René Paula is Global VP of Legal at ZX Ventures, where he leads a team of generalist business attorneys around the world. During the launch of ZX Ventures, René also served as the Global Legal Vice President for Mergers and Acquisitions (M&A) and Commercial for Anheuser-Busch InBev (ABI). Prior to that, he worked in legal and business affairs at Audible.com and ACX.com, subsidiaries of Amazon.com, as well as HSBC Securities.
What recent accomplishments have you and your team achieved?
I worked intensively on ABI’s acquisition of SABMiller, running the U.S. side of the deal. It ended up being a $107 billion transaction, and we turned around and sold the MillerCoors joint venture to Molson Coors for $12 billion. It took a lot of time and energy, but it was a great opportunity.
How did you come to work at ABI and then at ZX Ventures?
I started out as a corporate associate working in M&A for Cravath, Swaine & Moore LLP. The firm has a great tradition of rotating corporate attorneys through different practice groups, switching people around every 12 to 18 months, so I learned early on in my legal career to be a generalist. That’s unusual within law; most lawyers end up specializing in—and only being comfortable operating in—one specific area of law.
About 10 years ago, I did a deal where I represented a billionaire Latin American family who was acquiring an AmBev operation in Venezuela. This was during the political turmoil surrounding Hugo Chávez’s reelection, so AmBev was reducing its operations there. Everything about the deal was time-sensitive and stressful. The lawyer for AmBev, my opponent, was Lucas Lira, who’s now risen through the ranks and is ABI’s VP for Legal, Commercial, and M&A. It was difficult, and there were some heated discussions, but he must have respected me, because all these years later he called me on a Saturday morning to say he was looking for someone to run this great global operation in M&A. I was immediately intrigued. Honestly, he had me the moment he said the startup was looking to be a “black sheep,” because that’s how I see myself.
When I joined ZX Ventures last summer, we didn’t even have a name yet. There were only a few people working here—we had to walk down to the Apple store and buy our own laptops because we were so new. Within a couple of weeks, we were closing deals. Now, just a year later, we’ve done dozens of deals, and we’re growing at an incredible rate. It’s been a wild ride.
What advice would you give someone who is interested in working with ZX Ventures?
First, speaking multiple languages—I speak Spanish—is essential to success here. You’re constantly on the phone with other countries, and having those conversations in only English is a handicap. The more languages you know, the better, so learn another language! Second, you need to understand that this is a truly worldwide business. Flexible schedules sound great in the abstract, but in reality, time zones are disruptive; they encroach on your personal life. You may have to do business at 3 a.m. That’s the reality of living and working on a round planet.