Alum takes leadership role at Walt Disney Co.

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- by Abby Weingarten


For Rafael Ribeiro, J.D., ascending to a top-level legal career started with one bold step: enrolling at New College of Florida.

As a competitive soccer player, Ribeiro had been offered several athletic scholarships after high school and almost attended a more sports-centric university. But there was just something about the honors college of Florida in Sarasota that changed his mind—and ultimately changed the game.

“I traveled to Sarasota on my own to visit the campus and, without notifying anyone, I just walked into Professor Moore’s Greek II class, and observed his interactions with the students and appreciated his attention to me,” Ribeiro said, sadly acknowledging Moore’s passing last month. “I was sold. He was gregarious, his students were curious, and it was electrifying to be around them.”

That in-class experience was all it took. Ribeiro would go on to study sociology and economics at New College, paving the way for a career that led to his current position as The Walt Disney Company’s assistant general counsel for global ethics and compliance management (which he assumed in mid-June).

Ribeiro, a dual citizen who immigrated from Brazil and grew up in Tennessee, had first learned about New College—and its “best buy” affordability—in a copy of U.S. News and World Report.

“New College could not have been more different from my other college choices (we did not even have a soccer goal, let alone a soccer team),” said Ribeiro, who graduated in 2001. “But I know I made the right decision.”

During Ribeiro’s time at New College, he wrote a senior thesis entitled Stopping the Flow: An Analysis of Two Regional Models for the Containment of Academic Brain Drain, and he studied abroad in Spain and France.

“I was attracted to New College because I wanted to tailor my own study abroad program. In Spain, I worked on independent projects while auditing classes at the University of Seville, while I attended college courses for non-French speakers at the University of Aix-Marseille III in Aix-en-Provence,” Ribeiro said. “I made lifelong friendships and, in 2019, I had my 20-year reunion with the folks I met in Seville.”

Ribeiro was greatly influenced by his team of instructors and mentors at New College.

“I was fortunate to learn from great professors: Professor Schatz, whose Russian literature courses were the highlight of my NCF experience; Professor Reid, who encouraged me to study in France; Professor Coe, whose law and economics course gave me glimpse of what I would see in law school; and the sociology faculty (Professors Brain, Hernandez and Rosel),” Ribeiro said.

And Ribeiro’s work at New College, he said, equipped him well for his future career pursuits.

“Critical thinking and writing are the main tools for any attorney, and New College pushed us hard to develop these skills,” Ribeiro said.

Those skills continue to serve him. After New College, Ribeiro earned a juris doctor degree from the University of Florida Levin College of Law. He spent 17 years in Big Law, most recently as an investigations and disputes partner in the Miami and Sao Paulo offices of the international law firm, Hogan Lovells.

Ribeiro is fluent in English, Portuguese, Spanish and French, and his practice focused on advising multinational clients on corporate internal investigations, compliance, cross-border disputes, and corporate governance and regulatory issues.

At Disney, he oversees compliance matters in the Americas as well as trade regulations compliance.

“I report to the chief compliance officer of the company, and I have a team of over 10 lawyers, paralegals and managers who work with me,” Ribeiro said. “Since the company’s portfolio—which includes, among others, Disney, Pixar, Star Wars, Marvel, National Geographic, ESPN and ABC—is global in nature, complex compliance issues are always around the corner. The work is very exciting.”

Abby Weingarten is the senior editor in the Office of Communications & Marketing.