DeFede

All in the Family

Attorney Hank Adorno had represented the interests of Jorge Mas Canosa for more than a decade and was both a friend and a trusted advisor to the patriarch of Miami's exile community. Adorno was also considered to be very close to Mas's son, Jorge Mas, Jr. Both men own summer homes in Pinehurst, North Carolina, and are golfing buddies. And so it came as no surprise that following Mas Canosa's death in November 1997, Adorno was called on to help Mas Jr. run the family business, MasTec, a billion-dollar telecommunications company.

In January 1998, Adorno was named executive vice president of MasTec, responsible for overseeing the company's operations both domestically and internationally. It was made clear, however, that Adorno wasn't just another vice president. He would be running the company and reporting directly to MasTec chairman, Jorge Mas, Jr.

"He's coming in to take some of the day-to-day weight off of Jorge Mas, Jr.'s shoulders," explained Edwin Johnson, MasTec's chief financial officer. "Hank is family." George Yoss, managing partner at Adorno's law firm, Adorno & Zeder, called MasTec's decision to hire Adorno "a home run" for both the company and the firm, as Adorno would remain a member of the firm. "There's no question it is going to be quite an experience," Adorno said in January 1998. "I do like these challenges."

Twenty months later "family" relations appear to have reached a record low. Six months ago Adorno abruptly resigned from MasTec and returned full-time to his law firm. And earlier this month the firm withdrew as counsel representing MasTec subsidiary Church & Tower in its legal battles with Miami-Dade County over a controversial paving contract.

Few details have emerged to illuminate the behind-the-scenes wrangling that prompted these dramatic changes. Adorno declined to be interviewed and officials at MasTec did not return phone calls seeking their comment. But according to sources familiar with the events, problems arose from a clash between Adorno and Joel-Tomas Citron, who joined the MasTec board of directors at the same time Adorno arrived. Before joining the publicly held MasTec, Citron, who was born in Sweden, sat on the boards of directors of several telecommunications companies and trade associations in Europe and the United States. It was through those companies he met Jorge Mas, Jr., who invited him to join MasTec's board.

Adorno weathered a turbulent rookie year at MasTec. For three consecutive quarters in 1998 the company failed to meet Wall Street expectations, according to Joe Gladue, a securities analyst for the Chapman Company, which monitors MasTec. The reasons were numerous. Sintel, the company's Spanish subsidiary purchased in 1996, never generated the revenue officials had anticipated. In addition a Brazilian subsidiary suffered from the worsening economic climate in that country. And in the United States, bad weather from El Niño cost the company millions in stalled or late projects.

Amid these difficulties Adorno attempted to fulfill what he considered to be an important part of his mission: transforming MasTec into a modern, major corporation. It could no longer be run as the small, family-owned business it had been during the days of Jorge Mas Canosa. For instance, even with several thousand employees the company had no human resources department. There wasn't even an organized system of personnel files. "What billion-dollar company doesn't have a human resources department?" one former employee asks.

Establishing such departments, as well as hiring seven new vice presidents, caused costs to rise sharply during Adorno's tenure. According to the Miami Daily Business Review, administrative costs rose 70 percent in 1998, to $140.5 million.

Lawsuits also continued to plague MasTec. The paving contract scandal in Miami-Dade County kept Church & Tower from being paid or from winning new contracts. In addition Broward County officials fired Church & Tower from a pair of projects for what county officials claimed was subpar work.

As 1998 came to a close, Adorno hoped he had put the worst behind him. In October he had sold the company's Spanish subsidiary, as well as some of its operations in Latin America, informing investors that the company would concentrate on work in the United States. But MasTec was still posting losses at the end of the year.

In December the board of directors voted to hire Citron as the company's vice chairman (Mas Jr. remained as chairman) and gave him responsibility for supervising daily operations of MasTec's finance department. "Joel started taking away certain areas Hank had been in charge of," says another former MasTec employee. "And Hank is the sort of guy for whom that doesn't play well." Citron was unwilling to defer to Adorno's history with the Mas family and continually challenged his leadership. "Joel is not from this community," says the former employee. "He's a financial guy and he and Hank immediately clashed."

It appears Citron set up Adorno as the fall guy for the company's problems, even though most of them preceded Adorno's arrival. In March Adorno abruptly resigned. Two months later the board of directors elevated Citron to president of MasTec.

Despite Adorno's departure, the ill will lingered between him and Citron, and manifested itself in some strangely petty ways. For example, sources familiar with the company and the law firm say MasTec stopped paying its legal bills, even though Adorno & Zeder continued representing it in the paving-contract dispute with the county. Preparing for next year's trial, the firm had up to five attorneys working full-time on the case.

MasTec simply ignored billing statements from Adorno & Zeder. At one point MasTec officials suggested that if the law firm wanted its money, it should consider renegotiating its billing rates. By then MasTec already owed Adorno & Zeder nearly $250,000, and the company's refusal to pay became an issue with the firm's partners. The synergy between the law firm and the company, which managing partner Yoss described as a "home run," had vanished. MasTec eventually paid the money it owed, and the law firm quietly withdrew as counsel.

Noted one observer: "This never would have happened if the old man were still alive."

Which raises some interesting questions: Where was Mas Jr. during all this? After bringing Adorno onboard, did he do enough to support and protect his old friend? Was he so hurt by Adorno's sudden departure that he allowed his company to withhold payment of its bills? And who exactly is running MasTec?

Mas Jr.'s interests may lie elsewhere. He has taken over his father's leadership post with the Cuban American National Foundation and raised his political profile during the June rafter crisis involving the Coast Guard. Mas Jr. however, isn't above mixing business and politics. According to sources, he believed recent events had forged a special bond between him and Miami-Dade Mayor Alex Penelas. In addition to working closely together on the rafter issue, Mas Jr. saw it as a positive sign that the mayor attended the Biscayne Boulevard street-naming ceremony in honor of his father.

As a result, during the last week of August, Mas Jr. dispatched younger brother J.C. Mas to meet with officials in the county attorney's office to discuss a quick settlement to the paving-contract lawsuit. But Mas Jr.'s hopes that his newfound rapport with the mayor would soften the county's hard line against his company were quickly dispelled by the attorneys handling the case. J.C. Mas was sent packing.

Which goes to show that when it comes to business, friendship doesn't matter. But then again, Mas Jr. knew that already.


RELATED ARTICLES by Jim DeFede

"A Plot Thicker Than Asphalt," May 21, 1998

"Il Signatore: A Synopsis,"February 5, 1998

"A Signature Mystery," November 13, 1997

WEB EXTRA

"Incompetence 101," by Bob Norman, August 12, 1999

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