For a "little Cuban girl from Hialeah" who dreamed of becoming a Hollywood film director, Marilyn Blanco-Reyes has not done badly for herself. She is the Vice President of Legal and Regulatory Affairs for FedEx Express Latin America and Caribbean Division, overseeing more than 30 employees and having recently negotiated the acquisitions of a pair of companies in Brazil and Mexico, both of them larger than the domestic business of FedEx in those markets.
Blanco-Reyes and her brother were born in Havana, and immigrated to the U.S. when their parents were in their 20s. Her parents worked multiple jobs to put their children through private schools to better prepare them for college. "I'm very thankful for their ingraining in us the importance of education," she said.
"I was totally, totally in awe and in love with Hollywood," Blanco-Reyes said in an interview. "But there was also a practical side to me that said this is probably not a career that I'm going to do well in. It took me a while before I realized that international relations, diplomacy, and ultimately law was where I would fit."
Along the way, she attended Notre Dame Academy for Girls under the Sisters of Mercy in Northeast Miami, a school that Rosemary Barkett, federal judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, and soul singer Betty Wright also attended. Blanco-Reyes later traveled the world working for Eastern Airlines, graduated from Florida International University, and took the foreign service exam, which, to her surprise, she failed.
When her hopes of becoming Ambassador Blanco-Reyes (or stuck in a cubical in deepest, darkest Washington) were dashed, she focused on going to law school. At Miami Law, she gravitated toward anything to do with international law, studying with Professors Bernard Oxman, Alan Swan, and Francisco Garcia-Amador.
"UM Law was a very special place for a number of reasons," Blanco-Reyes said. "Number one, it was practical. I was working, as I had gone back to school late in life, so the UM night program allowed me to continue to work full-time at Eastern Airlines and then go to school. Additionally, UM was in a city where I ultimately wanted to settle, at the crossroads of Latin America. From an international law perspective, Miami is a great place to be. That flexibility and location were critical in my choice to go to UM."
Recruited by a Brazilian firm just after graduating but before she had passed the bar, Blanco-Reyes practiced transactional law in São Paulo for two years. "It was a great experience," she said. "I came away with a lot of contacts in Brazil, and I fell in love with the country. It's a love affair that continues today."
She went back to Brazil in 1999 for the opening of FedEx Express Latin American and Caribbean Division's legal office and stayed there for five years before "they brought me back kicking and screaming."
However, she appreciates being back in Miami, near her family. "I've always loved Miami but I love it even more now," she said. "I think that we have developed into a really interesting world-class city."
At FedEx Express Latin American and Caribbean Division, Blanco-Reyes negotiated the acquisition of two Latin American transportation and logistics companies. "We are very, very proud of the fact that our division has grown through the purchase of these companies – MultiPack in Mexico in July 2011 and Rapidão Cometa last year in Brazil. We went from a division of about 3,300 people to close to 20,000 and expanded our footprint in both countries. It was an exciting process, and for a transactional lawyer, that is about as sexy as it gets."
Blanco-Reyes says that the real challenge lies ahead in integrating those two companies into the FedEx culture.
"Although we are big globally, in Mexico and Brazil we were rather small, and bought companies that were much larger than our local operations," said Blanco-Reyes. "We look forward to continuing to integrate with these companies that share the similar core values of FedEx – always keeping our customers at the heart of all we do."
Watch the interview of Marilyn Blanco-Reyes.