Features

Karina Sol – Celanese 

The legal chemistry behind Celanese’s global growth 

In Mexico and elsewhere, it’s a crime to neglect a contaminated property, and that has Karina Sol minding the devil-ridden details as Celanese proceeds with the closure of its massive acetate operation in the city of Ocotlan. 

Karina Sol | Associate General Counsel | Celanese 

Karina Sol | Associate General Counsel | Celanese

The Texas-headquartered technology and specialty materials company had announced the intended closure of the plant five years ago, but the project’s complexity and COVID-19 necessitated extensions. Now, with life generally back to normal, plans can proceed, albeit slowly and prudently. 

But there can be no price on regulatory compliance and the company’s integrity, she tells Vanguard from Mexico City this past March.  “Caring for our reputation and the importance of remedying is a fundamental principle and commitment that we have,” Sol emphasizes. 

That has had her discussing with Mexican authorities, presenting a remediation program and guaranteeing that Celanese’s vendors will adhere to the letter and spirit of the rulebook. Around 80 hectares are involved in Ocotlan, a midsized municipality 500 kilometers west-northwest of Mexico City.  

As the facility’s closure was critical to Celanese’s consolidation of its global acetate manufacturing, it should reduce fixed costs, align future production capacities with anticipated industry demand and strengthen the company’s overall position in the face of competition. 

And for Sol, it’s all part of her evolving responsibilities as the business-minded in-house lawyer she’s been here since August 2017 and, for the preceding year, in a similar capacity at Tesco in Polanco. 

She means business 

Much was happening on the business front when Sol fielded a call from Vanguard. Among other projects, Celanese is opening a Mexican hub for sales and services in Latin America. For her, the duties include overseeing regulatory compliance and procedures to ensure no business interruptions occur.  

Karina Sol | Associate General Counsel | Celanese 

Then there’s the ongoing integration of the mobility and materials line—M&M—acquired from DuPont in late 2022 and a more recent partnership with Under Armour, the sportswear giant that’s counting on Celanese to develop a fiber for the performance-stretch fabrics known as NEOLAST.  

This alternative, Sol explains, could unlock the potential for end users to recycle performance stretch fabrics, a legacy aspect that has yet to be solved in the pursuit of circular manufacturing. “Celanese not only explores new opportunities, we are always innovating,” she says. “I think that’s what makes us different from our competitors. We are innovators, designers and problem-solvers.” 

Asked to further elaborate, she mentions the Hytrel TPC thermoplastic polyester elastomer that Celanese acquired as part of DuPont’s M&M. TPC having uses in everything from automobiles to mascara applicators to laptop bezels, Sol assures its future packs much potential. And that has her assisting Celanese in identifying sales opportunities when the company can allocate its portfolios and better satisfy customer demands. 

“The relationship with our customers is not only commercial,” she says. “It’s also one of collaboration in the continuous improvement of the products this company develops.” 

There’s so much more in motion, including manufacturing intermediate chemistry products at Celanese’s facility in Veracruz. She hasn’t yet been given the go-ahead to discuss other projects but gives a general shout-out to colleagues in Brazil for promoting the M&M brand without losing the continuity of their business.  

“One thing for sure at Celanese: You’ll not get bored,” Sol says. “And you’ll learn a lot.” 

Managing risk 

Asked what’s most challenging, she cites managing the inevitable risk at a multinational. One needs to train one’s mind to identify, evaluate and manage the many variables concerning contracts, regulatory compliance, remediation, corporate management, real estate and whatnot. Thus, the “general” part of her letterhead can be taken literally. 

Karina Sol | Associate General Counsel | Celanese 

“Every day is different, and there are challenges I could not have taken if I had dedicated myself to a specific area of law practice,” Sol says. “Here you are making decisions to manage a company, which also means you’re dealing much of the time with non-lawyers. Their insights are interesting and often much different from a legal perspective on risk management. Teamwork is valuable when it comes to problem-solving.” 

And so is adjusting attitudes that sustain gender inequity at the professional ranks. While social progress has come to Mexico, Sol says machismo remains systemic and deep-rooted. She cites a recent investigation, “Unequal Rights: The Gender Gap in the Law Practice of Mexico,” by the Mexican Institute for Competitiveness. According to that study, female lawyers typically earn 41 percent less than their male counterparts for similar work. 

“Most of the time, we don’t get promoted even when our work has been evaluated as outstanding, and that is a way of professional ghosting that ends in labor discrimination,” Sol says.  

There even seems to be a disincentive to having a family as, according to the study, 16 percent of female lawyers have been dismissed during the last five years due to pregnancy. The highest-paid female lawyers are middle-aged, single or divorced, and either are empty-nesters or don’t have children. Yet male lawyers usually reach their peak value between 35 and 41, though they’re often married with children. 

Though Sol credits Celanese with being reasonably progressive, she says there’s ground to be made up and, should time permit, would like to resume mentoring young female lawyers. Her own time must be carefully managed, Sol balancing a heavy workload with being the single mother of a 5-year-old.  

But it’s the path she’s glad she chose and one her father encouraged by example. He committed to law later than most, and his daughter was 7 when he earned his degree. The daughter must have absorbed much through osmosis, growing up at home, school and her dad’s law office. 

Encouraged to be all she could, Sol earned her law degree from Universidad Marista in 2005 and augmented her credentials with graduate work at Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico and Boston University School of Law. She honed her skills at a couple of firms before a year’s stint at Tesco and onward to Celanese where, as she says, no two days are the same, and there’s so much to be done on all fronts. 

“It sounds cliché, but I believe attorneys can make profound changes through their practice or even influence the functioning of entire governments and reshape society to bring a constructive change and innovation,” she says. “I’d like to counter stereotypical bias as a woman and mother.” 

View this feature in the Vanguard Spring III 2024 Edition here.

 

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