In the highlands of Jalisco, Mexico, surrounded by Weber Blue Agave, framed by arches and assorted courtyards, stands Hacienda Patrón, a distillery embodying the same beauty and craftsmanship it puts into every bottle of tequila it produces and ships around the world for others to enjoy. While some say it was here in Jalisco that tequila originated centuries ago, others say it’s a place where the spirit has been perfected.
As the sun rises over the Hacienda, Shawn Harpen, chief legal officer and general counsel for Patrón Spirits International AG and The Patrón Spirits Company, is already up and about in another part of the world, helping support the operations that make the Patrón brand one of the most well-known and respected ultra-premium spirits around the globe. In fact, the morning of her interview with Modern Counsel, Harpen awoke at about 2:30 a.m. in Las Vegas just after returning from her latest trip to Switzerland.
As Harpen explains, after Patrón is produced and packaged in Jalisco, the bottles are transported to various locations worldwide, including from Hacienda Patrón to Las Vegas, for distribution to countries in the Americas and the Caribbean; to Germany for distribution to European and other markets in the region; and to Singapore for distribution to Asian markets. Recognition of Patrón’s iconic bottles and logo has grown exponentially since the brand was developed roughly twenty-seven years ago, and as the products continue to make their way around the globe, so too does Harpen, handling a variety of matters at an international scale.
“I need to be available 24/7,” Harpen says. “And while lawyering has its fair share of desk work, I do regularly travel to our different locations because I find it more beneficial to be able to sit down face-to-face and work with people on location.” In so doing, Harpen spends time at Hacienda Patrón in Mexico to work with the team there on various projects and at the global headquarters in Switzerland, as well as at the US subsidiary’s headquarters in Las Vegas. In fact, Harpen generally starts her day around 6:00 a.m. to ensure she is able to communicate across multiple time zones. “Sometimes it involves very little sleep and many cups of coffee,” she adds with a laugh.
In the midst of her travels, Harpen handles a variety of topics every day. From new registrations and contracts to regulatory matters and corporate governance, there’s no shortage of work coming across Harpen’s desk. But one of her main areas of focus has been intellectual property (IP), especially given the attention Patrón has garnered over the years.
“The bigger the spotlight on your products, the better your performance must be in making sure that your IP protections are strong. They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but not in IP,” she says.
Because of the popularity of the brand, Harpen continues, she’s had to keep abreast of IP filings and diverse regulations affecting brand rights in every corner of the world. With Patrón now in more than 120 countries, Harpen also emphasizes the importance of education to keep everyone “in the know” regarding matters of compliance. Harpen encourages questions to, and support from, the company’s legal team. And, since coming in-house in 2010, she has set up forums and educational programs with various groups in the company to explain what the legal team can do to assist and to help foster dialogue across disciplines.
“From greater awareness comes greater achievement,” Harpen says. “The strongest teams approach matters with solid information and diverse perspectives. I believe that when you start a project with a thorough understanding of the legal landscape, you can move forward expeditiously and with confidence.”
With education and strong communications also come a further appreciation for the brand. One of the reasons why the process for creating Patrón tequila is so meticulous is because of the pride in “producing the best tequila in the world,” says Francisco Alcaraz, the company’s international director and master distiller.
“People are genuinely proud of what they do here,” Harpen says. “I like to say that Patrón is full of overachievers, with each team—from production to logistics and sales and from marketing to finance and legal—contributing in a way that can only be described as distinctively Patrón.”
Photo by Jason Wallis Photography
An Emphasis on Ethics
Before Shawn Harpen joined Patrón in Las Vegas, she was working at an international law firm with multiple offices in California in the mid-2000s. During that time, Harpen was appointed to the State Bar of California Standing Committee on Professional Responsibility and Conduct (COPRAC), where she eventually served as chair.
After concluding her term on COPRAC, Harpen carried her dedication to the field of legal ethics with her to Nevada. Not long after joining Patrón, she was appointed to the State Bar of Nevada’s Standing Committee on Ethics and Professional Responsibility and currently serves as the committee’s chair.