From plastics to beer to manufacturing, it has been a long and fruitful in-house career for N. Cornell Boggs, III. Now the senior vice president, general counsel and corporate secretary of silicon-based manufacturing company Dow Corning, Boggs has developed a wealth of experience running an in-house legal department and helping develop successful in-house counsel. This month, Boggs sat down with InsideCounsel to talk about learning the business, the importance of networking and why success is hard to quantify.
How has the senior in-house lawyer’s job function changed since your first work in a management position?
I’ve sensed over my career sort of an evolution, from a person being called upon to offer sound legal advice to a role in a company that is far broader, which principally counts on your sound judgment. With my current job, factually it incorporates multiple departments. Beyond the traditional legal department here, I also lead government affairs work globally, corporate security reports to me, and other groups are assigned to be accountable to my position. These are things that one might not have heard about years ago in a traditional GC role.
How important is it for you to know about the business side of your company?
It’s critically important. I think one of the best compliments I’ve received in my career was that I was a business leader who happened to have a legal background. Business leadership and business acumen is central in this day and age to success. My sense is that you want to work on a journey to be a business leader who just happens to have legal training and legal experience in the toolkit you bring to the table.
I would encourage lawyers to learn business in whatever fashion they can. I coach my young lawyers here to know the who, the what, the where, the why and the how of our sales and manufacturing. When I first entered into the beer business, some of the things I wanted to know right away were basic and fundamental. How do you load a route truck? How do distributors stock a store? I would be in those trucks; I would go to those stores. I wanted to see what we did and how we did it.
What’s one thing that people outside the GC chair may not realize about your job?
People may not realize for general counsel, or even in-house counsel, how different it is than what you learned in law school and how different it is from private practice. Someone from the outside might not realize that you’re really comparing apples and oranges when you think about those disciplines. People on the outside might not realize for this type of role that success is very difficult to quantify. We spend a lot of time managing fact patterns and dealing with things that keep the proverbial dog from biting. Unlike businesspeople who are managing P&L and deliver X number of widgets out the door, many times our success isn’t measured on a quarter-by-quarter basis. At times, successful investments in our people may take years to come to fruition.
What advice do you have for young in-house lawyers looking to rise to GC?
In our profession, first and foremost, these are not isolated journeys. I believe that my success—and their success—is deeply rooted in mentorship, being able to get people to help them and sponsors to support them. I would encourage young lawyers to spend a lot of time reading about successful people in our profession. Read and get to know what those other people have done on their pathway to being successful. I spent a lot of time reading magazines about the leading lights in our profession when I was a staff attorney.
I would also encourage lawyers to participate in the profession and get to know others who are their peers early on. Joining organizations like the Association of Corporate Counsel and others for the in-house profession did wonders to expose me to not only the issues of our profession, but also the people who are behind many of the solutions in our profession. It really differentiates us from people who simply go to jobs, being able to be a participant.