Name: Elisa D. Garcia C.

Title: Chief Legal Officer

Company: Macy’s, Inc.

Macy's

High Performance Counsel Presents #CafeConLourdes: An Interview with Elisa Garcia

Our #CafeconLourdes column shines a spotlight on some of the top Latin leaders in the legal industry. One of our goals is to showcase our talent to inspire the younger generation of LatinX leaders because “you cannot be what you cannot see;” and hopefully open the door to some meaningful mentorships and networking opportunities.

Another goal is to educate others in our industry who may not be aware of the extensive pool of talent and diversity of our LatinX legal eagles and what got us here. 

According to the United Nations, there are 33 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean today. We’re not at all homogeneous. Our experiences and heritages can be quite different. While our skin color and countries of origin make us different, the Latino culture is also unique in many ways, including the degree to which we are highly family oriented, embracing not only our nuclear family but also our extended family, our expressiveness, warmth and other traits, many of which are not usually associated with corporate America, but have been shown to enhance it. Admittedly, it gets complicated to separate pretty accurate generalizations from more problematic stereotypes. One of my central goals for this series is to address these stereotypes using education as a tool to break them down and bring greater understanding.

Thank you for being here with us Elisa. In this series, which we are calling #CafeConLourdes, I want to have a conversation with LatinX legal eagles with the purpose of educating others about our diverse backgrounds, the challenges we have faced along the way, and our achievements. My goal is to challenge stereotypes, lead by example, and provide positive role modeling to the future leaders. So, let’s dive right in.

Lourdes Fuentes Slater

Lourdes Fuentes Slater

Why don’t you tell us in a few sentences who you are? Quién es Elisa?

Elisa D. Garcia C.

Elisa D. Garcia C.

Hmm . . .Quién es Elisa.  Mother, wife, lawyer, counsellor, board member, mentor. I was born in Brooklyn NY (yes, we do consider Brooklyn to be a city (not just a borough of NYC).  My parents were the children of immigrants from Spain.  My dad was the oldest boy of 8 children and as such, left school in 8th grade to help support the family.  My mom graduated High School and had dreams of a career in design, worked at a millinery shop and as a secretary.  My parents both worked when I was young, so I spent my days with my grandparents.  I spoke no English until I started kindergarten a few months before I turned 5 years old.

Our Brooklyn neighborhood (Redhook) was by the Brooklyn docks and was not the neighborhood it is today.  It was very much an immigrant neighborhood. Therefore, it was not unusual for my parents to speak in Spanish at home.  My extended family lived nearby, and they were my world.

When we moved to Queens and I started school, I was pulled out of class for speech help as they thought I had a terrible lisp.  I guess we can blame the King of Spain for that Castilian lisp, and once I knew what the speech teacher wanted me to do, I fixed it.  She took the credit.

I’m a product of public school education, from P.S. 34, the Plainview, NY schools and SUNY @ Stony Brook where I received a BA in Political Science and a M.S, in Policy Analysis and Planning.  But I wanted to be a doctor—a corner or pathologist to be exact.

After an early career as a Developing Country Energy Analyst, working in the Dominican Republic, Mexico, Antigua and Montserrat, I decided to go to law school.  The decision was driven by a desire to be a legislator.  I was active in local politics since my early teens and was even nominated to run for statewide office.  I declined, knowing that I did not have a chance of being elected and decided to go to St. John’s University Law School instead.

Law school was hard work, but I did well.  I was an editor on the Law Review, and I participated and excelled in civil trial competitions.  I was part of a very, very small group of Latino law students.  We were such a small group, that we could not form our own chapter of LALSA, so we joined with the Black Law Student Association and changed the name to BALLSA.  We started a Street Law Program in Spanish to teach the community about immigration, landlord tenant and trust and estate matters.  That program still exists today.

I had many opportunities and have had a great career.  A quick walk through my resume:

Started as a corporate associate at Willkie, Farr & Gallagher.  A Wall street firm that gave me the foundation and training to grow and succeed.

Corporate and International Counsel at GAF, Corp.  A company that pushed the envelope in many areas and tested me daily.  We did lots of M&A and had our share of big asbestos litigation.

Regional Counsel for Latin America at Philip Morris International.  Food, beer and tobacco counsel for Central and South America focusing on the Andean Pact, Mexico and Central America.  Here I learned to lead remote teams and how to be a trusted business counselor.

General Counsel at Domino’s Pizza Inc.  I joined when Bain Capital bought the company from the founder and was the new CEO’s first external hire.  One of the highlights of my career was getting this company ready for, and taking it public.  And I could make a large pepperoni pizza in 44 seconds.

CLO of Office Depot, Inc.  Lots of interesting legal issues at Office Depot, including an SEC investigation and a financial restatement, but another career highlight was the merger with Office Max.  I also tried to merge with Staples, but the government made the mistake of blocking the transaction.

CLO of Macy’s Inc.  At Macy’s I have the privilege of leading some of the foremost legal experts in Retail legal matters.  My team is brilliant, and they make me look good every day.  I also have the wonderful opportunity to be a part of an American icon—Macy’s is important to America and I am part of the leadership team building the strategies that will ensure it will be around for a long time.  AND I get to be a clown in the Thanksgiving Day Parade.

