How I Work: 22 questions with Alexandra Villarreal O’Rourke, 37-year-old law firm partner and FinTech leader

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Alexandra Villarreal O’Rourke is one of Charlotte’s leading lawyers. She’s a FinTech lawyer and she’s able to perfectly recite her Old Navy sales pitch from many years ago.

About a year ago, Alex and her family moved here from Washington, D.C. where she was a senior counsel with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s office of law and policy.

Alex grew up poor in Mexico City and immigrated into the United States as a teenager. She attended the University of Texas at Austin and went to Harvard Law School where she was a Truman Scholar, Soros Scholar, Harvard Post-Graduate Research Fellow, a Sheldon Travel Fellow, and a recipient of the Hispanic Scholarship Fund Hall of Fame – Brillante Award.

I don’t know what all these things mean, but my takeaway is — she’s really freaking smart.

I sat down with her in the lobby of her Uptown building and talked for 45 minutes about her career and how she gets stuff done. She gave off a relatable vibe and a casual confidence.

Alexandra Villarreal O'Rourke lawyer charlotte

What’s your full job title?

Partner, Financial Regulatory Lead, FinTech Team Co-Lead at Womble Bond Dickinson (US) LLP.

What phone do you have?

iPhone 7. It’s my third one in a year because I have three small children.

What type of computer do you use?

ThinkPad at work. Mac Air at home.

What’s an early work experience that made an impact on your current job?

I worked at Old Navy. It was the best experience. One of my jobs was to try and upsell people. Everybody that walked in the door, I had to say “Our classic tees are 3 for $10.” 99 out of 100 people would tell me to go away.

Everybody should have a retail or a food service industry job where nobody has to be nice to you. It really humbles you; and that’s super useful for any other job.

What do you actually do?

I provide regulatory advice to banking companies and financial technology companies. Items like: How do you comply with the law? How do you setup a compliance system? How do you avoid litigation? How do you avoid regulatory actions? When I lived in DC, I was on the other side.

A lot of what I do is learn people’s businesses really well and provide them counsel on how to setup their compliance system.

I’m basically helping clients do the right thing. I’m a consumer lawyer, so it’s always, how are we going to do better by consumers?

I’m an immigrant, I grew up poor and I really care about consumers — what’s interesting is that what I feel like I have a bigger impact now than while in D.C. because I get to help design entire systems instead of just litigate one part.

What’s the best investment you’ve ever made?

I worked at a tech company. I was translating between programmers and technical writers. At the time, my friends were getting paid to work at McKinsey and places like that. Everybody thought I was an idiot, but it’s the best thing that ever happened to me.

In every job I’ve had, it’s been helpful that I can understand coding a little bit. I understand tech and related to engineers.

What’s your approach to time management?

I compartmentalize. I block off time for certain activities. I do try to make sure that when I’m home, I’m home and when I’m at work, I’m at work.

When it starts to bleed together, my efficiency really falls.

I’ve now got the chance to hire a few people. Hiring people you work well with will change your life.

What’s a purchase of less than $100 that has changed your life?

Shower speakers.

What type of toothbrush do you use?

An electric toothbrush from Costco. I bought a whole bunch.

What is your sleep routine?

Oh man. Not very frequent. This is the one thing that’s hard about being a working parent.

I see my kids a lot. I’m involved at their school. I work all the time. But sleep is the one thing that I don’t do.

I sleep probably four or five hours a night. I never needed a lot of sleep. I’d say typically 1 a.m. to 6 a.m.

What advice do you have for working parents?

Outsource. I use 2ULaundry, they’re my best friend. I have groceries delivered. I outsource all the unpleasant things so that when I’m home, I’m literally with the kids.

Do you listen to music at work?

Occasionally I’ll listen to some music in Spanish, but not often.

I listen to a ton of audio books. Even if I’m just driving a short distance in the car, I’ll listen. I love to read. I use to read about 30 books a year, but now I just can’t do it.

What’s something you do frequently that might sound a little odd, but makes sense to you?

My husband is also a lawyer in town. We work a lot. So we do this thing where we’ll meet up at Rocksalt, close to our house, and eat $1 oysters together before going home at 6:30 p.m. when our sitter leaves. It’s a cool date and we only spend about $12. We probably do this once a week.

How do you spend the first hour of your day?

Kids stuff. Braiding hair. I braid a lot of hair in my life.

The very first thing I do is check email because I have a lot of clients in different time zones.

We have a home office, but I don’t use it. I’ve always been a big couch and blanket type person.

What do you eat for breakfast?

Haha. A large skim latte.

What are your social media habits?

My family is all in Mexico, so I Facebook with them. And we WhatsApp constantly. We have a group text for everybody in my family.

I’m not on Instagram because when I worked in the government, I had a lot of restrictions on what I could and couldn’t do. But my dog has an Instagram account. He’s got 177 followers. His handle is @perfectpacothechorkie. He’s very cute.

What everyday thing are you really good at?

I’m a very good pie baker. I also make tortillas from scratch – corn and flour.

Do you have any side projects?

I’m part of the Carolina FinTech Hub. It’s great to see one year old startups and Bank of America in the same group. It’s really cool.

I’m really into women and diversity in tech. I’m looking into developing something in this space.

If you weren’t doing your current job, what would you be doing?

I started out my career doing immigrant defense work, I immigrated from Mexico as a teenager and a lot of my friends faced really hard issues.

I would do immigrant defense work. The problem is, I take it all home. I can’t let it go. I used to do asylum work. Their stories are so personal to me. Their families are like my family.

Advice to your 30-year old self?

Chill. It’s going to work out. I’ve always been a very intense person.

What job advice do you give?

All of the jobs I’ve gotten have been through relationships.

And tell people what you want. So many people are reluctant to ask for what they want. Ask for things.

What other Charlottean would you like to answer these questions?

Tariq Scott Bokhari, FinTech leader and now a member of city council.

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