Michael Camuñez often jokes with his spouse that when it comes to inhabiting a corporate boardroom, he might just be the poorest guy in the room. “One of the things that you find when you start serving on corporate boards is that they tend to be comprised of quite successful, accomplished, and wealthy people,” Camuñez explains. “I’ve spent half of my career in public service.”
Boards on Which Camuñez Serves
American Funds (several funds) managed by the Capital Group
He says his biggest asset may in fact be what he calls “the privilege of growing up poor,” going on to explain that his upbringing has helped him to prioritize issues of poverty, equality, and community involvement. “I really believe hardship in one’s childhood can be a positive thing, if you can allow it,” Camuñez says. “I had the good fortune of having a single mother who instilled a strong sense that a person isn’t defined by his or her economic circumstances, and that I had the ability to rise and break out of poverty.”
Even more important than lifting himself out of poverty, according to Camuñez, is what it’s allowed him to do for his community. “I was shaped by how I was raised and my faith as a Christian that we owe a serious responsibility to the least fortunate among us,” he says. “What makes the US great as a country is the strength of our citizenry and civil society.”
Today Camuñez is not only president and CEO of the consulting firm Monarch Global Strategies, but he also holds a number of corporate and nonprofit board positions. A relatively small number of Latinos have successfully navigated into boardrooms—raising larger issues about diversity in executive leadership—and those that do, Camuñez says, are typically the first generation in their family to attain a postsecondary education.
“But my life experience and perspective are important,” he says. “The challenge is to not let yourself be intimidated by your differences and recognize the value and the strength that you bring to the team.”
Camuñez currently serves on the corporate boards of Edison International (NYSE: EIX) and of Southern California Edison, one of the largest power companies in the nation. He is also a director of the American Funds, managed by the Capital Group, one of largest and most successful mutual fund companies in the world. It’s an extremely high-profile position for even the most experienced of executives. He also serves as a trustee of the David & Lucile Packard Foundation and of Stanford University.
He has an impressive résumé to match, starting with an undergraduate degree in government and political science from Harvard University and a JD from Stanford Law. His professional experience includes notable senior government appointments, law firm leadership, and nonprofit governance—not to mention starting his own consulting firm advising companies on emerging markets.
“The challenge is to not let yourself be intimidated by your differences and recognize the value and the strength that you bring to the team.”
Still it ended up being those lean early years that helped teach Camuñez what to prioritize in life. One of his many nonprofit board positions is director for the Center for Law and Social Policy. “This is an organization that is one of the most important advocates for the poor in the country,” Camuñez says. “Selfishly, this sort of work helps me feel balanced and like I’m living a complete life.”
Camuñez also stresses the importance of being ready to take on opportunities when they present themselves. “I worked very hard to prepare myself and gain a wide and diverse base of experience that corporate America finds relevant,” the CEO says. “There is certainly a component of luck to my situation, but I also think it’s important to prepare yourself and be vocal about your interest in taking on leadership.”
In 2009 Camuñez left his post as an equity partner in the global law firm O’Melveny & Myers LLP—where he was the hiring partner of the firm’s Los Angeles office—when he was appointed White House special counsel to then-president Barack Obama, managing the vetting process for all executive branch appointments. While seeking remarkable and diverse talent across the country, Camuñez contacted Linda Griego—who currently sits on boards at ViacomCBS and the American Funds—to help him hone in on ideal candidates.
“Linda has been such a wonderful role model for so many of us,” Camuñez says. “We collaborated very closely during those presidential appointments and built a friendship grown from a deep mutual respect and admiration. When I came out of government and back to California, Linda became an important mentor and promoter of me as an emerging Latino leader.”
“I had the good fortune of having a single mother who instilled a strong sense that a person isn’t defined by their economic circumstances, and that I had the ability to rise and break out of poverty.”
It’s not just Camuñez’s perspective from a cultural standpoint that makes him such an invaluable board addition. As a lawyer and partner at one of the nation’s top law firms, Camuñez spent extensive time counseling boards and developing an understanding of corporate governance, risk management, and compliance. As a commercial diplomat—as assistant secretary of commerce following his service at the White House—Camuñez has gained a wealth of experience counseling executives on corporate strategy, international trade and investment, and emerging markets.
The CEO has dealt with corporate directors from almost every vantage point, making him uniquely qualified to facilitate collaboration amongst independent directors. “Having served on leadership boards of various sizes and missions has given me the experience of working collaboratively with people who may not share my values and beliefs or who may be much different than me,” Camuñez explains.
Confidence is key to leadership, according to Camuñez. “I think sometimes what’s most important is to have the confidence to put yourself forward and in the game,” he says. “Our community sometimes lacks role models, pathways, and opportunities. It’s so important to have people like Linda Griego—and I hope myself—to set an example and create a path to extend a helping hand to creating more opportunities for diverse talent.”