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Juan Pablo Malfavon

Making compliance part of the company DNA

He’s orchestrated a major spinoff for one of the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies and navigated complex and evolving regulations for a global leader in the pet and livestock medicine sector, all while building out its Latin American operations. He’s worked for GM, Colgate, Citi and Philip Morris, among others.

Now, Juan Pablo Malfavon says he’s ready for the next big thing.

Truth be told, when he spoke with Vanguard in early November, Malfavon wasn’t exactly sure what that might be—or where: a C-suite role for a life sciences company, perhaps, or a general counsel post in a highly regulated industry.

Juan Pablo Malfavon Vanguard Law Magazine

Whatever the endgame, he hopes it’s one where his legal prowess and business savvy are equally welcome.

“In all of the industries I’ve worked in, the business models have changed so much, I think it’s important to have someone that understands how to both protect and encourage the business,” says Malfavon, who most recently served as director and corporate counsel for animal pharmaceutical company Zoetis, overseeing its Latin American operations. “The landscape is so different. You need someone to navigate it safely and effectively.”

Heavy compliance

While his general counsel bona fides run an impressive gamut, from intellectual property and financial review to mergers and acquisitions and spin-offs, one area in particular has become Malfavon’s high-gloss calling card: compliance.

It’s also one of the most volatile—nowhere more so than in the pharmaceutical industry. In 2006, the year Malfavon joined pharma giant Abbott as a legal and prices manager in charge of Mexico, intellectual property law and patent protection—preventing illegal generic drugs from entering the market—took up most of his bandwidth.

Over time, however, with the industry focusing more on how to best provide access to medicine—through marketing, incentives, rebates, and so on—appeasing regulators became more and more pressing.

“Some companies want to be more aggressive in how they market their products, which you can do, so long as you review every piece of material that goes out to the public,” Malfavon explains. “You need to make sure you’re not giving any off-label promotion; that your social media strategy is focused. Every word matters.”

Communication is key

More crucial still, Malfavon says, is for companies to have an effective compliance strategy, and not just in the legal department. Sound training programs, regular internal reviews, being educated on the nuances of various cultures: all have proved crucial in Malfavon’s career.

During his time at Zoetis, for instance, Malfavon traveled with the regional sales team to understand the compliance issues they faced—say, whether it’s legal for the company to buy a gift for a potential client in a country where such gestures are encouraged.

Juan Pablo Malfavon Vanguard Law Magazine

If his next role happens to be in the compliance arena, Malfavon says he’d explore solutions that are even more proactive, such as an online portal where employees can anonymously submit compliance questions.

“Understanding the business is so important,” Malfavon says. “But it’s also important to have open lines of communication, so you’re not doing something that seems innocent but might be perceived as corruption. For example, you might be able to give someone a painting of a Pfizer logo. But you can’t take them out for a fancy dinner.”

It’s the kind of discerning eye and knack for nuance that can take years—even decades—to cultivate. Though having the lawyerly gene certainly doesn’t hurt.

Vision quest

It was Malfavon’s grandfather, Alfonso Ruiz Velasco, a judge in Mexico’s federal courts, who sparked young JP’s interest in the legal world. But it wasn’t until 1992, during a student internship for Citi’s Banamex bank in London, England, that Malfavon embraced his destiny.Juan Pablo Malfavon Vanguard Law Magazine

“I would go to watch some of the public hearings during breaks, and it was something out of another time: the judges in powdered wigs, the language they used—it really made an impact,” Malfavon recalls.

While earning his J.D. at Mexico City’s Universidad Anahuac, Malfavon worked at the law firm of Bufete Saucedo, where he focused on civil and domestic law. The following year, he joined Loperena, Lerch y Martin del Campo Abogados. It was here that Malfavon got his first taste of corporate law, working on issues ranging from contracts and mercantile litigation to due diligence processes.

After earning his J.D. in 1998, Malfavon made the jump in-house, joining Philip Morris as a lawyer and corporate affairs manager based in Mexico. One of his proudest accomplishments was working with the company’s chief competitor, British American Tobacco, to establish the National Council of the Tobacco Industry, with the aim of improving the industry’s image throughout Mexico.

Part of the DNA

For Malfavon, the next eight years would be a veritable grand tour of corporate hotspots. At General Motors, he represented the company in front of Mexico’s Consumer Protection Agency. For Colgate-Palmolive, he helped spearhead several new manufacturing facilities. For Abbott, Malfavon built the Mexican legal department from scratch, before leading an IP effort to protect the company’s blockbuster drug, Humira.

But it was at Pfizer that Malfavon logged, arguably, his most impressive feat: a 2012 spinoff resulting in the creation—and initial public offering—of Zoetis, for which he received an award from Pfizer.

Now, six years later, Malfavon looks back on it all with unequivocal pride.

“What I love about being a corporate lawyer is that business is always moving, and if you can move with it, you can be very valuable,” Malfavon says. “Compliance, I think, is the biggest piece of that. It’s become part of the DNA of companies. Our job as lawyers is to make sure it has the right codes.”

Published on: January 10, 2019

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