Lourdes Fuentes Slater

Lourdes Fuentes Slater

Tell me 3 or 4 things you consider the most crucial to your professional success.

Elisa D. Garcia C.

Elisa D. Garcia C.

I am a good listener.  I learned early on that you need to “listen to learn” not just hear.  You need to be able to listen between the lines  . . . to what is said and what is not said

I also learned that I need to bring my whole self to work.  Not just the lawyer.  The mom, the wife, the gardener, the cook the traveler—they are all important parts of how I can contribute

“Si se puede” I truly believe I can do just about anything.

Lourdes Fuentes Slater

Lourdes Fuentes Slater

Have there been specific people (real or fictional) or pivotal situations/events that have inspired you, helped shape who you are?

Elisa D. Garcia C.

Elisa D. Garcia C.

My family is full of role models.  My abuelita learned to cook in a Duke’s kitchen in Spain.  I assume it was some sort of “training” but how brave she was to leave her family at 12 or 13 to work.  I know it was out of necessity, but wow! Then she came to the USA at age 19 with a female cousin.  What Hutzpah! And she eventually owned her own bar and grill.

I watched my Dad work hard every night at the kitchen table to get his GED diploma, having only completed the 8th grade.  My mom typed his notes from the classes he then took in engineering to improve his ability to get better jobs.

In the law, there were not many Latina’s that I knew of early in my career, but mid- -career, I learned about Gloria Santaona, the GC of McDonalds.  I aspired to be like her.

Lourdes Fuentes Slater

Lourdes Fuentes Slater

What professional accomplishment are you most proud of? 

Elisa D. Garcia C.

Elisa D. Garcia C.

Joining Domino’s Pizza as its first in-house lawyer, building a legal and franchise services department, getting the company ready and eventually taking it public

My work at Office Depot was broad and very interesting, but I especially enjoyed the merger of Office Depot with OfficeMax.  The deal was complex, but the integration and achievement of hundreds of millions of dollars in synergies was very exciting.  The process, the rigor and the leadership required was a career highlight.

Lourdes Fuentes Slater

Lourdes Fuentes Slater

Describe a significant challenge you have faced in your career. How did you overcome it? What did you learn from it?

Elisa D. Garcia C.

Elisa D. Garcia C.

I was faced with what I perceived as a roadblock in my career.  In retrospect, had I reached out to HR or other leaders in my company, I now believe I could have overcome it.  Instead I chose to bail. I have always been a bit impetuous.  I took a job in a state I had never visited (other than for the interview) and where we had no family or friends. We uprooted our children and my husband’s career and had a life changing experience.  We took a big risk and it paid off.  I became General Counsel of Domino’s Pizza, raised our children in the Midwest and our lives are so much richer for the experience.  I learned that in order to reap big rewards you need to be ready to take risks.

Lourdes Fuentes Slater

Lourdes Fuentes Slater

I want to talk about cultural assimilation. Do you feel you have assimilated too much, not enough, or just right? How do you gage that?

Elisa D. Garcia C.

Elisa D. Garcia C.

My parents and I were born here and as I mentioned before, I learned English when I started school. I am American and of Spanish heritage.  I enjoy Spanish culture, food and wine.  I believe the best America is the melting pot—we each bring our own ingredients and make an excellent stew.

Lourdes Fuentes Slater

Lourdes Fuentes Slater

Have you had mentors/sponsors? Have you acted as a mentor/sponsor to others? Is mentorship/sponsorship important? How? Why?

Elisa D. Garcia C.

Elisa D. Garcia C.

While the term mentor may not have been used, I certainly had influential people who have helped my career.  All have been men, and most have been my supervisors.  They helped me grow and learn.  I also have what I call my “kitchen cabinet.” It is a group of general counsels upon whom I can call with any sort of question.  They are invaluable.

I have many mentoring relationships.  Most are informal, but I do have one that began with a law student when she was a 1L and the relationship has continued for decades.  It is great to be able to give advice to someone at all levels of a career.  I would venture to say I am also her sponsor, as I have hired her once and recommended her for other positions. 

Having a network on whom you can rely is important and learning from others you admire is a gift.

Lourdes Fuentes Slater

Lourdes Fuentes Slater

What does Diversity, Equity & Inclusion mean to you? How important is DE&I to you personally? 

Elisa D. Garcia C.

Elisa D. Garcia C.

Having been a part of trying to start a LALSA chapter at my law school and as a student bringing “street law” classes to the Latino community, I think you would agree that D&I has been important to me for a long time. When I started as a young associate there were few women partners at my firm, no Latinos or Blacks. And while this was not the reason I left big firm practice; I believe it was a strong influence.  It is hard to think you will be the first female Latina partner at a Wall Street law firm.

