Antonio Gutierrez’s mother was a customer service representative at Citibank for thirty-eight years. In addition to owning a restaurant, his father was also a doorman at New York City’s Gramercy Park Hotel and spent years as the personal driver for a high-profile executive. In short, treating people well was a value imparted to Antonio from a very young age.
Education was also emphasized, as was bilingualism. In his final years of elementary school and throughout high school, Gutierrez’s parents—his mother hailing from Puerto Rico, his father from Peru—sent him to the Argentinian school Escuela Argentina en Nueva York every Saturday. “I went kicking and screaming, but now I’m so glad my parents did that,” he says.
After earning a BA in international studies from American University, Gutierrez served as the director of admissions at Xavier High School, his alma mater. Xavier is a prestigious college prep school for boys. “The Jesuit education I received at Xavier shaped my life, and I wanted to ensure more diverse kids like me had access to this kind of quality education,” he explains. “At first, I thought about getting a master’s in education, but I decided I’d have more impact with a law degree.”
He got his JD at Rutgers Law School, which included a semester at the University of Puerto Rico School of Law, and he spent three years at LeClairRyan practicing business law and litigation. He then cofounded Plata Ferrer & Gutierrez LLC (PF&G). “Latino-owned businesses were not particularly well-served by most big law firms. We spoke Spanish and had relationships with many Hispanic business owners, so we launched a firm to serve them,” Gutierrez says.
The five years he spent at PF&G helped solidify his belief in the importance of relationships. “It wasn’t just sharing backgrounds and cultural values that was important to our clients, but the fact that we took the time to understand their businesses and their appetite for risk. Many of them started their companies with handshakes. We partnered with them to create plans to accomplish their short-, mid-, and long-term goals, while retaining that handshake-level of trust,” he explains.
One of PF&G’s clients was First in Service Travel (F1S). The luxury travel firm, which specializes in serving the fashion, finance, entertainment, media, and high-tech industries, was founded in New York City in 1991 by siblings Erika Reategui (president) and Fernando Gonzalez (CEO). Gutierrez joined them full-time in 2015 as the company’s first general counsel and chief administrative officer, a rare opportunity for a thirty-five-year-old. “They were expanding dramatically, so there were lots of issues to tackle. I helped define the business strategy, organize corporate paperwork, establish a board of directors, negotiate customer contracts, and transition us from a homegrown enterprise to a global power player.”
“I may have been initially hired for my legal skills, but after that, it was clear I was a business person, too.”
He was also asked to manage F1S’s new office in Santa Monica. “That was a real trial by fire,” he laughs. “I had to support and manage independent advisors, develop supplier relationships, and grow the business, which meant pounding the pavement to drum up sales. In the eighteen months I spent there, I expanded the team and grew annual sales to $30 million. I may have been initially hired for my legal skills, but after that, it was clear I was a business person, too.”
His role has continued to evolve. This fall, his title will be changed to chief business affairs officer to more accurately reflect all that he oversees, in addition to legal—i.e., marketing, advisor relations, strategic partnerships, business development, and HR (aka talent and culture).
Gutierrez sees this as a trend. “More and more in-house lawyers are providing strategic help to their companies and becoming essential members of the executive team. Belinda Johnson is a perfect example,” he adds. (Johnson joined Airbnb as general counsel in 2011, was named chief business affairs and legal officer in 2015, and became the company’s first COO in 2018.)
“To support a company’s growth, we have to rid ourselves of the attorney’s typical tendency to say ‘no’ and instead come up with creative solutions to accomplish the business’s goals,” Gutierrez says. In fact, F1S CEO Fernando Gonzalez asks his team members to be entrepreneurial, take risks, and erase the word “no” from their vocabulary. With $200 million in sales, the approach seems to be working. In addition to its offices in New York and Los Angeles, F1S now has locations in Miami, Madrid, Bogota, and Toronto. An office in Mexico City is set to open by year-end 2019.
“As an attorney, I might be cautious to enter certain markets, but if Fernando is gung-ho for that growth and I know he has a big appetite for risk, my job is to find a way to make it happen. Sometimes, that means slowing us down a bit while we learn about that market’s opportunities, regulations, compliance issues, and local competitors. That kind of due diligence helps us understand the costs and risks,” he explains.
“My job isn’t to stand in the way, but to help get the company where the CEO wants it to be. It’s about being an impactful business partner, establishing good relationships, and treating people with respect along the way.”
It’s a motto his parents would be proud of—and, now with their firstborn in tow, it’s one that he and his wife can impart to the next generation of the Gutierrez family.
Antonio Gutierrez and First in Service Travel work closely with the Plata Law Group LLC, a firm that serves as legal counsel and business partner. As outside counsel or outsourced in-house counsel, the Plata Law Group is a Hispanic-owned firm serving companies at all stages of the business life cycle. The firm learns the intricacies of its clients’ businesses and the marketplaces in which they compete to develop legal solutions that achieve the clients’ business goals. The firm is a trusted advisor when discussing risks and objectives because it fully understands its clients’ core business activities.
As business counsel, the firm has experience with human resource and regulatory compliance, corporate governance, cybersecurity, privacy, data protection, intellectual property, and mergers and acquisitions. The firm approaches all corporate negotiations aggressively while working to identify potential issues to avoid future litigation. The firm’s litigation practice handles complex business and commercial matters in federal and state courts, such as breach of contracts, business torts, and shareholder disputes, and has experience litigating suits involving environmental, employment, and franchise law, restrictive covenants, and insurance coverage disputes. Although the firm endeavors to amicably resolve matters, the Plata Law Group is always prepared to take cases to verdict.