Born in Cuba, Luis Machado came to the U.S. with his mother and sisters when he was only four years old. He and his family settled in Union City, N.J., where he spent his childhood—not only developing a love for Springsteen’s music, but also attending the local Catholic schools and then Saint Peter’s Preparatory School in neighboring Jersey City.
For as long as he could remember, Machado had always planned on becoming a doctor. After graduating from Saint Peter’s, he headed to the University of Michigan, where he began a pre-med program. But it didn’t take long for Machado to realize the medical profession wasn’t his dream.
“I realized one day I didn’t want to be a doctor, so I was confronted with that dreaded scenario: Break my mother’s heart and leave the pre-med program or continue studying for a career I knew wouldn’t make me happy,” he explained.
Machado ultimately shifted his major from pre-med to Spanish literature, and after graduating in the mid-1980s, he moved to New York City and worked for four years in sales. Although he enjoyed sales, when Machado got married, he decided he needed a better plan for his career. While earning an M.B.A was high on his list of options, he saw that at the time many M.B.A. graduates were struggling to find jobs. So he opted for law school, which he thought had better potential for leading him to a successful career in both business and law.
And he was right. Machado started a part-time evening law school program at Bridgeport School of Law in Connecticut, but soon moved to Chicago and transferred to Loyola University School of Law. Since graduating, Machado’s career has taken him from a law firm to several in-house positions. He ultimately landed at CTS Corporation, a designer and manufacturer of electronic components for OEM equipment in the transportation, industrial and medical sectors, where he currently serves as vice president, general counsel and secretary.
Please tell me about your career path immediately after law school?
My first job was in the corporate department at Altheimer & Gray in Chicago. I was on the corporate team doing M&A work, which I really loved because it was the perfect combination of business and law.
One of the things I enjoyed most as an associate was the due diligence work because I got to see how different solutions to effectively the same problems came about—those different approaches to doing the same thing. It was fascinating to see people try to reach their goals in different ways.
I realized I wanted to expand my experience in practicing law—while I was still doing the M&A work. So, I used to wander around the hallways and floors to different departments to find work in those other areas of law. By doing that, I was able to get some experience doing trademark, litigation, lending and other bank work. The fact that I was doing other things didn’t lighten my M&A workload but that was OK. It was good learning for me.
I spent four years at Altheimer & Gray. It was a great firm and I learned a lot about the business of law.
Why did you leave Altheimer & Gray?
I was recruited to go in-house at Johnson Wax Professional, which was part of S.C. Johnson & Son in Racine, Wisconsin. It is a family owned company and they were spinning off their B2B unit and creating a stand-alone business. I was recruited to join that team.
The legal team was small and they needed someone to do the deal and governance work in connection with the spin-off and beyond. That’s what I really enjoy doing, so I decided to leave the firm and go in house at Johnson Wax Professional (later named JohnsonDiversey, then Diversey).
I spent eight years there and did quite a bit of transaction and acquisition work. It was owned by a great family who cares about the company, the employees, the work, and places they do business. I have recommended it as a place to work to many people.
I ultimately left for a great opportunity at the candy company Wrigley, where I spent 4 years as AGC, Corporate overseeing the Corporate legal function including public company reporting. Following the purchase of Wrigley by Mars, Inc., much of my job was no longer necessary. I stayed on a little while to help in the transition, but ultimately took a position as Senior Vice-President, Legal, at Limited Brands (now L Brands), which owns the Victoria’s Secret, Pink, Bath and Body Works, and a few other retail brands. I moved my family out to Columbus, Ohio, where it’s based. In my five years there, I worked with the international team to open both directly owned and franchised stores outside the United States. That business was growing dramatically, opening more than 1,000 stores in 40 countries.
How did you come to CTS?
My family and I enjoyed our time in Central Ohio and have made great friends there, but when an opportunity arose to return to the Chicago area and take the GC role for a global company, I had to consider it. I met with the CEO here at CTS, who was looking for a new GC to join the management team. The company was focused on aggressive growth and he was looking for someone with a broad business orientation who could help drive the company’s strategy. After a few conversations, and meeting the rest of the management team, he extended an offer and I accepted. I joined CTS as GC in August 2015 and my family moved back to Lake Forest—right back to the same neighborhood we had left five years earlier.
How has your role evolved over the years?
CTS is a global public company but is smaller than any of the companies I had worked with before. It also has a fairly small and tight-knit executive team. We work together, and it’s a very collaborative team. We do whatever we need to do to move the business forward.
We also have a small, very engaged legal team, and we support the business directly and hands on. There are only four of us on the legal team. My deputy GC, a senior patent lawyer, and a terrific paralegal who is very patient with us.
Although I’m in a primarily legal, including ethics & compliance, role, I am also directly responsible for the company’s facilities and real estate, and for environmental and EH&S compliance. I spend much of my time overseeing those functions as well.
What are some of your biggest challenges?
