Roel Campos’s career has been anything but conventional. He recalls being under federal marshals’ protection when, as a federal prosecutor in Los Angeles, he tried and convicted members of a high-profile narcotics cartel. Later, he was a successful entrepreneur operating Spanish-language radio stations. He served as a commissioner of the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and recently was appointed by President Obama to a term on the President’s Intelligence Advisory Board, the oldest and most prestigious of the presidential citizens’ boards.
Campos was born in the most southern part of Texas, in the small city of Harlingen. His parents were working-class Mexican-Americans. He grew up speaking Spanish and didn’t know a word of English until he started the first grade, and he had to learn quickly to rise to the top of his class. In high school, Campos was a star student and athlete. He applied for and received a congressional appointment to the elite US Air Force Academy near Colorado Springs. After graduating from the academy, he served a five-year commitment as an Air Force officer and completed an MBA program at UCLA. Upon completing his tour of duty in the Air Force, Campos earned his law degree from Harvard Law School.
Today, in addition being a partner at international law firm Locke Lord Edwards LLP, Campos adds “board member” to his list of positions. His broad experience in business and SEC regulation makes him coveted for both public and private company boards. He credits his highly unconventional career with providing him the varied experiences that help make him effective in the boardroom. Being careful to avoid conflicts with his legal practice, Campos brings to his boards of directors a passion and commitment to overall success.
Board members, he believes, should not seek to accrue personal power or influence. Instead, a good board member seeks to work collaboratively with other directors and management to achieve success for the company and its investors. “At times, a director must also have the confidence to speak up and ask tough questions or request clarification,” he says. He cautions that a director must be engaged and never passive.
Campos adds that selecting and supporting the CEO is one of the key responsibilities of board directors. Other key responsibilities, he says, include assuring that management has established appropriate business goals and plans, as well as incentivizing the management team through an appropriate compensation plan. Additionally, Campos explains, “holding the management team accountable for meeting their goals is an important guiding principle.”
A good director also brings something unique of value to the table to contribute to the success of the company. “It can be knowledge of the relevant industry, or a particular skill set, or a network of parties that can do business with the company,” he says. “That’s number one.” After getting on a board, Campos believes “the director must do his or her homework to understand the company’s financial performance, challenges, and competitors.”
“Being Latino is not a job qualification by itself. However, in the right environment, being Latino can bring huge additional value to management or a company board.”
Campos thinks his entrepreneurial background in raising venture capital and satisfying tough investors has been extremely useful in making contributions as a director. Many of Campos’s boards also appreciate his prior service as an SEC commissioner and federal prosecutor. Bringing him on as a director demonstrates a commitment to compliance and good governance to the company’s investors. Campos says that working with multiple boards has taught him that frankness, honesty, vigilance, and eagerness to understand the views of other directors are also critical components to be an effective board director.
“Being Latino and Mexican-American is part of who I am as a person. I am very proud of my heritage and never hide it,” he says. “Being Latino is not a job qualification by itself. However, in the right environment, being Latino can bring huge additional value to management or a company board.” With the growth of the Latino population in the United States, a larger portion of the customer, shareholder, and employee base for companies will come from the Latino community. “An American Latino can bring insights and perspectives to a board on how products and services can better suit Latino clients and customers, which can add to the bottom line.”
Outside his work, Campos seeks to promote Hispanic business opportunities to investors, and he served for two terms as the chair of the New America Alliance, a group of Latino businessmen and fund managers that seeks to improve business opportunities for Latinos in America. He and his wife Mini support many Latino cultural causes, including the Smithsonian Latino Center, where Campos now serves as the chair of its advisory board. Campos indicates that he plans to continue with his law practice and continue serving as a director on multiple boards. He enjoys the intellectual challenge that comes with those roles.
“I have not traveled the usual road that others follow in their careers,” Campos says. His path to the boardroom grew naturally out of a commitment to knowledge. “I took some risks, and I sought experiences and positions that I thought would be interesting and also help me grow. Things seem to have worked out and my career took care of itself.”