We continue our monthly feature, “Upfront & Personal”, a column created by Rose Ors that brings “the person behind the title” to the forefront in interviews with some of the most influential members of the legal community.
Esteban Mezzano, General Counsel of the Americas & Head of Legal Sustainability at Nestlé, recently spoke with Ms. Ors, the CEO and Founder of ClientSmart, about embracing opportunities, the importance of family, and how best to encourage “glocal” citizenship.
Rose Ors: What are you most proud about the way you have led your life?
Esteban Mezzano: I feel proud — mixed with a great sense of gratitude and humility — that I have been wise enough to embrace all the opportunities that life has placed in front of me. I come from a middle-class family in Argentina where I was taught the importance of strong values and work ethic. I took these lessons from my parents, have applied them personally and taught them to my children. I was educated in an excellent public education system, and I took advantage of every opportunity the system offered.
I have always had generous friends and mentors who have given me wise counsel — counsel that I have taken to heart. My own family is a source of love and motivation, and I cherish them.
Rose Ors: What are the three things you are most passionate about?
Esteban Mezzano: My first passion is my family. I was born into a big family, and I have a big family of my own. My wife and our four children give me the energy and love that helps me stay motivated to be my best. My second passion is learning new things. I am insatiably curious, and I actively seek to discover new ideas. I find that my children and my young colleagues at work are my best teachers. The world is changing so fast and so profoundly, and they help me keep pace with it. Finally, I am passionate about living a balanced life. I have a sincere belief that body, mind, and spirit each require time and focus. For me that means a daily routine of physical exercise, a good book, and meditation — they are the tools I use to be the best at home and work.
Rose Ors: When did you decide to pursue a legal career?
Esteban Mezzano: I became interested in studying law during the year I spent in St. Louis as an exchange student. I was 17 years old and saw myself as an ambassador for Argentina. In this self- appointed role, I joined a number of organizations that exposed me to the field of international relations which I immediately loved. It was my interest in international relations that got me interested in the law. I studied both. I went to France to Sorbonne University to study integration law within the framework of the European Union — at that time a new legal new discipline. I was hooked.
Rose Ors: What was it about international relations that spoke to you?
Esteban Mezzano: Although I am a proud Argentinian, I am a citizen of the world. I have always focused on our commonality rather than our differences. I view the world beyond boundaries and cultures. That is why I studied not only law but international relations. I knew that the discipline would open up professional opportunities that would give me the chance to view work through a global lens. My experience in the United States and in France also made me want to travel the world.
So, I was looking for an international career, and I got the chance with Nestlé. I am profoundly grateful to Nestlé for giving me the opportunity to raise my children as truly global citizens.It is a joy for me to hear my children speak in three different languages — Spanish, English, and French — with effortless ease.
Rose Ors: What is the most rewarding part of your work at Nestlé?
Esteban Mezzano: My work in the area of sustainability. I strive every day to find and promote ways for Nestlé to do business in a manner that has a positive impact on society. My work in the area of corporate sustainability is not only one of my professional responsibilities, it is a personal passion. I believe there is an essential role for the General Counsel to play in this area. The idea that corporate sustainability is important in delivering long-term financial and reputational value to my company is something I fervently believe in. It is a belief that gives me a tremendous sense of purpose that informs what I do and why I do it.
Again, I am very fortunate that Nestlé’s long-term approach to growth integrates sustainable development into its business activities. We focus our business efforts to benefit both our shareholders and our world. It is a privilege for me to be part of the effort.
Rose Ors: Now for the “what if” question. If anything was possible, how would you spend the last year of your life?
Esteban Mezzano: Looking around at our world today, I see the human family at a crisis point. So, your question allowed me to dream. And my dream would be to spend the last year of life contributing to establish a new world political system. A governance framework based on a stronger and more inclusive view of local communities globally connected, overcoming the already archaic model of the Nation-State. Loving your country of birth is a beautiful sentiment; however, the type of nationalism we are experiencing right now — one based on fear — worries me for the future of my children and the future of the world.
We need to care about our planet in a way that is truly global, with a stronger involvement and responsibility in our local communities. Helping mobilize such a movement would make me very happy. My dream may sound quixotic, but I truly believe that as global interdependence deepens, the solution is to establish a governance mechanism that develops solutions for global issues — climate change to economic development — on a global scale. What we need is glocal citizenship.
Rose Ors: What advice would you give a newly appointed General Counsel?
Esteban Mezzano: My main advice to a newly appointed General Counsel is to always to stay true to his or her moral compass. It is the General Counsel’s role to help the company he serves achieve its business objectives to create and preserve value from a financial, social, environmental, and ethical basis — doing well by doing good.
I would also recommend that he or she dare to rethink how work is done both within the legal department and with its outside legal service providers. For example, new technologies and in particular artificial intelligence will help make your legal department operate more effectively and efficiently.
However, despite the speed of change and the advance of technology, one thing remains essential for a General Counsel: the need to gain and retain the unreserved trust of our clients, as a professional but also — and more importantly — as a person.
This interview has been edited and condensed by Rose Ors.