When he was a boy working summers as a cowboy and picking crops on the Texas-Mexico border, RICARDO ANZALDUA never imagined that one day he would be the top lawyer at one of the world's largest insurance companies. Anzaldua grew up in Pharr, Texas, a town so close to Mexico that it is connected to the Mexican city of Reynosa by a bridge. The 59-year-old attorney, who came late to the study of law, is now in charge of the legal department at MetLife Inc., the largest life insurer in the United States.
"I wasn't a great cowboy,"Anzaldua says. "But I knew if I wanted to do something else, I needed to get educated."
After graduating at the top of his high school class, Anzaldua went off to Brown University, where he majored in Latin American Studies . Thinking he would pursue a career in academia, he then enrolled in a Ph.D. program at the University of California at San Diego. But three years into his graduate studies, he realized he did not want to be a history professor. "When I was 17 years old, I was a community organizer in South Texas, and I realized I wanted a profession where I could have more influence on policy," he says. So he took a job at the Center for U.S.Mexican Studies.
There a visiting fellow encouraged him to go to law school, explaining that there are law firms that advise foreign governments on development and economic issues, just the kind of work he wanted to do.
Anzaldua attended Harvard Law School, then went straight to Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton. "I'm probably the only lawyer who knew which law firm I wanted to go to before I even entered law school," he says.
At Cleary, where Anzaldua eventually became a partner, his first assignment was advising the Kuwaiti government-in-exile following the 1990 Iraqi invasion. He went on to join the team that advised the Mexican Ministry of Finance on the NAFTA negotiations.
But in 2006, after 17 years with the firm and countless trips to Brazil and elsewhere in Latin America, Anzaldua decided to move in-house. He landed at The Hartford Financial Services Group, eventually becoming associate general counsel and senior vice president. (In 2009 Corporate Counsel named The Hartford's legal department the best in-house legal department of the yearin part for its handling of the challenges brought on by the financial crisis that broke the previous year.)
"Challenges are what I crave and love about being a lawyer," Anzaldua says. "I came to MetLife because of the need to tackle tough questions here."
Anzaldua, who did not begin his legal career until the age of 36, succeeds NICHOLAS LATRENTA, who retired after 43 years with MetLife. In his new post, where he oversees a staff of more than 1,000 lawyers, compliance officers, and government affairs and public policy specialists, he will have to convince regulators that MetLife does not pose risks to the financial system and should not be designated too big to faila label that would require more regulatory burdens, he says. Another focus will be helping MetLife expand globally as the company strives to move into emerging markets.
Anzaldua will continue to work pro bono as the GC of the International Institute of Rural Reconstructiona nonprofit oriented to community and economic development in some of the world's poorest areas. He is also on the board of directors of the Greater Hartford Legal Aid Foundation. And he remains focused on promoting diversity, both in the company and elsewhere something he has done ever since he founded the Latino Student Organization in college.
Anzaldua also worked on diversity issues at Harvard, and was chair of the diversity committee at Cleary Gottlieb and cochair of the diversity committee at The Hartford. He continues to play a big role in Latino alumni groups at both Brown and Harvard. "I remember when the only work I could get in South Texas was in the fields, because I was a Mexican American in a place where all the power was held by Anglos," he says. "It's important in a global organization and also just in the interest of justice and fairness that people understand that opportunities should be based on merit and on a willingness to contribute."