyable aspect of Wagner’s job—in addition to managing all legal affairs, regulatory aspects of the group, and negotiation of agreements. Most recently, he has supported the business unit’s efforts to establish a new team in San Francisco that launched in 2016. “Not only will this team compliment what we’re already doing on the east coast with their skills and expertise,” he says, “they will also bring new relationships and establish our presence on the West Coast.”
From Caracas to Miami to New York to San Francisco; from forensics to law to finance; from law firm to in-house general counsel, Wagner has consistently approached each step in his life and career with determination and a fierce drive for success and independence. That, along with his opportunistic flexibility and endless curiosity, served Wagner well while navigating the path from nightclubs to day jobs, and ultimately to Ally Corporate Finance. And now, all those characteristics coupled with an incredible team, make for a particularly valuable combination of assets for customers of Ally Financial.