Vince Brockman has two clear passions: family and nature. Both led him to a fulfilling career as general counsel of The Scotts Miracle-Gro Co.
As the youngest of seven children, Brockman looked up to his father, who at one time was general counsel of Wise Potato Chip Co. Brockman’s father encouraged him to forgo an undergraduate engineering degree and instead major in history, a subject in which he was truly interested. He then went on to law school at Ohio State University.
Brockman worked for a law firm after his first year of law school. But in 1986, during his second year of law school, his father passed away. It was then that Brockman seriously dedicated himself to following in his father’s footsteps in an in-house career.
Seeking change, Brockman interviewed for a part-time position that Borden Inc. had posted at the law school. Although he didn’t immediately get the job, he remained positive, and when two other applicants didn’t work out, Borden offered him the job. Brockman says he was thankful for the position because without it, he would’ve been left aimless after his father’s death.
The part-time job at Borden during law school turned into a full-time career when the general counsel approached Brockman on graduation day and offered him a job in the litigation group. Then, in 1990, he transitioned to the company’s dairy division, where he worked with Nancy Brown, who was one of the first female law firm partners in Columbus before she went in-house with Borden. She was a significant mentor to Brockman and later became GC of the foods group.Brockman joined her there as assistant general counsel.
When private equity firm Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co. took Borden private, the foods group was sold in pieces, and Brockman left the company in October 2001. In early 2002, he received a call from a headhunter about an open position at Scotts. He started as assistant general counsel in April and became GC in 2008.
Brockman credits his professional success to his well-balanced personal life. A devoted parent, he enjoys gardening and playing with his three children as much as he can.
Another of Brockman’s interests is triathlons, which he says give him the tools he needs—positivity, focus and stamina—to excel at Scotts.
Q: What do you love most about your job?
A: It’s nice when people recognize Scotts’ commitments, such as removing phosphorous from our lawn fertilizer products. I recently met the attorney general from Maryland, and he told me how thankful he is that we use chicken manure from his state’s farms to make our organic lawn fertilizer. My job has also helped me as Den Leader for my son’s Cub Scouts. Every spring, I’m responsible for a Pack Meeting. For the past two years, I’ve had the Pack—a group of 85, 7- to 11-year-old boys—do gardening projects, and they love it.
Q: What challenges have you faced as GC?
A: Less than two months after I became GC, we had a wild bird food recall. A month later, 25 armed Environmental Protection Agency agents showed up [for a pesticides-related issue]. A month after that, we had another wild bird food recall associated with salmonella. The regulatory challenges put tremendous pressure on the company during a time when commodity costs were rising. It can be difficult as general counsel to figure out how to give great legal advice, manage an in-house staff and control costs at the same time.
A: When I was hired, the company had elements of a compliance program but really wanted me to take over. We created a toll-free helpline and invested in training, including live case study-based ethics training. There are a couple different ways you can approach being chief ethics and compliance officer. You can stay up every night and worry that you’re responsible for everything, or you can create a culture where people want to comply and bring issues forward. There are always going to be problems—it’s how you deal with them that matters.
Q: Tell me about your department’s pipeline, pro bono and diversity initiatives.
A: We’re doing a couple of programs with the Ohio State University Moritz College of Law—the STAR (Short-term Assistance Registry) program, through which we hire law students for project work, and the Corporate Fellowship Program. We’re also involved in Farms for City Kids, which brings kids from the inner city to a dairy farm in Vermont where they spend a week learning how farms operate. We sponsor a leadership program developed by the Ohio Women’s Bar Association. I owe so much in my career to Nancy Brown—she overcame immense struggles as a woman in the legal profession.
Q: Why did you start participating in Ironman Triathlons?
A: After my dad died of a heart attack, it made me want to be health conscious. The year that he died, a buddy and I did a short-distance race every other weekend from April through September. Then we started long-distance races. Then I took time off. I got married, became involved in work, had kids, bought a house—and I ended up gaining 25 pounds. I started running again in November 2005. Eventually I wanted to do an Ironman, and that was just about the time the EPA raided [for the pesticides-related problem]. The training was a great stress relief. The entire team working on the EPA matter, including my boss, supported me. I got my boss a hat from the race as a thank you, and he put it on his credenza in his office, which I thought was neat. Since then, I’ve finished two more races and bought him two more hats, and those are up on the credenza, too.
Q: What advice would you give to a young lawyer who would like to become a GC?
A: Not only do you have to be a good lawyer, but you also have to be passionate about the business that your company is in. And, to be honest, you have to be a little bit lucky. Opportunity is where preparation and luck meet.
Q: If you weren’t a lawyer, what would you be doing?
A: I’d be hiking the Appalachian Trail—that’s the next endurance adventure that I want to complete.