Everyone wants a position with a good salary and benefits, a wise and understanding boss, friendly coworkers, and the potential for advancement. But Luis Avila wanted something more.
“I wanted to have my personal beliefs, purpose, and mission aligned with my employer’s personal beliefs, purpose, and mission,” Avila says. That’s why he decided to join Cox Enterprises in August 2018.
Law, Leadership, and Atlanta
Avila grew up on the South Side of Chicago. He earned a bachelor’s degree in political science at the University of Illinois-Champagne Urbana and a law degree from the Columbia University School of Law.
After graduating from law school, Avila returned to Chicago, where he began his career at law firm Lord Bissell & Brook (now known as Locke Lord). There, he focused on securities and corporate law. After seven years in private practice, he took a position as assistant general counsel at Heidrick & Struggles, a leadership advisory firm that specializes in executive search, leadership development, and organizational culture.
This in-house role, Avila says, was critical to expanding his skill set. “[Heidrick & Struggles] had a smaller legal department,” he explains. “I got to wear many hats—litigation management, employment law, etc. It allowed me to become more of a general practice attorney.”
Five years later, Avila made the switch to US Foods in Rosemont, Illinois. He started as assistant general counsel and provided business advice and legal support to three regions and twenty-four distribution centers representing $5 billion in annual sales.
He next became interim general counsel, a role in which he worked with the leadership team and led the legal department through both a proposed merger with global food and wholesale giant Sysco and an organizational restructuring. This was an intense learning period for Avila, but he was up for the challenge. As he remarks, that kind of experience “doesn’t come around often.”
Based on that foundation, Avila soon made the jump to associate general counsel. As AGC, he not only helped US Foods go public but also served as lead counsel on all regulatory matters and supported other departments within the company.
Avila relished every opportunity that came his way. “[US Foods] yielded a lot of great soft skills that, at that point in my career, I needed to start focusing on,” he explains.
After leaving US Foods, Avila worked in consulting for several months. In less than a year, however, he got a call from his former supervisor at US Foods, who had become general counsel at Cox Enterprises, a nearly $20 billion conglomerate with close to fifty thousand employees. His former boss knew that Avila’s skills and leadership would be a perfect fit for the company, and soon Avila was on his way to Cox headquarters in Atlanta.
Culture at Cox
As Avila explains, Cox Enterprises comprises two businesses: Cox Communications, a broadband communications and entertainment company that runs the third-largest cable service in the United States, and Cox Automotive, which encompasses twenty-five leading brands such as Autotrader and Kelley Blue Book.
While the opportunity to work with the executive team, advise on compliance issues, standardize policies and codes of conduct, and learn his way around a huge company all appealed to Avila, Cox Enterprises offered that “something more” that he had been looking for. “What really sealed the deal was the culture of the company,” says the attorney, who now serves as assistant secretary and vice president of governance and compliance.
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Cox Enterprises was founded in 1898 by James Cox, who later became a congressman, the governor of Ohio, and a Democratic presidential nominee. Cox and his descendants, who still own the company, are fierce proponents of the need to make the world a better place.
In 2007, for example, the company started an environmental initiative intended to conserve natural resources in the workplace and encourage both employees and their families to adopt eco-friendly practices at home. Cox Enterprises also offers employees six hours during the workday to vote during elections and also encourages employees to become involved in their communities by providing sixteen paid hours per year to use volunteering.
But the company has gone beyond just providing opportunities for employees to become involved, impactful citizens—Cox provides clear incentives as well. “Part of our bonus is tied to volunteer activities,” Avila reveals.
This culture strongly appeals to Avila, who volunteered with several organizations even before his transition to Cox. “[Cox] is a for-profit business, but that’s not all we’re here to do,” he emphasizes. “We want to ‘Build a better future for the next generation,’ as our CEO Alex Taylor says.”
Avila has taken that message to heart. Currently, he serves as a board member for Park Pride, a nonprofit that partners with different communities in Atlanta to develop parks that address the needs of those specific communities.
He also is a board member of the Latino Community Fund (LCF) of Georgia, which supports twenty local organizations that serve the Latino community. The LCF, Avila says, helps those organizations raise funds, improve their advocacy efforts, and develop critical community programs.
Cox employees are encouraged to be involved—and Avila is certainly that.