When I became a GC, I noticed that the relationship partners (those getting origination credit) were all white men.  I began asking my firms to report on the diversity of the teams doing my company’s legal work, I began asking for diverse teams, I began rewarding firms that valued diversity.  I hired very diverse in-house teams. Now each of my team members have diversity objectives as part of their annual goals.  We also measure how much we spend with diverse owned firms and lawyers. So yes, I think you can say D&I has been important to me.  

Lourdes Fuentes Slater

Lourdes Fuentes Slater

What practical advice do you have for GCs and others seeking to make a positive impact on the progress of DE&I in their organizations and in the legal profession?

Elisa D. Garcia C.

Elisa D. Garcia C.

What gets measured gets done.

Lourdes Fuentes Slater

Lourdes Fuentes Slater

Is there any other advice you would give Latino attorneys entering the workforce now?

Elisa D. Garcia C.

Elisa D. Garcia C.

My advice is to make genuine connections with people.  Get to know your co-workers (their kids and their pets via Zoom meetings). Be present and stay top of mind.  If you work in a firm, make connections with the partners that work in areas you find interesting.  Ask questions and let them know you want to work with them or for a particular client (and why).

Lourdes Fuentes Slater

Lourdes Fuentes Slater

If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self, what would it be? 

Elisa D. Garcia C.

Elisa D. Garcia C.

Slow down . . . listen more and don’t sweat the small stuff.

Lourdes Slater

About Lourdes

I am the Founder and CEO of Karta Legal LLC, a legal operations and technology management consulting firm. I am graduate of the University of Pennsylvania Law School, a Lean Six Sigma Black Belt, and a Legal Project Manager.

I have over 20 years of legal operations, technology management, and litigation experience. Throughout my career, as a partner in private practice and in my current role, I have represented governmental and quasi-governmental agencies, as well as publicly-held Fortune 100 companies. I am honored to have been recognized as a Trailblazer by the New York Law Journal for being an “agent of change, thought leader and innovator.” In 2021, my consulting company, Karta Legal LLC,, was named a Legal Technology Trailblazer by the prestigious National Law Journal. This award is very meaningful because our young company was selected amongst a choice of titans for its fresh approach to legal tech innovation. It is also very meaningful to us because it appears that we are the only 100% women and minority owned company on that distinguished list.

At Karta Legal, I have assembled an entire ecosystem to help your organization in its legal innovation journey. In my team, I have experts in process mapping, technology, AI, cybersecurity, data science, e-discovery, project management, and litigation support. We know what works, what doesn’t, and how much it should cost.

My goal is innovation and re-designing the delivery of legal services. The path to innovation is simple. First, focus on the people. Second, design or redesign the process. Third, pick the right technology for your specific needs and your budget. To achieve those goals, I use a variety of design thinking and business process improvement tools selected from Lean Six Sigma and Agile Project Management methodologies. Over the years, I have curated and tailored these tools to fit the needs of the legal industry and have applied them successfully. Included in my innovation goal is the diversification of talent in the legal industry because, simply put, it is good for business.

Together, let’s design the future of the profession.

Further information / press inquiries:

High Performance Counsel ™ (HPC)
NY: +1 (917) 886-3222
London: +44 (07547) 128191

Elisa Garcia

About Elisa

Our feature this month highlights Elisa D. Garcia C., an accomplished corporate executive and attorney with over 30 years of experience advising management and boards of directors on legal, business and government relations matters. Since 2016, Ms. Garcia has served as the Chief Legal Officer of Macy’s, Inc. and as a member of Macy’s Enterprise Committee, which sets the overall strategic direction for the company.

Ms. Garcia has held general counsel and senior executive positions with Macy’s, Office Depot and Domino’s Pizza and serves on the Board of Directors and Nominating and Governance Committee of Dollarama, Inc. (TSX:DOL), the leading operator of dollar stores in Canada.

Ms. Garcia also serves on the Board of the Institute for Inclusion in the Legal Profession, a non-profit organization supporting research and scholarship to improve the entrance and retention of minorities, women and LGBT in the legal profession and DirectWomen, which prepares women lawyers to serve on corporate boards.  Ms. Garcia also serves on the Advisory Boards of Corporate Pro Bono. ALPFA named Ms. Garcia one of the “50 Most Powerful Latinas in Business” in 2017and 2019, and she was named one of “America’s 50 Outstanding General Counsel” by the National Law Journal in 2014. In October 2015, the legal team she led was awarded the honor of “Best Legal Department” from Corporate Counsel Magazine.

Ms. Garcia is a graduate of St. John’s University School of Law in New York, where she was an Editor of the Law Review. She also received a joint BA/MS in Political Science and Management and Policy Sciences from W. Averell Harriman College, State University of New York at Stony Brook. Ms. Garcia is a member of the New York and Michigan Bars.

HPC

About High Performance Counsel (HPC)

Founded by international lawyer and successful legal technology founder, David Kinnear, High Performance Counsel (HPC) is the leading business media resource covering the modern legal industry and the people, technology and economic forces driving its future. Described as the “voice of the modern legal industry” HPC provides world-class media coverage via one-to-one feature interviews with leading legal professionals and the publication of key insights via articles, white papers and industry commentary.

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