Born into a family of high-achieving academics, Cornell Boggs enjoyed a unique childhood to say the least—and success was almost certain. His father was the first person to receive a PhD in zoology from Howard University and went on to serve as a professor at Virginia State College. His mother was an accomplished teacher, who instilled the value of education in her children. Living in the 1960s segregated south, Boggs entered private school where he and his siblings were among very few black children in their classrooms.
And in 1972, after his parents separated, Boggs’ life headed down another extraordinary road when his mother joined the U.S. Department of Defense’s school system as a teacher. “We got on a plane to Germany not knowing exactly where we would be living until we landed,” Boggs explains. “We ended up in Karlsruhe, where I went to junior high. It was totally different than the American south.”
Cornell lived in Europe with his family until he graduated high school—spending some time in Vicenza, Italy, where his mother worked as a teacher and met Cornell’s stepfather, a Command Sergeant Major in the Army. When his mother was promoted to assistant principal (and later principal) of one of the DoD schools, the Boggses moved back to Wurzburg, Germany, where Cornell graduated high school. He then headed to northwest Indiana to attend college at Valparaiso University.
“I chose Valpo basically because I checked a box on the SAT exam that allowed schools who liked my scores to send me information,” Cornell says. “This was long before the Internet, so I made my decision based on some written materials and encouragement from a family friend who had gone to school there. I stepped off the plane at O’Hare, hopped a bus to Indiana and began a journey that stuck with me the rest of my life.”
Not only did the undergraduate program at Valpo suit Cornell, so did its law school. Inspired by his sister Paula, who was also heading toward a career in law, Cornell stayed at Valpo for a full seven years, learning about the law and making important connections, including one that would lead him to his current role as Global GC of Dow Corning.
How did your career progress after law school?
At the end of law school, I applied for and received a judicial clerkship to work for Judge William Conover in the Court of Appeals of Indiana in Indianapolis. It was a fantastic experience. He was a wonderful coach and mentor. He said he would give me a bird’s eye view of the law, “From here, we prevent anarchy.” It was a great opportunity to work on real things. People who worked for Judge Conover knew there was a sense of reality very different than what existed during our student years.
How were you able to land that clerkship?
The judge was quite interested in what I had done during my summers as a law student. I had one summer in the Pentagon and the next summer I was in the State Department’s internship program where I worked in the Bureau of Intelligence and Research. They were different experiences than those that many of the other interviewees brought to the discussion.
The bigger story is, when counseling young people, I tell them to capture their own personal experiences and see what elements of those can blend in to differentiate them from others.
What did you do after that?
After the two-year clerkship, I applied and was accepted into the Attorney General Honor Program in Washington, D.C. In that program, I selected to work in the civil division and they selected the branch division based on their needs. I was assigned to the torts branch. So I was an honor grad attorney in the group now called Environmental Torts; in those years, it was called Environmental and Occupational Disease Litigation. I was assigned to toxic tort cases. I represented the government when people filed claims pursuant to the Federal Torts Claims Act. I was handling the Justice Department work where the government was a defendant.
I went to DOJ in 1987, and I had noticed the lawyers from classes ahead of me were taking a year plus to find a job that they liked before they would leave the government. So if you planned to stay three years, you started your search around year two. That’s how long it usually took. In my case it was very different. I had opportunities to meet with corporations doing work similar to what I was already doing in a matter of months.
From my undergrad and law school experience, I found many mentors. When I was an undergrad student, the GC of Monsanto, Dick Duesenberg, was a member of the board of trustees at Valpo and he would go to the university as a distinguished practitioner in residence. He ran the Monsanto law department from Valpo for about a week. And when he wasn’t in a meeting, he had an open door policy, and I took advantage of that and got to know him. From that point forward until now, he has been someone who is my mentor and an important part of my journey.
After my time with the DOJ, my first offer was from another company, and when I mentioned that to Dick, he invited me to come talk to the Monsanto law department.
So you went immediately in-house?
Yes, I was in the Monsanto legal department for seven years. I was assigned to environmental regulatory work and went back to litigation. I was able to have a wonderful experience working with current Monsanto GC David Snively on a major piece of environmental insurance coverage litigation.
Following a settlement of that matter, I was promoted and moved out into an operating division with the chemical company. Another mentoring experience happened there. I worked with a premier African American executive David B. Price Jr., the president and general manager of the phosphorous and phosphorous derivatives business. I was the business lawyer assigned to him.
Eventually, there was a CEO change at Monsanto, and the new CEO had a different perspective than past management, and the legal department was facing extreme downsizing. At that time, I got a call to join the Anheuser Busch legal department in St. Louis. It was a very interesting experience because we had a product that was front and center in the grocery store. It was a different dynamic. That was a different exposure to be in a brand led company from a consumer prospective and to be around some of the best marketers in the world.
I got to do some very interesting things in the four years I was at Anheuser Busch—both from an alcohol-beverage-control perspective and getting alcohol advertising approvals in places it hadn’t been approved before, as well as doing other legal work.
