Even as a young girl in Cuba, Mavel Navarro knew she wanted to be a lawyer. After her family eventually settled in Miami, a summer clerkship at Shell Oil Company opened her eyes to the world of in-house counsel. “I saw how as in-house counsel, you have the opportunity to become part of the business team that determines and guides the success and future of the company,” she explains. Today, Navarro is vice president and general counsel of Tetra Pak Inc. and its various affiliates in the United States, Canada, and Mexico. Tetra Pak Inc. is part of the Tetra Pak group of privately held food processing and packaging solutions companies operating in more than 160 countries.
After 13 years working in the legal department at Shell Oil, Navarro felt she had grown as much as possible with the organization and was ready to take the next step. She joined Tetra Pak—a far different environment than what she had known for more than a decade. While she used to be able to employ the expertise of hundreds of corporate lawyers, she now works with just a few internal colleagues.
Navarro’s deep and varied foundation built at Shell has become an asset at Tetra Pak. “I can recognize the various legal issues that are likely to arise, and proactively mitigate any risks,” she says. “While I don’t have all the answers, I can rely on a great network of law firms that support me. Tetra Pak is a private company with a very small legal team, considering the breadth and scope of the matters we handle, but it is an excellent team.” Navarro also chose Tetra Pak because in her role as vice president and general counsel she is responsible for all of North America, which requires her to conduct business in the Spanish-speaking world, where she can use her first language to conduct business and connect to her culture.
Moving Things Forward
Tetra Pak has more than 23,000 employees in 85 countries around the world who manufacture, market, and supply food packaging containers, filling systems, and distribution equipment. Much of Navarro’s work, then, lies in food safety and government regulations. Her team must ensure that all products meet regulatory standards and customer expectations in many different markets. As general counsel in a new industry, she has found she must learn about the business quickly, be resourceful, and think ahead. Navarro quickly became indispensable to Tetra Pak by sitting down with business leaders, reading as much as possible, studying company history, and going back to basics: becoming familiar with legislation that most directly impacts the company.
As part of the local and cluster management teams that are responsible for the operations in the United States, Mexico, and Canada, Navarro and her colleagues work on all aspects of Tetra Pak’s key projects and initiatives. “It’s important for us to provide input at the managerial level, in order to help the company understand how legal decisions will shape the business side of what we do,” she says.
For Navarro, this ability to impact the way a business works validates her path. “It’s gratifying to see the results of contracts I negotiate and advice I give,” she says. Each time Navarro walks through a grocery store with her son, she sees Tetra Pak products on the shelves. “I’ll spend months of my life negotiating a deal then walk into a store and pick up our product,” she says. “My team worked on the agreement that got this product to the shelf. That feels fantastic.”
Up Close & Personal with Mavel Navarro
What is your favorite part of your workday?
I like sitting down with the client and strategizing, not just from a legal perspective, but from a commercial aspect. I ask, “What are you trying to do, and how can we work together to get the most value for the company?” I enjoy discussing those questions, figuring out issues, minimizing risk, optimizing value, and planning a way forward that really makes sense.
What do you enjoy doing outside of work?
I sometimes joke that there’s no life outside of work for a general counsel, but when I’m away from the office, I spend time with my family. I love being with my son, who is five years old. I also enjoy painting. I paint with oils, which helps me relax.
Where were you born and raised?
I spent seven years in Miami after coming from Cuba and living in Spain for a few years. I’ve been in so many places that it’s hard to define “home,” but home is wherever my family is, even if it changes over time.