Sergio Garza and the American Dream

Sometimes marching to your own beat is just what’s called for

Published in 2008 Texas Rising Stars Magazine — April 2008

On Sergio Garza’s 34th birthday, his wife took him to a music store. It brought back memories. He’s always had a close relationship with music; but even more, music is related to how he got out of Brownsville and ended up as a senior counsel at Apache Corp., a Houston company with $2.6 billion in net income in 2006.

He played in his high school band. When he left South Texas for Stanford University, he worked as a tour guide and marched in the Stanford band. He also played drums in a reggae/ska group called Prime Mover and a rock band called Suiciety.

Home on breaks, he served as a recruiter for Stanford, focusing on talented young minority students in South Texas. Among his favorite recruiting locations was his church, where he played in yet another band.

After leaving Palo Alto with a bachelor’s degree in political science, Garza continued that outreach, but this time it was for Harvard, where he earned his law degree.

“I suppose the main reason I did it was so that young people could have the same opportunity as I did,” Garza says. “It’s a way of giving back.”

After graduating from Harvard in 1999 he accepted a clerkship with the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals under the late Judge Reynaldo Garza (no relation). Garza became the first Mexican-American federal judge in the U.S. after President Kennedy appointed him in 1961.

“It was a valuable experience because, from a legal standpoint, I got to see how judges make decisions,” Garza says. He adds that the judge, whom he calls a “role model,” taught him more than legal lessons. “He cared about the community that he lived in. Even though he was this big shot federal judge, he still cared about what happened around him.”

As does Garza. After finishing his clerkship with the 5th Circuit in 2000, he joined Baker Botts in Houston, and later, Weil, Gotshal & Manges. From 2005 to 2006 he served as president of the Hispanic Bar Association of Houston. Part of his tenure included raising scholarship money for young Hispanic law students.

“I think it’s important, especially in light of the demographic changes we are seeing,” Garza says. “That is the future of the country.”

As senior counsel at the Apache Corp., he spends a lot of time flying—often on the company jet—to Buenos Aires, where he handles international litigation relating to the oil and gas business.

Nick Ricotta, assistant general counsel at Apache, speaks highly of his colleague and says he has the potential to go far.

“Sergio is a genuine person,” Ricotta says. “He’s motivated, very bright. He’s good at establishing effective working relationships, which is very important because his work is internationally focused. That sort of ability just comes naturally to him.”

Ricotta adds that Garza is always looking for ways to be a better lawyer, including seeking ways to learn from senior lawyers.

Garza says he plans on staying put at Apache, where he has worked since April 2006. He loves the challenges, he says.

The son of a special-education teacher and an aviation electronics technician, he has come a long way from his simple life in Brownsville, where relatively very few graduates move to colleges like Stanford and Harvard. So what carried him from a town where in 2006 the median household income hovered around $26,000 to being the senior counsel for a company that realized $8.3 billion in revenue the same year?

“I knew what I wanted,” he says. He also credits luck, a good family and plain old hard work.

Garza and his wife, also a lawyer and South Texas native, now are counted among Houston’s legal elite.

“It’s the American Dream,” he says recently sitting at a coffee shop in one of Houston’s ritzier neighborhoods. “I don’t know how else to put it.” 

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