One of the highlights of the Second Celebration of Latino Alumni, held Sept. 27 to 30 at Harvard Law School, was a gala dinner Saturday night that featured a presentation of the Harvard Law School Association (HLSA) Award to Joaquin Avila ’73, a nationally recognized expert on Latino voting rights, and a keynote address by Mario L. Baeza ’74. (see video below)

(See related story on Joaquin Avila ‘73 and the HLSA Award)

Andres W. Lopez ’95, chairman, HLSA Latino Alumni Committee, introduced Baeza, chairman and CEO of The Baeza Group, a Hispanic-owned alternative investment firm specializing in managing private equity investments in Latin America and the U.S. Hispanic markets. Lopez described Baeza as “an American success story.” “He represents the very best of Harvard Law School and the Latino community that’s going to make a mark and change this country,” said Lopez.

In his keynote address, Baeza shared lessons he’s learned from his life experiences, including how he navigated his educational path, built his law practice and founded his private equity firm.

A Cuban-American who left Cuba when he was seven years old, shortly after witnessing the first assassination attempt on then President Fulgencio Batista, Baeza said it was 30 years before he returned to Cuba to see his extended family. “As we talk about Latinos and the state of Latinos, we shouldn’t forget, ours is really an immigrant story. There are many of us with family someplace else that we cannot get to for various reasons. As we think of our community, we have to think of them,” he said.

Throughout his career in investment banking, Baeza has used his role in private equity to continue to advance the U.S. Hispanic and Latin America markets. He has been featured as one of the “100 Most Powerful Latinos” by Poder magazine and one of “The 100 Influentials” by Hispanic Business magazine.

In 2006, Baeza’s company partnered with WNET/Thirteen to launch V-Me Media, Inc., the first national, Spanish-language, public broadcast network formed as a private/public venture, now available in 72 million U.S. homes and over 80% of all U.S. Hispanic households.

Baeza is also founder of Baeza & Company, the first Hispanic-owned merchant banking firm to focus on the Pan-Hispanic region, and he was the chairman & CEO of TCW/Latin America Partners LLC, a pioneering private equity firm investing in Latin America and formed as a joint venture between Baeza & Company and Trust Company of the West, an asset manager with over $100 billion in assets at the time.

In 2000, Baeza formed AJM Records, the label responsible, among other things, for launching the career of multi-platinum and Grammy Award-winning singer, “Ashanti.”

Earlier in his career, Baeza was the first Latino partner at a major New York law firm, Debevoise & Plimpton, where he founded and led three new practice areas: telecommunications and new technology, ESOP leveraged buyouts, and Latin America corporate finance, mergers and acquisitions and privatizations.

He co-founded Jazz@LincolnCenter and serves on numerous corporate and nonprofit boards, including Air Products and Brown Shoe Company, the Hispanic Federation and the Cuban Artist Fund.

A graduate of Cornell University and Harvard Law School, he currently serves as chairman of the New York City Latin Media and Entertainment Commission. He is also chairman of the Upper Manhattan Empowerment Zone, a quasi-governmental entity funded with $250 million in order to promote and help finance economic development in Harlem and the South Bronx.