Thank you for sharing!

Your article was successfully shared with the contacts you provided.
Name And Title: Todd A. Suko, vice president, general counsel and secretary Age: 40 Company Profile: United Agri Products Inc. (UAP), once an underperforming unit of ConAgra Foods Inc., is the largest independent distributor of chemicals, fertilizer and seed in the United States and Canada, with revenues of nearly $3 billion annually. Suko came aboard in early 2001 during a management shake-up intended to turn around a unit distracted by, among other ills, a U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) investigation into accounting irregularities. “Although it was not explicit when I came on that they were going to sell the business, everybody who joined the company knew it was a real possibility,” Suko said. In late November 2003, ConAgra spun off UAP to Apollo Management (now Apollo Advisors L.P.) in a leveraged buyout that included the company’s managers. “I don’t think ConAgra believed the company could turn around as quickly as it did,” Suko said. Think again. Within a year it went public, offering 15 million shares at $16 a share. Lately, the stock of UAP Holding Corp., the holding company for UAP, has been trading at around $30 per share. UAP, headquartered in Greeley, Colo., has grown partly by gobbling competitors, completing 11 acquisitions in the past year alone. Route To Current Position: Suko’s first job following graduation from the University of Virginia in 1989 with a business degree and an ROTC commission was U.S. Navy flight school. During four years of active service, he served on the aircraft carrier USS Roosevelt as a bombardier-navigator in A-6 Intruder attack jets. Suko flew missions enforcing the no-fly zone over Bosnia before the 1994 NATO intervention there. “Military service is somewhat of a family tradition. And I wanted to fly,” he said. Suko’s twin brother, Trent, graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and served in the Special Forces. Their father, Don Suko, was a Marine aviator who flew missions over Vietnam. Suko left the military in 1993 for the University of Virginia Law School. He graduated in 1996 and began his career as a litigator in the Washington office of McKenna & Cuneo, now McKenna Long & Aldridge. “It was a great place to work,” he said. “I did a little bit of everything, but the big cases I worked on were toxic tort and environmental litigation, representing corporate clients both on defense and with insurance matters related to toxic tort and environmental claims.” In 2001, during Suko’s fifth year with the firm, he made plans to join McKenna’s San Francisco office. Instead, a partner who did work for UAP alerted him to an in-house job there. “There are not many opportunities for a lawyer to get into a turnaround situation, so I took a chance and went for it,” Suko said. “Plus, I figured, what’s the worse thing that can happen � I end up in Colorado?” Suko was named general counsel shortly before the 2003 spinoff and kept the position in the new company. “Everybody who came onboard UAP got a fantastic opportunity,” he said. “A little bit of how I ended up where I am now is right place, right time. It is not like UAP was conducting a search for their next general counsel when they hired me.” Legal Team: Suko supervises just three in-house attorneys in overseeing 380 distribution centers and writing 4,000 contracts a year. They manage because of Suko’s first initiative as general counsel: an automated contracting process. “When I got here I was shocked at the amount of contract litigation going on related to deals gone bad that had no documentation,” he said. “In the ag business, historically, they did a lot of back-of-the-napkin kind of deals. Now we have a process where salespeople complete forms online and we can turn around the contract in a matter of days. We got the sales guys to buy into it because everyone can see we save a ton of money avoiding contract disputes and litigation. Plus, people don’t have to wait three weeks for a contract when they are trying to do a deal.” Each in-house attorney has broad duties. Assistant General Counsel Charles Owen oversees mergers and acquisitions (M&A), securities law and corporate matters. Corporate Counsel Jim Findlater takes corporate and tax matters. Newly hired Corporate Counsel Marisa Iasenza will assist with mergers and acquisitions, securities and general corporate matters. Outside Counsel: Suko dropped dozens of outside firms that did occasional work for UAP in favor of a short list topped by Minneapolis-based Faegre & Benson, which has a national agribusiness practice and created a multioffice team dedicated to UAP. The firm handles acquisitions, M&A, real estate transactions, environmental work, and patent and trademark matters. UAP assigns securities work to the New York office of Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, which was outside counsel to Apollo during the leveraged buyout. McKenna Long continues its long relationship with UAP, handling most litigation work. Daily Duties: Risk management is a big focus for Suko. “The big thing for me is risk transfer in the contract,” he said. “We are making sure we appropriately allocate risk in the deal. If you contract with a trucking company, you want to make sure they have insurance and agree to assume the risk associated with their activities.” Besides his legal duties, Suko oversees the environmental and insurance departments; risk management; and compliance with oversight by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Transportation and Food and Drug Administration, among other regulators. He serves on the executive management team and sits on management committees. “Our business is high volume, low margin, so we always worry about costs,” he said. “Our management structure has to be pretty lean.” Personal: Suko and his wife, Sheri, have one son, Andrew, 19 months, and another child on the way. “The big thing I like to do in my free time is fly,” Suko said. For fun, he owns a single-engine Piper Super Cub bush plane. “It has big tires on the front and can land anywhere, so we can get up into the back country to go fishing, that sort of stuff.” Suko continues his military career as a commander in the Navy Reserve. Last Book And Movie: Flight of Passage, by Rinker Buck. “Honestly, I can’t tell you the last time I went to a movie theater,” he said, “but I’ve seen the Elmo pet video about 150 times.”

This content has been archived. It is available through our partners, LexisNexis® and Bloomberg Law.

To view this content, please continue to their sites.

Not a Lexis Advance® Subscriber?
Subscribe Now

Not a Bloomberg Law Subscriber?
Subscribe Now

Why am I seeing this?

LexisNexis® and Bloomberg Law are third party online distributors of the broad collection of current and archived versions of ALM's legal news publications. LexisNexis® and Bloomberg Law customers are able to access and use ALM's content, including content from the National Law Journal, The American Lawyer, Legaltech News, The New York Law Journal, and Corporate Counsel, as well as other sources of legal information.

For questions call 1-877-256-2472 or contact us at [email protected]

Reprints & Licensing
Mentioned in a Law.com story?

License our industry-leading legal content to extend your thought leadership and build your brand.


ALM Legal Publication Newsletters

Sign Up Today and Never Miss Another Story.

As part of your digital membership, you can sign up for an unlimited number of a wide range of complimentary newsletters. Visit your My Account page to make your selections. Get the timely legal news and critical analysis you cannot afford to miss. Tailored just for you. In your inbox. Every day.

Copyright © 2021 ALM Media Properties, LLC. All Rights Reserved.