But during my fourth year, I went to my sister’s 40th birthday party in Texas where she was deputy GC at Dell and I watched her staff show up in fancy cars and asked what was going on. She explained the pay dynamic in the tech sector, which I found very interesting. She also told me that she heard Intel was looking for people in their legal department that didn’t have technology experience. So I followed up on that lead, which led to Tom Dunlap, the Intel GC. He decided he wanted to hire me as a leader of lawyers, and thus I moved to the Folsom, Calif., campus where Intel Americas was run and I led the Intel Americas legal shop. This was my first experience to not just be an individual contributor but as a leader of lawyers.
This was a different type of experience to begin the journey of law department management. I was able to hire lawyers in places like Brazil and Mexico City and lawyers in the US as well.
Up next was Tyco and Coors, yes?
Again, back to mentors, my sister and I had the rare opportunity that we both had the same boss in different phases of our career. When I was at the DOJ, she was at the White House Counsel staff in Washington, D.C. Her boss was Bill Lytton, who would eventually become GC of Tyco. So, many nights I would visit them at their office, and he stayed in touch with me from those days forward. When I was at Intel, he called and outlined his plans for Tyco international. With Intel’s blessing, I left to join Tyco in Princeton, N.J., and help him rebuild the legal apparatus at Tyco International along with a few other lawyers he handpicked.
The board at Tyco after a few years there made a call that it would no longer be a conglomerate in the same vein as United Technologies and began to sell off different operating divisions, including the one I was leading. With that sale, I went with a headhunter and ultimately went to work for Coors Brewing Co. The opportunity there was to lead five groups. It was my first opportunity to have legal and also other groups, like corporate communications, government affairs, and the water and natural resources organization.
Sam Walker had been the GC at the Adolph Coors Brewing Company, and he needed to go work for new parent Molson Coors following that combination, but there was still a Coors Brewing Company in Golden, which was their U.S. business. That’s where the U.S. business executives and the chairman sat, and they needed a GC.
How did you end up at Dow Corning?
Then the next round of joint ventures led to the creation of Miller-Coors. The CEO of Molson-Coors, Leo Kiely, stepped in to join Miller-Coors. He asked me to step outside the legal department all together and to be the chief responsibility and ethics officer. And I stayed in that role until Leo retired. Then, this opportunity presented itself to return to legal to be the global GC of Dow Corning.
It’s been a fantastic experience. In the latter years, and now that I have been at this for 30 years, it begins with the connectivity with and confidence in the Dow Corning CEO for me. We went to Valpo together and lived in the same dorm. He is someone I have 100 percent confidence in. We have the same college foundations, the same classes with having started in the same place and having the same roots.
Please tell me a little about your legal department. How many lawyers and legal staff do you have? Has it changed much since you joined?
The team is based around the world. I have great regional counsel who are based in Tokyo, Belgium, Brazil. From a cohort perspective, we have about 47 lawyers and probably another 50 other professionals who aren’t lawyers. I also lead government affairs and corporate security. Ethics and compliance reports to me as well.
Because we’re a science-based company, I have a good complement of patent lawyers and patent agents. We have a new chief IP counsel. I am very thankful to have hired diverse candidates when we have had opportunties.
How do you add talent to your legal department?
We are very aware and cognizant of diversity in our hiring. A matter of framing up the need and talking to clients and other lawyers and understanding what void we are looking to fill. Sometimes we use outside recruiters, like Mike Evers and others, who are very good listeners and they bring us solid candidates to interview, and I am very grateful for people who are skilled at that.
What are some of the biggest challenges you face in your legal department?
I would view this from a law department management perspective, we have long tenured attorneys who are getting near the sunset of their careers. Finding ways to backfill and replace people with 20 years or more of experience in an environment where you’re under tight financial controls, not having latitude to ramp people into things over longer windows of time is a challenge. We’re regularly working with leaders to figure out smart ways to do that. The whole idea of appropriate succession planning, training and giving people the right amount of runway to learn these technical things that are part of our mix and make up especially in the chemical industry.
What do you love most about being a lawyer? Your job at Dow Corning, specifically?
There is something special about this profession, and that is that we are not just in a job. As professionals, I take a lot of personal pride in helping and developing careers of others. Transferring knowledge from one person to the next. It differentiates us. The things we are passing on that are important to our society. The notions of governance and doing things right. The notions of justice and jurisprudence are things the country can’t do without. We are a group of people continuing to keep the process moving in smart effective ways.
What advice would you give a young lawyer who wants to be senior in-house counsel in a large company some day?
First, be interested in the company you’re working in or want to work in. Some people pick companies and roles for the wrong reasons. Find something that genuinely inspires you and that you can be excited about. Maybe it’s the product or the people who work there. From there, people will recognize it and opportunities will come your way.
Also, stay connected with the profession. Don’t stay isolated in the day roles. Pay attention to what’s happening, attend conferences and develop a network of peers so you can get insights coming from another place other than their own job.