There are power brokers, and then there’s Nichol Garzon-Mitchell.
As the chief legal officer (CLO) and senior vice president of corporate development at Glass Lewis—one of the largest proxy advisory and governance firms in the world—Garzon-Mitchell serves as more than just a corporate attorney. She is the architect of the legal and compliance framework of an organization that is a trusted ally of the majority of the world’s largest institutional investors, who look to Glass Lewis to set the standards for boardroom governance and ESG (environmental, social, and governance). Plus, she manages Glass Lewis’ mergers and acquisitions (M&A) and works closely with the board and other members of the C-suite to identify and evaluate new strategic and growth opportunities.
With two decades of legal experience, Garzon-Mitchell lends wide-ranging expertise to Glass Lewis, including expertise on corporate governance, M&A, global risk and regulatory compliance, international markets, sustainability, and ESG. She started her legal career as a corporate senior associate at the firm now known as Robles, Lazo, Gallardo & Valdez in Guadalajara, Mexico, before joining Glass Lewis in 2004. Since then, she’s held a number of titles, including senior proxy research analyst, general counsel, vice president, senior vice president, and now chief legal officer.
“When I joined Glass Lewis, it was a start-up operating only in San Francisco,” Garzon-Mitchell says. “It was just me. For many years, I was a solo GC, and I had to figure it out on my own. I didn’t have a mentor, I didn’t have anyone to provide me with templates, nothing. I had to do everything from registering our first trademarks to learning how to negotiate a lease.”
This solutions-oriented approach is par for the course for Garzon-Mitchell. Years ago, when the SEC started to regulate proxy firms, Garzon-Mitchell needed to keep up-to-date on new requirements to ensure that Glass Lewis met them. However, her desk was swamped, and she was receiving a high volume of internal requests. So she built a team of legal and compliance experts from scratch, which allowed her to focus on the bigger picture.
“There’s so much you can accomplish by yourself, but there’s a limit to that,” Garzon-Mitchell says. “Surrounding yourself with people who are intelligent, talented, dedicated—that is really what’s going to get you to that next level.”
This decision afforded her the opportunity to develop strategies to scale the legal and compliance function within Glass Lewis. The result? She spearheaded investments in platforms that automated the sales contract process flow, the employee personal security training program, and entity management at Glass Lewis.
Meanwhile, as a bilingual Mexican American who claims citizenship in Mexico, the US, Colombia, and France, Garzon-Mitchell leveraged her global purview to develop policy guidelines for markets in continental Europe and Latin America. On top of that, she drove the expansion of Glass Lewis research coverage into those areas and worked alongside founders, investors, and management through several changes in ownership (as well as M&A transactions), which resulted in the expansion of operations into Australia, Germany, Ireland, the UK, and Japan.
Of course, all of this doesn’t even touch on the SVP’s boardroom experience.
At present, Garzon-Mitchell is the corporate secretary of the Glass Lewis Board of Directors as well as the chair of the compliance and regulatory committees and a member of the risk committee. In other words, she tackles all things related to corporate governance administration. She attends quarterly board meetings, at which she presents the board with updates on global regulations in the proxy voting and ESG space that could impact Glass Lewis and its institutional investor and public company clients. She also highlights the risks and opportunities associated with each update.
“Glass Lewis is at the center of corporate governance,” Garzon-Mitchell explains, “and at the center of how boards work, what boards do, what boards should be doing, and what topics directors should be discussing during those meetings to hold the executive team accountable and refer back to shareholders.”
Oh, and one more thing: Garzon-Mitchell sits on the boards of Glass Lewis’ international subsidiaries.
“I’m a board member at all of those international subsidiaries. So I have to deal with the corporate governance for all of those entities,” Garzon-Mitchell says.
And yet, Garzon-Mitchell’s sheer experience with corporate boards is not the most impressive part about her board candidacy. What separates her from the pack is that she approaches leadership with an unmatched authenticity.
“I think surrounding yourself with a team who wants to grow with you in that same direction really accentuates and elevates you as a leader,” Garzon-Mitchell says. “I actually wake up every morning and think, ‘Oh my god, I really enjoy working with these people. What are we going to do today? What challenges are going to be thrown at us? Who’s going to reach out with a question that we’ve never answered? And how are we going to figure that out?’
“It’s an opportunity to guide them, collaborate with them, and learn from them, because they also have excellent ideas,” she continues. “And I obviously still have a lot to learn. We always have things that we need to learn.”
Thoughts from Guest Editor Michelle Collins
Nichol’s singular experience building—from scratch—the legal, regulatory, and compliance structure of one of the world’s foremost proxy firms makes her a rare find in the realm of corporate board governance. Her historical knowledge of the evolution of corporate governance practices both in the US and abroad is likely unparalleled.
Without question, Nichol could bring to any multinational corporation both great understanding and experience with current practices—and context for future corporate governance initiatives. Her global network would also be advantageous to many boards, especially those with meaningful operations outside the US where access to subject matter experts may be more challenging.
Moreover, Nichol’s experience presenting to a board, assisting a board in developing its agendas and work plans, and observing the decision-making and management processes of the board gives her an edge that many first-time board members do not have. Last, but certainly not least, today’s corporate boards must concern themselves with potential activist investors. Nichol’s knowledge of those and other investors will be very advantageous to any board she joins.