We are a very small legal team for a global business. We serve customers and have manufacturing facilities all around the world. Keeping up with everything that is going on in the business on a real time basis is always going to be a challenge for a small, U.S. based team.
I don’t like to be reactive. Lawyers shouldn’t be reactive. We need to be proactive and be prepared to address issues quickly as they arise. That means we need to understand where the business is going and what is going on in the business—whether it triggers a legal issue or not. We need to understand strategy, operations, and financial results while being deeply connected to the culture and the people across the organization. We must make sure that we keep up with all of the information a global business generates and to develop relationships with our colleagues in the business. When we need to provide legal support, we will then hopefully fully understand the issue and the context in which it arises so that we are able to give the right advice to the business on a timely basis.
What is a goal you have for your department in the next 12 months?
The legal team is here to support the company’s growth strategy. As part of that strategy, we are always looking for good acquisition targets. The legal department works to support that while continuing to try to make this organization as efficient and streamlined as possible.
The main goal within the legal team is to have a good overlap of knowledge base and skill sets. For example, we share contract and business reviews amongst the lawyers to ensure that we are getting as broad a view of the business’ needs and operations as possible. I like to ensure that we have a transferable knowledge base and skill set. You never know when someone will get sick or be tied up on a big project. We each should be able to pick up each other’s work. My goal for the legal team is to be in a position where we can all either work as a team or work independently and make sure we’ve got all the bases covered.
What do you love most about being an in-house lawyer?
Being an in-house lawyer gives you the benefit of being able to take the long view. See things through. You then have to live with the results of your decisions and choices.
At a law firm, you get brought in for a discrete piece of advice, but when it’s over, you’re out. As an in-house lawyer, whatever you do today, you have to live with the repercussions or the benefits that is causes in six or 12 months, or longer. I like it because you feel a real sense of accomplishment in supporting the business to achieve its goals and know you were an integral part of making that happen.
The other thing I’ve always loved about being in-house is knowing that maybe I have made things a little better for our various constituencies. You always think of the shareholders, and they are very important, but there are also the employees—maybe I’ve been able to help keep people employed who otherwise wouldn’t have been, or have helped people develop their skills.
Please tell me about the mentors you had growing up in your legal career.
JoAnne Brandes, my former GC at Johnson Wax Professional, is someone who I still consider a mentor. She’s a terrific lawyer and a terrific person who always taught me to be careful, be thoughtful, and always do the right thing. I really appreciate that. She always took an interest in helping all of the people she came into contact with.
Over the years, I have met a lot of good people. I appreciate the fact that quite a few have given me advice and counsel or have taken an interest in where I am with my career and where I’m going. I have tried to reciprocate that and help folks who are developing in their career.
Please tell me a little about your life away from the office. If you’re comfortable, please tell me about your family.
I have a wife and three kids. My son just graduated from University of Michigan, our alma mater, so that makes my wife and me very happy. He is taking a job in Chicago and living close to home, so that’s great. We also have a daughter who is 20 and wrapping up her sophomore year of college in the highly competitive film, television, voice-over and commercial program at Pace University in New York City. And we have a 17-year-old daughter finishing up her junior year of high school and thinking about where she wants to go to college, so we have taken a few college visits lately.
We also have a large cat named Biscuit who allows us to share his home with him. This year, my wife and I will celebrate 29 years of marriage, which is wonderful. I only ever made one good decision in my life and that was asking her to marry me—everything else flows from there.
We love living in the North Shore, near the lake. I like to walk a lot so walking over to the beach and along the beach front is a nice pastime for me. I like to cook and do a lot of it at home. Now that it is getting warm, I’m looking forward to grilling up big hunks of meat.
My wife and I are also live theater fans and go to the theater as often as we can pull it off.
Then of course there’s baseball, which I love. We live on a park in Lake Forest. The baseball diamond is right in front of our house. On Saturday mornings in the summer, I look forward to the little kids practicing baseball in front of the house. I just stand at the front window and watch them. It’s so much fun to see them run around while learning what I think is the best sport in the world.
What advice would you give a young lawyer who wants to be a GC in a large company someday?
First, related to the practice of law, learn your craft and take it seriously. It’s important and you have to treat it with care and respect. Ask questions and understand why things work the way they do. Never assume you know something or the full extent of something. Check your conclusions and your reasoning.
Secondly, but just as important, I would recommend that they spend time understanding people and how to work with people, how to manage people and how to be a person that other people can work with, understand and respect. These are not skills that they look for when accepting people into law school, nor do they teach them. I’m not just talking about management of lawyers and clients, but learning how to work with, deal with and counsel people. Making sure that they understand you and that you are actually communicating. It’s an art and it’s challenging. But it’s very important as you become more senior in the profession. You want to make sure you not only have mutual respect with your client, but that they want to come and talk to you, that they seek your advice and counsel. Don’t just focus on the technical matters. Focus on those soft skills as well.