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Oscar Chanona Garcia LLM’19 aims to use his legal education to improve infrastructure in Mexico

February 04, 2019

Oscar Chanona Garcia decided to pursue a career in law to help others and to improve the future of his home country, Mexico. Since completing his B.A. in Legal Studies, J.D. and his Masters degree, through more than 10 years of work experience of in Mexico City he has pursued that goal by working to improve the infrastructure of Mexico to allow the country’s citizens to gain access to necessary goods and services.

He began his career at Ingenieros Civiles Asociadoes (ICA), a major construction company in Mexico. He began there as a clerk during law school, splitting his time between working and studying, and was eventually promoted to the position of senior lawyer once his degree was completed. There, he worked on special projects like the enhancement of the Panama Canal and developing new construction projects for Mexico’s toll roads.

“Mexico has very ancient toll roads, and the government is, by definition, budgetarily inefficient because it needs to allocate all the public resources and public funding to different projects, such as hospitals, social welfare, and not on those kinds of projects,” he explained. “That’s how and why ICA became very important, because ICA was able to develop those toll roads and important projects to connect Point A to Point B. Mexico has a lot of geological risk and social risk, but this company knew how to allocate it and manage it.”

As a lawyer at ICA, his role had two parts: The first was to identify and assess the legal risks associated with each project, and bring those to the attention of the people in charge risk management, who would then factor the information into the company’s bids on projects. Second, he was responsible for managing the contracts once awarded—that included construction, procurement, and design contracts.

His high degree of responsibility and the skills he developed at ICA prepared Chanona for his next position: at just 29 years old, he was appointed Legal Director of Civil Aviation, Airports and Maritime Ports for the General Counsel of Mexico’s Ministry of Communications and Transportation. There, Chanona was involved in developing the legal strategy for “one of the biggest bankruptcies in Mexico”—that of Mexicana de Aviación, a group of airlines and a company that was responsible for aircraft maintenance, repair, and overhaul. Ultimately, only the maintenance company was able to remain operational, but Chanona and his team worked to minimize the human impact of shuttering the other three companies, which affected 8,000 workers and their families.

“You were talking about a social problem, so that’s why we were focused on how we were going to help those people,” he said. “We created a trust, and the main purpose was that if we sold something—if we collected rights, properties or land—everything would be delivered to the affected people.” Crucially, Chanona explained, structuring the transaction to create a trust made it a private transaction with clear rules. The maintenance company remains operational worldwide.

After managing the bankruptcy crisis, Chanona was promoted to General Counsel of the Mexico City International Airport, where he oversaw a major real estate dispute involving the Mexican International Airport, and also was in charge of negotiating the credit agreement and project finance of a new airport in Mexico City.

Chanona later continued to work with the aviation industry, ultimately becoming General Counsel of Aeropuertos y Servicios Auxiliares (ASA), a company that oversees 25 airports and manages the supply of jet fuel in Mexico. At ASA, Chanona spearheaded the energy reform project that opened the jet fuel market in Mexico, transitioning from only one provider to allowing Shell, BP, Chevron, Gulf, and more to do business in the country.

“That was very important and one of the most challenging goals I had,” said Chanona, citing the need to align decisions with a national security and supply focus on securing fair costs and availability while managing multilateral negotiations across borders.

“The new private companies which were able to invest in Mexico are also foreign companies, so we needed to develop new ways to make that happen and to talk with big law firms and companies in the U.S.,” he said. “Imagine that you were executing a multi-party and multi-language deal, as well as different entrepreneurial cultures — that was the challenge.”

While Chanona has worked on aviation and infrastructure issues in Mexico, he has also taken the time to impart his knowledge and experience to law students who share the same interests. As a professor at Universidad Panamericana and ITAM, Chanona teaches aviation and airport law and commercial law at both the graduate and undergraduate levels.

Although he took on the role of a teacher, Chanona knew his days as a student were not yet behind him: he had always planned to complete his legal education abroad. During his time at ASA, he decided to apply to LLM programs. Key components he sought in a program were the ability to complete a dual degree or certificate in business — which Penn Law and Wharton offer — as well as the presence of a robust antitrust program.

Since arriving at Penn Law last summer, Chanona has taken advantage of all the Law School has to offer. He is enrolled in the Wharton Business and Law Certificate program, and has taken courses on corporate finance, strategic management, and infrastructure investing. With his deepened understanding of these concepts, he plans to return to Mexico and continue his work in infrastructure development. Indeed, his attendance at Penn Law was made possible through the support of the CONACYT (Consejo Nacional de Ciencia y Tecnología) federal agency within the Mexican government, which granted him a full tuition scholarship.

In Mexico, “there are communities that don’t have access to water, toll roads, and basic utilities. Defining infrastructure as the way you can get your basic needs fulfilled, in Mexico there’s a lack of infrastructure. Therefore, once I return to Mexico, I will focus on those areas to develop it to increase the quality of such services,” he said.

“I’m convinced that developing as a lawyer is a complex task, as well as gratifying by changing others’ lives,” said Chanona. “However, the true challenge will be my commitment to spread my learned experience at Penn Law through my country and global enterprises. Therefore, I’d like to support Mexico in its pending infrastructure tasks. Nowadays, the best way to help Mexico is to get the right utilities and infrastructure to the people at an efficient cost.”