The Deal-Maker

Rodrigo Dominguez’s negotiating skills are helping change the energy game in Latin America

Published in 2018 Texas Rising Stars — April 2018

Rodrigo Dominguez remembers sitting at the kitchen table as a teenager in Veracruz, Mexico, talking with his father, who owned a construction company, about career options. Dominguez said he was thinking about business school.

“Are you sure about that?” his dad asked. “You’re always trying to cut deals and negotiate, and you always tend to find the middle ground to make people agree. That might be a good trait for a lawyer.” 

At Mexico City’s Instituto Tecnológico Autónomo de México, Dominguez quickly learned litigation wasn’t for him. But mergers and acquisitions? “It’s a deal-making practice,” he says. “You’re building upon something. So I think my dad was right.”

Dominguez, 40, now a partner at Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe’s Houston office, focuses on domestic and cross-border business deals and co-heads the firm’s fast-growing Latin America practice. He represents major U.S. energy companies looking to acquire oil fields from Argentina to Mexico, whose energy market opened to outside investment in 2014 after decades as a state-run monopoly. He recently handled a Houston-based company’s $460 million development of one of Mexico’s first private refined-products pipelines.

After earning his law degree in Mexico, Dominguez worked for a large firm in Mexico City. Looking to broaden his cross-border potential, he completed a U.S. law degree at Chicago’s Northwestern University in 2005. The Socratic learning embraced there was a welcome contrast, he says, to the memorization-driven format he’d experienced in his Mexican civil-law education. “You still had to memorize, but professors drove you to reason, to analyze, and provide your view of the law,” he says. “There was more room for being creative.”

Later that same year, he joined King & Spalding in Houston, the city where he now lives with wife Stephanie and their two daughters, ages 6 and 8. He has handled work in most of South America. “Colombia, Chile, Peru, Brazil—and I was lucky enough to do M&A work in Venezuela before the economy there tanked,” he says. “The only country I haven’t done anything in is Guyana.”

The expanding economies to the south keep him busy. Along with Mexico, Argentina has opened up to foreign developers wishing to build power plants, with a focus on renewable energy.

Two factors are driving the dynamism in Latin America, he says, the first being an emerging middle class.

“As an investor, when you’re looking where to deploy your capital for the highest growth, you look to these types of markets where there’s political stability and economic growth, where the number of consumers is growing,” he explains. 

Second, he says, the emerging Latin markets have a need for infrastructure, “which is creating a lot of opportunities on the development side that a lot of global players are identifying. People are growing more comfortable investing large capital amounts. That economic stability has also created a lot of wealth that is looking to the U.S. as a destination for investments.”

Dominguez says the U.S. and Mexican business communities are more alike than not. “The level of interaction between the two countries when it comes to deal-making is astounding,” he says. “So from a cultural standpoint, I was already used to it.”

For U.S. clients, “the fact that I am Mexican and understand the cultural aspects of the economy really adds a lot of value,” he says. At the same time, “for Mexican clients coming to the U.S., the fact that I’ve been living in this country for 13 years also adds a lot of value. The differences are not that dramatic. It’s just a matter of sitting down with clients and understanding where you’re going.”

Dominguez enjoys engaging in deals that can spark regional transformation. “This practice,” he says, “has given me the opportunity to play a role in transactions that can be game-changers.”

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