Cornell Boggs most recently served as Executive Vice President, General Counsel and Corporate Secretary at Toys “R” Us and managed the global legal function. Previously as Senior Vice President, General Counsel and Corporate Secretary of Dow Corning Corporation, the world’s largest silicone product producer, he led Global Legal, Government Affairs, and Corporate Security, and served as Chief Compliance Officer. He has experience in a variety of industries, having served in legal roles at companies including Miller Coors LLC/Coors Brewing Company; Tyco Plastics & Adhesives, a $1.74B division of the diversified global company Tyco International Ltd; Intel Corporation; Anheuser-Busch; and Monsanto. Currently a member of the Board of Thrivent Financial, where he is incumbent Chair of the Human Resources and Governance Committee, he is also on the Board of his alma mater, Valparaiso University, where he is Vice Chairman of the Audit Committee and a member of the Executive Committee. Cornell adds his expertise to the strategic counsel, leadership development, succession planning and other services that BarkerGilmore advisors provide to legal and compliance departments, CEOs, and boards across the country.
What are the hot button issues in today’s legal departments?
Today’s legal departments must manage both macro and micro hot button issues. Broadly, issues such as privacy and data protection, issues brought to light by the #MeToo movement, issues created by the rapid rate of technology being introduced into a marketplace and regulatory community are hard to keep up with. Enterprise risk management is a very real and present challenge for any legal organization. Legal departments are further juggling the challenges of doing more with less headcount and budget.
What are some of the challenges you faced in your executive role and how did you resolve them?
Challenges are a part of everyday life for attorneys in executive roles. As a leader, one of the greatest challenges is to create a team that feels valued and knows that their contributions are important to the overall success of the enterprise. This can be difficult when team members are in different geographies. I worked hard to include different members of the department, based in locations around the world, in the planning and execution of the work of the department. Inclusion is the key to meaningful success for most challenges that departments face.
In what ways did you make the most significant impact on the companies you served?
The answer is different for each of the companies. I made the most significant impact by first learning all about the company, understanding what was important, and finding ways to add value to their corporate strategy. I also had the opportunity to lead non-legal departments, such as government affairs, corporate communications, corporate alcohol responsibility, and water and natural resources. Allowing these myriad groups to realize that they were part of the same overall enterprise risk strategy was valuable and important.
What do you think are the best “words to live by” for GCs?
At the end of the day, we’re in the “people business.” People are either behind or impacted by everything we do as attorneys and working in a corporate environment is no different. Board members, executives, staff, customers, business partners, you name it, are all people. Paying attention to the people aspects of anything you are doing in the company will always serve you well.
What are you passionate about?
I am passionate about diversity and inclusion in our legal profession, and I have dedicated a significant portion of my career to efforts that support all of its manifestations including:
- Championing members of my team to experience working in other geographies
- Making sure that my team learned about the culture of team members from other parts of the world, and
- Ensuring the inclusion of women and underrepresented minorities in leadership roles in my departments.
How have you helped others succeed?
I have spent over twenty years as a mentor to other attorneys, as well as law students, through my involvement with organizations such as Charting Your Own Course (CYOC), the Minority Corporate Counsel Association (MCCA), the Association of Corporate Counsel (ACC), and the Leadership Counsel on Legal Diversity (LCLD). Each organization, in its own way, finds a way to support and nurture the success of talented in-house counsel at various stages of the career cycle. It has been an honor to participate with each individual along their journey.
What do you wish you knew in your first in-house role?
After serving in the Department of Justice, my first in-house role was as an environmental attorney at the Monsanto Company in 1989. It has been special to me to maintain friendships with many of my colleagues from those days, and I only wish that I had maintained more relationships. We often lose sight “in the moment” of the importance of developing a network of professional colleagues that we can continue to reach out to over the years.
Of what accomplishments are you most proud?
I am most proud of the fact that there are people in the profession: attorneys, paralegals, patent agents, administrative staff, who can say that their careers and their lives were enhanced because they were a member of one of my teams. I’m also proud that several of my mentees have now risen to become corporate general counsel at prominent companies.
What do you think differentiates top GCs from the others?
The top GC’s are great leaders as well as great lawyers. They are passionate about their people and are typically very excited to be at the companies where they serve. The top GC’s have found creative ways to add value to their companies and develop excellent credibility with their boards and fellow C-Suite members.
What is typically the most significant area for development for a GC?
I believe most individuals in the General Counsel role have already crossed the hurdle and have the basic skills necessary to carry out the technical requirements of their job. The significant areas for development are typically in managing the political side of their role, and navigating the political optics of any company, including their relationship with the CEO, their peers, and their department—whether it be large or small.
In your role as a BarkerGilmore advisor, where do you see yourself adding the most value to GCs?
My biggest value comes from the experience I have gained as a member of world-class legal organizations for 30 years. In many cases, the issues confronting today’s GCs and their departments are some version of what we faced in the past. Both the business insight I have acquired and my commitment to accountability allow me to assist legal departments in achieving their goals during times of transformation and help them formulate plans to optimize their organizations with an eye toward increasing corporate revenue.