Ernest Garcia is vice president-legal, general counsel and corporate secretary for BBVA Bancomer USA
Ernest Garcia is vice president-legal, general counsel and corporate secretary for BBVA Bancomer USA (John Everett)

Ernesto Garcia’s job spans the globe. He’s the vice president-legal, general counsel and corporate secretary for BBVA Bancomer USA Inc., which provides cross-border money transactions. Company customers, for example, could be Chinese immigrants working in Italy who want to send money back to their families in certain provinces of China.

“My job is negotiating and closing agreements with banks that service those provinces in China,” he said. “At the same time, I will negotiate an agreement with a bank or other money service business in Italy. We connect the bank in China with either a bank or money service in Italy to facilitate the transactions. We are the intermediary. My job is to close the deal with a formal written agreement.”

BBVA Bancomer USA is part of the BBVA Group, a multinational financial services company founded in Spain that has more than 110,000 employees and reported earnings for the nine months ending Sept. 31, 2013, of €3.08 billion on gross income of €16.3 billion (approximately $4.3 billion and $22.3 billion, respectively).

Garcia is the lone in-house lawyer for the Houston holding company and its subsidiaries— Bancomer Transfer Services Inc., Bancomer Payment Services Inc., Bancomer Financial Services Inc. and BBVA Bancomer Foreign Exchange Inc.—which employ about 60 people, he said.

“I really enjoy negotiating contracts; I like the give-and-take,” Garcia said. Garcia said he has negotiated agreements in Turkey, China, Mexico, Romania, and the Republics of South Africa and Senegal.

“I like having an objective in line for my clients, with a certain deadline or time frame to close the deal. I really enjoy it,” he said.

Garcia grew up in Corpus Christi. His father was a draftsman for an engineering firm, and his mother was a homemaker. He earned an undergraduate degree in politics at Princeton University in 1996 and a J.D. at the University of Houston Law Center in 1999.

He said his interests in civil rights, international law and politics led him to law school. During the last semester of law school he worked as a law clerk for Strother Keiter & Mulder in Houston on trial and corporate transactions matters and became an associate with the firm after passing the Texas bar exam.

After about three years with Strother Keiter he did stints with two other firms: Bedford-based Bailey Galyen and Gold, where he handled consumer bankruptcy matters in the firm’s Houston office, and the Balcom Law Firm in Houston, where he worked the commercial side of bankruptcy representing commercial and mortgage lending institutions.

Garcia was looking for in-house opportunities in 2006 when he responded to a BBVA Bancomer USA job listing.

“The [law firm] billable hour requirements were getting more and more difficult to meet with a young family,” Garcia said. “I was looking to make a transition in-house for a better work life balance.”

He joined the company as an assistant vice president and in 2009 was named vice president-legal, general counsel and secretary.

Garcia said that one of the more rewarding aspects of working in-house is “being part of the management team of the company and having input into the direction of the company.”

Like most GCs, he handles employment, intellectual property, litigation and other legal issues for his company.

Garcia said he mainly uses outside counsel for regulatory matters and often turns to Jim Freis, counsel in the Washington, D.C. office of Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton for assistance.

“Ernesto has a very calm and controlled way of dealing with issues; even where some can be very time-sensitive or of crucial importance for his company, he remains very much even-keeled and is a very pleasant person to work with,” Freis said.

Garcia has a good understanding of the company’s business model and its competitive advantages, Freis said.

“He’s not just being there to respond to legal questions but is being a business advisor,” Freis said. “It’s something I see the leadership of the organization turns to Ernesto for.”

Garcia lives outside Houston with his wife Maria “Trini” Garcia and their two sons, aged 7 and 9. His wife, who earned her law degree from UH Law the same year he did, is a tax manager for Deloitte Tax in Houston.

Garcia said that as a GC he is on call 24/7 but typically does not work on the weekends.

“With law firms I worked a half day on Saturday and Sunday,” he said. “Now I have more time for weekend activities with my family.”

Among those activities are soccer games, swimming lessons and bicycle-riding.

“Any free time we try to spend outdoors,” he said. “We are a typical suburban family.”