Early on, Ricardo Nuñez discovered his passion for entrepreneurship, selling cinnamon toothpicks in middle school and branching out from there. His father was an active contributor to charities in his community, and the family home often hosted get-togethers for philanthropic organizations.
At one event for the National Hispanic Scholarship Fund, Nuñez’s mother noticed that guests kept disappearing. She followed some guests leaving with her thirteen-year-old son and was horrified to find silver jewelry (imported from Guatemala courtesy of a family friend) laid across his bed, the young Nuñez in full selling mode. “My mother said, ‘You can’t do this, this is a charity event!’” Nuñez recalls with a laugh. “I said, ‘I’m not forcing them to buy.’ I think I made $300 that night. I was a chubby kid selling some pretty good stuff!” Nuñez has been building businesses ever since.
The GC at SWM International—a leading supplier of highly engineered papers, films, nets, and nonwovens—isn’t just a lawyer, but more a businessman who practices law. “When someone asks me to describe what I do, I tend to say I’m in sales,” Nuñez admits. “I disclose I’m an attorney, but I really think of myself as a dealmaker. On top of my legal obligations, I think I’m able to add value when I’m selling and making deals happen.” Nuñez believes the law part of being a GC is fundamental, but the key is being a true business partner with a focus on increasing stakeholder value in an ethical and compliant fashion.
Doing deals is what brought Nuñez to SWM. “I was recruited to assist in closing a significant deal, the third in a series of deals that transformed SWM from a leading specialty paper supplier into a performance materials business,” Nuñez says. As part of a diversification strategy, SWM took a calculated leap into the performance materials space with the acquisition of DelStar Technologies in 2013, Argotec in 2015, and Conwed Plastics in 2017, a deal Nuñez helped make happen. “This $300 million deal was an important part of our evolution, as we’ve watched our business grow. We acknowledge that we’re not done—we will continue to evolve.”
That evolution relies on the development and execution of vision and strategy. Fortunately, this is exactly where Nuñez operates most effectively. “I think I’ve contributed not only from legal and operational perspectives, but as part of a team that continues to evolve and execute on strategy,” the GC says. “Doing this in a practical way that is effective without being overly bureaucratic is critical to success.”
“Helping drive change means recognizing that it’s not enough to simply attack one hundred different issues because if you don’t solve the five that are critical, you’ve failed.”
“Ricardo is a business-minded general counsel who is skilled at coming up with innovative solutions to issues,” explains Rahul Patel, a partner at the international corporate law firm King & Spalding and one of SWM’s strategic partners. “He is also a very quick study who can quickly peel back the onion and get to the core issues. Ricardo is great to work with and always treats colleagues and those on the other side of transactions with respect.”
The Business of Hobbies
Ricardo Nuñez does occasionally take some time to relax on his boat in Miami, but his main passion may as well have a time clock. “I genuinely enjoy real estate,” he says. “That’s my real hobby.” The lawyer owns several properties in Atlanta and Miami that he renovates and leases, he says, mostly for fun. Nuñez’s father was a licensed lawyer in Cuba who moved into real estate with gusto after emigrating to the United States, and Nuñez says it’s nice to keep both feet in the family business.
Nuñez has taken part in many transactions which have helped make him flexible, accustomed to change, and able to grow. “Helping drive change means recognizing that it’s not enough to simply attack one hundred different issues because if you don’t solve the five that are critical, you’ve failed,” Nuñez says. “It’s not just driving change; it’s driving effective and beneficial change.”
The GC is concerned not only with driving valuable change but also with continuing to push himself to evolve. “People can become stale pretty quickly, and that’s the last thing you or your employer want,” Nuñez says. “Don’t be afraid to take on challenges and pursue new approaches, even if you think you may fail. Sure, don’t be reckless, but give yourself the chance to succeed. Half of the roles I’ve taken in my life I was convinced I was ready for, the other half I really had to work hard to prepare.”
Just as SWM has evolved to take on an ever-diversifying and challenging marketplace, Nuñez has leveraged his legal expertise and entrepreneurial nature to continuously develop his deal-making skills.
Nuñez has continued to pursue professional challenges. He continues to see opportunities at SWM and in potential board service for companies in strong growth mode. “I’ll always want to be part of building something,” Nuñez says. “Challenging conditions with a mandate to achieve growth are circumstances that particularly appeal to me and is the environment where I’m driven to be.”
Squire Patton Boggs:
“It has been my good fortune to work with Ricardo Nuñez, he is absolutely committed to upholding the highest level of professional integrity, while navigating complex business matters and providing innovative solutions on behalf of SWM International.”
–Peter Kramer, Partner