Kiko Ochoa was on his third or fourth successive video conference with a colleague who was navigating a sticky employment issue. When Ochoa logged on and the colleague saw him once again, he remarked, “Kiko, here you are again, just turning up like a bad penny.”
“It was meant as a joke, but the idea was that it was yet another tough or complicated situation, and I was going to be there to help him navigate through it,” Ochoa recalls with glee. “I knew he was happy to see me there, so I now wear being the bad penny as a badge of honor.”
Ochoa has been in-house at Netflix since 2019, serving as director and senior counsel of employment law for the biggest name in streaming services. The company had been on Ochoa’s radar for years as a dream employer before he was finally hired there.
In 2014, the Harvard Business Review published “How Netflix Reinvented HR,” a piece explaining a PowerPoint deck about the company’s talent management strategies that had gone viral. It included ideas like valuing people over policies, offering employees unlimited time off, and instituting 360-degree reviews instead of formal performance reviews.
“I was just blown away by the idea that you could set up a different paradigm at work,” Ochoa explains. “You could clearly communicate expectations to employees to both empower them and to seek alignment on doing what’s in the best interest of the company.”
In some ways, he has operated in a different paradigm for the majority of his life. When he was just thirty-two years old, Ochoa’s father was appointed the youngest judge in California at the time—and the first Hispanic bench officer to serve in Santa Barbara in a century. His mother was the highest-elected government official of Filipino descent in the continental United States and also mounted her own candidacy for Congress.
“A lot of our time was spent in community centers, whether for Latinos or for Filipinos,” Ochoa explains. As a biracial American, he found himself torn between his two identities at times.
“There were times when I wasn’t Mexican enough to hang out with the Mexican kids and not Filipino enough to hang out with the Filipino kids,” the attorney remembers. “It could be hard, but I also think it taught me this ability to sort of flex and move and operate amongst different spaces. I just had to learn to be comfortable in that gray area.”
A couple of decades later, Ochoa was a successful attorney and a married man with nearly a decade of experience as a private practice employment lawyer. He met retired four-star general Antonio ‘Tony’ Taguba, best known for authoring the internal report on the abuse of detainees held at Abu Ghraib prison.
At one time, Ochoa had considered military service, but adds it was probably too late by that point. Taguba disagreed. “He asked if I had considered joining the reserves,” Ochoa remembers. “And the more I looked into it, the more I knew it’s what I needed to do.”
At thirty-one, Ochoa commissioned, spending six months of 2011 attending Officer Candidate School and the Judge Advocate Staff Officer Course at Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery, Alabama. The lawyer has completed nearly thirteen years as a reservist Judge Advocate General officer, spending about six weeks a year on active duty.
The words Ochoa uses when talking about Netflix are certainly reminiscent of principles essential in the military: transparency, trust, and respect. It’s part of a cycle that can create positive perpetual motion, even in difficult times.
“I love it here because we hire people that are trusted to do their very best,” he says. “If you are trusted, you can move quickly. That might lead to some mistakes from time to time, but it’s the kind of environment where mistakes lead to honest and constructive conversations and feedback. That feedback then creates more trust.”
It’s a different kind of paradigm. And if there’s one thing Ochoa knows, it’s navigating a new paradigm.
A Story That Sticks
During the COVID-19 pandemic, you could throw a hunk of dough and hit a dozen people who took up breadmaking as a hobby. Kiko Ochoa focused on something a little more lasting—and with fewer carbs. His daughter introduced him to a couple of different apps where he could make and design stickers.
“It was a way for me to stay connected with my colleagues during the lockdown,” Ochoa explains. He now has a repurposed sticker cabinet adorned by and filled with his creations, which might include a nickname for a colleague, a motivational saying, or an inside joke. Apparently, he’s had a graphic designer lying dormant inside him all along.
Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP: “Kiko brings out the best in everyone with whom he works. He is smart and incisive but at the same time conveys appreciation and confidence in his team. He is a real leader and inspires trust from his internal clients. We consider ourselves lucky to be able to work with him.”—Scott Edelman, partner.