Like many Cubans in the 1960s, Barbara Velasco’s parents each immigrated to the United States in search of a better life and hoping to give their children everything they didn’t have. Her parents’ experiences shaped Velasco tremendously, instilling in her a belief in the American dream and the certainty she could achieve anything she set her mind to. Now as vice president and assistant general counsel based out of Platinum Equity’s Beverly Hills office, Velasco’s work for the global firm specializing in mergers, acquisitions, and operations is just as important to her as the pro bono work she now performs for Los Angeles’s Hispanic community.
My parents left their home country and everything they knew behind them in pursuit of the American dream. They truly believed in the freedom of the United States; they believed in the American dream and once they were here, they lived it. Seeing this, I really believed I could achieve anything. I know that sounds cliché, but it’s true. I still believe that if you want something badly enough and are willing to work hard for it, you can achieve it. That’s how I was raised and it influenced my work ethic.
Quick hits with Barbara Velasco
What are three websites you can’t go a day without checking?
I like to stay up on current events, so I check newyorktimes.com and cnn.com daily. Similarly, I like to stay [up-to-date] on the lives of my friends and family, so I check Facebook on a daily basis.
If you could go back in time, what college class would you tell yourself to drop and what would you replace it with?
I can’t say there is any class I would have dropped because I think I learned from all of them in varying degrees, but I would have certainly added additional business courses, such as accounting or economics.
What has been one key piece of advice you’ve been given that you always draw upon?
Early in my career I was advised by a partner that “perception is everything.” While I don’t believe it’s everything, I do believe it’s important to be aware of how you are perceived in the workplace and make sure that you are perceived accurately and as you want to be perceived. This can be particularly difficult in today’s day and age of technology and diminishing face-to-face interactions.
My father has always been a fan of the legal profession, which I believe arises from the political hardships he encountered in Cuba. He was a big proponent of me becoming a lawyer. In college at UCLA, I majored in English, but I had always been interested in the law and considered becoming a lawyer early on. I thought I’d excel at it because I was a good writer and communicator. I was also interested in pursuing a career that afforded me many different opportunities. With law, you can work for a law firm, a company, the public sector, or teach—the possibilities are endless.
While at UCLA, I worked at a small law firm, and although it was for less than a year, it was a great introduction to the legal profession. After my second year at Loyola Law School, I worked as a summer associate at Jones Day in Los Angeles, where I also worked after graduation as a corporate associate for about five years. This was a very important time for me. Most lawyers start off at a firm to learn the building blocks of their profession and it was no different for me.
While at Jones Day, I was offered an opportunity at a large privately held company in Los Angeles and it put me at a crossroads: I wasn’t sure if I wanted to make the leap into the in-house world at that stage in my career. It was a leap of faith, but it paid off. I really loved the work and the fast-paced environment. The combination of practicing law in a business setting was very interesting to me and it was also very educational. I worked with a general counsel who expertly balanced the legal and business perspectives. Working for him, I think he passed that ability on to me.
I joined Platinum Equity in 2007, which gave me the opportunity to use the experience I had gained while opening me up to new experiences and challenges.
Platinum Equity is a global M&A&O firm specialized in mergers, acquisitions, and operations of companies that provide mission-critical products, services, and solutions in diverse industries. In many cases, they are operationally complex businesses. As a result, there is a constant flow of very interesting and challenging legal work for me to do—and I love a challenge.
From the outset, I felt that I was a good fit with Platinum Equity. From a company culture perspective, the firm’s values align with mine. The firm was founded based on 16 guiding principles that resonated with me, including acting with resolve, having passion for your work, and a commitment to succeed. These principles help create an environment in which the employees strive for success, and personally, I know I thrive in this kind of passionate, fast-paced environment.
When I was starting out, I wish I had taken the time to find a mentor, which is something we always encourage young Latinas to do when looking to enter a field. It really is so important. In my case, and with anyone who didn’t have a mentor, we have to learn things the hard way. With a mentor, I would have learned many of these things sooner, rather than as I went along.
In school we know that success is tied to knowledge and hard work. In the real world, however, being successful requires these things and much more. It requires working well with all types of personalities, learning the company culture and understanding corporate politics. If you have a mentor when you’re starting out, you can get a jump start on these things. It’s good to have that guidance and that advantage.
I currently sit on the pro bono committee of the Southern California Chapter of the Association of Corporate Counsel, which was formed early this year. They’re a fantastic group and I love the work we are doing. As the committee’s pro bono projects expand, I look forward to becoming more involved. In addition, I’ve participated in other pro bono projects involving the Hispanic community, including home-building events of Habitat for Humanity’s Power Women Power Tools in Los Angeles. I understand that not everyone has had the opportunities, luck, or blessings that I have had in my life, so it’s very important to me that I give back to my community.
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