Staying Competitive in a Sea of Change

How Johnson Controls’ original equipment lawyer drives impactful business transformation

Claudio Morfe, VP and General Counsel, Power Solutions and Global OE, Johnson Controls. Photo by Sheila Barabad.

Change has been a constant in Claudio Morfe’s life. Born in Cuba during Fidel Castro’s early years in power, Morfe and his family survived a transition to America as political refugees. Since then, Morfe has embraced change, taking on every twist and challenge with a graceful, calm, and undaunted style.

Growing up in New Orleans may have been more secure than in Cuba, but it wasn’t always easy.

“I can still remember early on—we were lucky to have one square meal a day when we came to this country,” Morfe says. “But, I grew up in an environment where we were always very grateful and felt we owed something to this country and to never take anything for granted.”

His focus on taking advantage of every educational opportunity led him to a career as an attorney capable of taking on multiple titles and relocating all over the country and the world.

Most recently, Morfe undertook a major career transition after 20 years in the telecommunications industry. Morfe is now vice president and general counsel for original equipment group with the power solutions division of Johnson Controls, a global, multi-industrial corporation with 130,000 employees across 150 countries.

As Morfe helps lead Johnson Controls through its next phase of increased competition and market pressures, he makes certain the company is not only surviving, but thriving. The key, he finds, is to embrace change as the only constant.

“Every day I come in and something new has popped up. It makes the work exciting and fun,” he says. “It’s almost like having a new job every day.”

Last year, Johnson Controls sold 146 million batteries around the globe, or one for every three cars in the world. The company also powers millions of trucks, lawn equipment, boats, and heavy machinery.

While Johnson Controls has dominated the market until now, it faces increasing global competition going forward. “An increase in competition creates an environment that requires you to be flexible, nimble in terms of how you approach law in-house,” Morfe says.

To stay successful in a changing environment, Morfe says he focuses on three main priorities. First, he gets involved with helping the business leaders drive change internally. “We have a mind-set in the company that you really have to partner with your customers,” he says. “You are not just selling a product to a customer, you are selling them a solution to help them solve a problem.”

“With a company as large and impactful as ours, there is a lot of responsibility that goes with the weight you can throw around.”

Claudio Morfe

Next, the legal department works to help Johnson Controls’ leaders improve the technology they can bring to customers by working with third parties or looking at potential acquisitions and mergers. “A lot of time is spent thinking creatively and strategically about what makes sense given the present and future state of the business, including how to fill potential gaps in our portfolio,” he says.

Third, his team acts as reinforcements for the company’s strong core values. “We don’t just give lip service to integrity—we walk the talk,” he says. Whether that is about environmental stewardship, diversity, ethics, or thinking about the future of law, Morfe is always focused on how Johnson Controls can improve.

“With a company as large and impactful as ours, there is a lot of responsibility that goes with the weight you can throw around,” he says.

That’s why Morfe never forgets to give back to those around him. This year, he helped Johnson Controls raise more than $6 million for its local United Way.

“I was raised to appreciate what I have, and I was also raised in an environment where you should try to share that and help others become successful as well,” he says.

Sustainability has also been a focus for Johnson Controls through the years as it has gotten involved with more than 500 renewable-energy projects. The company has helped ensure that nearly 99 percent of all car batteries in Europe and North America are now recycled.

With 50 plants around the world, Morfe says it can be difficult to remain environmentally compliant, but it’s extremely important.

“This is a company that really prides itself on ethics, sustainability and doing the right thing,” he says.

Making such a major transition from the telecommunications agency has been a learning curve, the attorney admits. “Getting up to speed has been a lot of fun for a person like me who thrives on change and dynamism,” he says.

And, after a career that took him to New Orleans, Fort Lauderdale, Boston, and London, he says he didn’t mind another move to the company’s headquarters in Milwaukee.

“I love it here,” he says. “I know it’s a stereotype, but people in the Midwest really are so friendly.”