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For the love of law and travel

UCLA Anderson School of Managment dean Gonzalo Freixes leans against a Stargate pinball machine in his Valencia home. Cory Rubin/The Signal

Like many emigres, Freixes’ family left Cuba in the midst of the country’s turmoil. He now lives out the American dream here in the Santa Clarita Valley.

Freixes, which rhymes with gracious, he explains, is a former lawyer and now associate dean at the UCLA Anderson School of Management, who leads the the Executive and Fully Employed MBA program and the university’s nationally recognized mock trial team.

Freixes was born in Cuba during the Cuban revolution. When he was 6, Freixes’ father was arrested as a revolutionary, and his mother’s family’s property was seized by the Castro regime. His father was scheduled to be executed, but was saved by Gonzalo’s godfather, a communist supporter. This family then fled Cuba, staying briefly in Jamaica while they waited for their paperwork to be processed. Ultimately, the Freixes’ settled in Los Angeles.

Though Spanish is Freixes’ native language, he was able to learn read and speak English by reading DC comics

“I had subscriptions to maybe 12 of DC’s comic books and I read those voraciously, so I attribute all of my English success to DC comics,” said Freixes, who wore Superman socks during the interview. “My cousins all came to me for help with their homework because they didn’t really speak English; and by that time, I had learned how. I have a son and he also fell in love with DC, so that is one way we were able to bond.”

His love for reading fantasy and science fiction also led him to discover “Star Wars,” which he remembers seeing five time in theaters when it was first released. Freixes’ house and office are decorated with various pieces of DC and Star Wars memorabilia, though the “Star Wars” theme clearly dominates. Even his car has a license plate that reads “DEATH★R.”

UCLA Anderson School of Managment dean Gonzalo Freixes sits at a coctail arcade machine in his Valencia home. Cory Rubin/The Signal

Inspired by his interests in public speaking, written communication and helping people Freixes graduated from Loyola Law School in 1979 before starting his own law firm where he focused on business law.

“At first, I was interested in being a trial lawyer or a public defender because of the public speaking aspect, but that didn’t happen,” he said. “In my law firm, my partner worked mainly on immigration law and some of those clients had businesses, so my focus was helping them do business in the United States. I did get to do a little bit of trial work so that was rewarding for me.”

Though he no longer practices law, Freixes is still able to continue his passion for the courtroom as the faculty advisor and one of the coaches of the UCLA’s mock trial program, in which students compete against teams from other schools across the country to portray either the prosecution or defense in a fictitious court case.

“I had started a program in my son’s junior high and high school. Then in the late-90s, one of the students in my business law classes asked me if I was willing to be a coach in the program, which was only in its second year,” Freixes said. “For the first five years, I coached all four of our teams by myself and thought it was a lot of work… we’ve expanded the number of teams we have had and in the last 20 years, UCLA has won the national championship four times, which is something no other university has been able to do.”

Though he had served on several education councils in Newhall, Freixes’ career as an educator began as a lecturer when one of his friends from law school had to take a leave of absence and asked if he would be interested in filling her spot at UCLA. After a few years, he fell in love with teaching and left his law practice to pursue it full time, teaching business law and taxation at CSUN and UCLA.

“The funny thing is that after I became one of the deans of the business school, that same friend from law school wanted to come back to teaching and I was able to give her her job back,” he said. “There’s an aspect of good karma there I think.”

Freixes said that what interests him about business and teaching business are the innovative and disruptive impacts that companies can have on a global scale.

“I not only enjoy the technical and legal aspects of business like tax, but also how they can be more effective leaders and ethical business leaders,” he said. “The global aspect fascinates me too because you need to know the local laws and customs in order to be successful in other countries. I often take my students on a trip to France and I bring them to the American cemetery in Normandy and to Omaha beach as an illustration of the alternative to strong international economic relationships.”

In 2012, Freixes was elected to serve as the board chair of the world Executive MBA Council. This position allowed him to form connections with educators from all around the world and helped him set up programs for his students to study internationally in countries like South Africa, France, China, Japan, Brazil and Chile.

Travel is one of Freixes’ main interests outside of law and teaching. He estimates he has been able to set up programs and visit 28 countries with his students, but has visited 45 countries total. He said that his favorite part about travel is becoming immersed in the different cultures. Freixes speaks Spanish, English, French and basic Catalan, but said he always tries to pick up some of the native language wherever he goes.

“Some people get homesick when they travel, but I’m the opposite and I want to eventually live abroad some day, perhaps after I retire,” he said. “Outside of enjoying the culture, I like to explore how business is done in different regions of the world so that I can better prepare my students to be managers and executives in the future.”

Freixes said that so far, his favorite country that he is visited so far is Botswana, and that he’s planning to visit Ecuador, his 46th country, in March. The one country he has refused to visit so far is his native Cuba.

“I have not been back to Cuba since my family fled 57 years ago, and I refuse to go back until all of the Castro brothers are dead,” Freixes said. “As soon as the last brother dies, I would love to go and see where I was born. I love Cuban, food, music and culture but after the tens of thousands of people the Castros killed, and after what they did to my family, I refuse to contribute a single dollar to their economy.“

Freixes said that though he is approaching retirement age, he does not want to slow down within the next 10 years. As a personal project, he would also like to pick up some other languages, particularly Mandarin and Arabic. Teaching still holds and strong appeal to him and he would still like to continue teaching in foreign countries or take on another administrative position within UCLA.

“Even with everything else that I do in my life, I don’t ever detach myself fully from teaching,” he said. “Being in the classroom with my students is still my first love. “

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