Alex Perez is accustomed to taking on complex challenges.
The incoming chairman of the San Antonio Area Foundation board of directors for the next two years starting in January 2023, Perez will be tasked with leading oversight of San Antonio’s principal philanthropic hub with the launch of a new five-year strategic plan.
The St. Mary’s University School of Law graduate grew up in Chile and Mexico City but already had strong ties to the San Antonio community when he moved back here in 2001. Those who know the practitioner of international law, currently an attorney with Clark Hill, say he is the right person at the right time to lead the effort.
“I’m absolutely delighted to have the opportunity to work with such a passionate and dedicated leader,” said Marjie French, the Area Foundation’s CEO. “There’s a reason why I always say we’re stronger together — having a fantastic board chair and board of directors as our top ambassadors in the community.”
For his part, Perez fully understands the pivotal role he’ll have to play as leadership delves into implementing a new mission and vision that is shaping a new sense of direction for the organization.
“With greater growth comes bigger problems that we need to solve. We see an economy that has some dark clouds for many people,” Perez said. “And so the challenge for us, and I think for us as a community, will be meeting those needs as effectively as we can.”
When Perez accepted the challenge and became chairman-elect, he wasted no time in starting to prepare for the role, said Darryl Byrd, an Area Foundation board member for eight years and managing principal at ULTRAte Strategy and Advisors.
“He’s uniquely prepared,” Byrd said, noting that Perez discussed with fellow board members what leadership looked like to them and readied himself to know what it would take to lead them and support French. “He’s very much about doing things right.”
Byrd, who first met Perez nearly two decades ago as part of the same class of the Leadership San Antonio program offered through the San Antonio Chamber of Commerce, said the new board chairman is equally comfortable in legal and business settings, nonprofit governance and in the communities served by equity-focused grants administered by the Area Foundation. “He has his feet in several worlds.”
While Perez has set down firm roots in San Antonio, his upbringing took him to the coastal towns of Chile to Mexico City, where he graduated from high school. His formative years also took him to live in Texas and California.
After briefly pursuing engineering at Purdue University in Indiana, Perez spent three years in the U.S. Army and finished a business degree at Purdue. He enrolled at St. Mary’s School of Law to be close to his mother, who lived in San Antonio at the time.
He then decided to specialize in tax law, earning a Master of Laws degree from New York University. By graduation, he and his wife had two young children and the high cost of living in the Big Apple drew them back to San Antonio, where he joined the law firm of Cox Smith as a tax lawyer for several years.
Perez later co-founded Sañudo Perez, focusing on international transactions, before joining Clark Hill in 2022 in its San Antonio and Mexico offices. His specialty in helping cross-border business interests keeps him in Mexico about half of the time.
Despite his busy schedule, giving back to the community has been an important part of his life since returning to San Antonio.
Over the years, Perez has been involved with various community organizations such as Big Brothers Big Sisters, the National Kidney Foundation, the San Antonio and Hispanic chambers of commerce and the former Free Trade Alliance, among others.
Perez joined the San Antonio Area Foundation board of directors seven years ago and has served on several committees, including the audit committee and board of managers of Santikos Enterprises LLC, the regional movie theater and real estate company whose assets fall under the umbrella of the Area Foundation. It was John L. Santikos’ transformative gift that led to the recruitment of Perez to the board for his skill set, particularly in business law.
Perez’s own personal philosophy on philanthropy is very much aligned to that of the Area Foundation.
“My biggest regret and challenge personally and, I think, as a foundation, is that as many people as we help, we can’t help more people,” Perez said. “If you focus on a few areas that you decide are worthwhile and where you can really make an impact and a difference, that’s probably the best way to give.”
Because of that, he is pleased that during the pandemic the staff and board worked together to create a strategic plan focused on closing opportunity gaps for people in San Antonio who need it the most.
It’s all part of a strategic new direction toward closer and deeper community involvement for the Area Foundation, an effort centered on creating a community where everyone has a chance to succeed.
“Equity to us means that the zip code that you are born into should not determine your life outcome,” Perez explained. “In San Antonio in particular we have, unfortunately, some of the most economically disadvantaged zip codes in the country.”
It is a scenario hitting close to him for Perez, a first-generation American whose family moved all over the world in search of a better life.
“My father and aunts and uncles had hard times and so we had to move to where the work was, and so I have absolutely experienced firsthand those struggles and those challenges,” he shared.