TITLE: Executive Vice President of Government and Corporate Affairs
COMPANY: Univision Communications
CAREER HIGHLIGHTS: As senior counsel of the U.S. Department of Justice’s Computer Crime and Intellectual Property Section, she led the cybercrime investigation team and worked on cases such as the Melissa and Love Bug viruses; staff director and general counsel, Committee on Homeland Security, U.S. House of Representatives; partner, Monument Policy Group.
QUOTABLE: “To be a good leader, you have to be adaptive, but not abandon your beliefs, your personality and identity — and be nice to everybody.”
When Jessica Herrera-Flanigan left her hometown of Port Arthur, Texas, to go to college, she dreamed of becoming a poet and a journalist. Despite her love of journalism and literature, her career goals evolved once she set foot at Yale University.
“I went to college to be a writer and I fell into law,” Herrera-Flanigan said. “I wanted to expand my horizons. I thought: How many different pieces can I put together in a world that keeps evolving?”
She never imagined where she would end up — as the head of the Washington, D.C., office of Spanish-language programmer and broadcaster Univision Communications — and the steps she’d take along the way. At Univision, her oversight includes government relations and public-policy functions, as well as the company’s community empowerment, philanthropy and corporate social responsibility (CSR) roles.
But as the driven person she is, the Yale and Harvard Law graduate knew she would achieve whatever she set her mind to.
“In each of the different things that I’ve done, I’ve always been really interested on building upon an opportunity,” she said. “It’s like connecting the lines between the dots in a maze. The biggest challenge is learning new aspects of each job.”
The key pieces in her career maze are media, technology, law and public policy, and throughout the years, she’s managed to converge all of her interests.
“Media is what drove me … and I was fascinated with technology,” Herrera-Flanigan recalled. “When I came out of law school and came to D.C., I practiced communications until I was representing broadcasters. I also did intellectual property work and then focused on the convergence of the Internet. That’s when an opportunity came my way to join the Justice Department.”
Herrera-Flanigan emphasizes the point about opportunities — the ones we make for ourselves and the ones that come our way.
She was an associate at Crowell & Moring LLP in Washington, D.C., when she got the opportunity to work as senior counsel for the Department of Justice dealing with cybercrimes, online piracy, security and intellectual-property issues. On day 1, she was forced to deal with a major crisis: the Melissa virus.
“At that time, the office only had seven to eight attorneys and they came to me for help,” she recalled. “That became my first case at the Justice Department.”
The Melissa virus devastated government and private-sector networks, causing more than $80 million in damage to U.S. businesses.
“That shifted my career. I was focusing more on technology and cyber cases. I also became involved in looking for ways to engage businesses and encourage kids to use new technology. Then 9/11 happened and I worked in the online investigative part.”
Her next opportunity was in Congress, as staff director and general counsel for the Committee on Homeland Security. She worked with Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) on cybersecurity, privacy, civil rights and liberties and emerging technologies.
“She’s really an exceptional leader,” Lofgren said. “Her skill was such that she provided support not only for me, but also for the chairman of the committee, Rep. Mac Thornberry (RTexas), and achieved something very rare in the House: we actually had unanimous votes on issues and put out bipartisan reports on cybersecurity and other issues.”
Herrera-Flanigan has built a solid reputation as a hard-working professional, whose keen intellect, political acumen and conciliatory approach to tackling difficult and controversial issues are widely respected. “She’s super-smart, well-spoken, exceptionally well educated, politically astute and quite personable, which makes her easy to work with,” Lofgren said.
Those qualities attracted yet another opportunity, one that let her return to the private sector while keeping her D.C. ties. “Jess was being pursued by about everybody in town so we were lucky to get her,” said Stewart Verdery, who recruited her to join his government affairs and consulting firm, Monument Policy Group.
“Jess was the driving force creating the Reform Government Surveillance coalition of 10 or so major technology companies who pursued reforms to our surveillance laws and practices after the disclosures by Edward Snowden. Finding consensus between competitors with wildly different business models and then finding common ground with Congressional players and the law enforcement community to enact the USA Freedom Act in 2015, along with other reforms, was a signature achievement.”
After seven years in strategic consulting and advocacy work, Univision knocked on her door with an opportunity to return to her first passion, media.
Since she joined the Spanish-language media company in 2015, she has focused on building relationships with thought leaders and policy makers in D.C., while strengthening Univision’s community-engagement initiatives, corporate social responsibility and philanthropic work.
She also leads the company’s “Contigo” empowerment platform, which aims to create educational and career opportunities for Latinos through multiple media and technology initiatives.
ALWAYS ON THE GO
Herrera-Flanigan may be a big shot in D.C., but she has made her family a clear priority. A hands-on mother, she coaches her 6-year-old son’s little league team and will do the same for her 4-year-old daughter’s T-ball team in the spring, although she’s trying to convince her husband to help out.
“I’ve always been someone to overextend myself. I don’t sleep a lot. I’m always on the go,” she said. “In addition to balancing work life generally, it’s a challenge to balance all the other activities, prioritize and make it all work.”
“In my career I’ve always picked jobs that were interesting to me. When I went to Justice Department, it was because it was the cutting edge,” Herrera-Flanigan said. “It’s the startup mentality. When I went to the Hill, it was the startup of a new committee. Then, I left the Hill to start a new business. Coming to Univision, it’s the startup of building out this new capacity. That’s what intrigues me: it’s the building piece of things.”
“The decisions I made were great,” she added. “They gave me the experience and happiness in what I was doing. I would encourage people to follow what their passion is and not be afraid to take chances.”