“After three and a half years, my position at The Andersons, Inc. remains an ongoing learning experience,” says Naran U. Burchinow, the corporation’s vice president, general counsel, and secretary. “The work is exciting and challenging; and it’s very different from what I’d done before.”
Based in Toledo, Ohio, The Andersons, Inc., is a publicly traded company with diverse interests that include agribusinesses such as grain trading and plant nutrients as well as railcar leasing and repair, industrial products formulation, turf products, retailing, and most recently, ethanol operations. Prior to joining The Andersons, Burchinow was general counsel at a financial services firm in St. Louis, Mo. which was owned variously by ITT Corporation, Deutsche Bank and finally by GE Capital. He spent 14 years in St. Louis, and before that worked at the former Continental Bank in Chicago, and for four mid- to large-size law firms in Chicago and Boston.
“Eventually, GE Capital merged my company with another company, and moved the operation to Chicago,” says Burchinow. “Fortunately for me, the position at The Andersons opened at the same time.”
“Although some of industries I was involved with at my prior company overlap with those I deal with today, the practices are entirely different. Financial services companies provide the capital for businesses to achieve business plans, and their principal worry is getting repaid. Now I’m with the people who create and implement those business plans, and live with the results. At The Andersons, we buy, store and sell grain, we engage in commodities hedging activities, we make fertilizer and ethanol and determine how to sell it. We own, repair and lease railcars. It’s fun and fascinating to learn about all of that. A big part of our litigation is people slipping and falling in our retail stores or workman’s comp injuries at one of our factories—all very different from financial services.”
A first generation Mongolian American, Burchinow grew up mostly in New Jersey. He graduated from Princeton University with a degree in political science before going on to study law at Boston University. It’s difficult for him to say if his Asian background played a hindering role in his career. “Certainly, no specific incident ever arose in my career that I can point to. Nonetheless, in private practice in particular, the firms back in the early 80’s were considerably more homogenous than they are today, and I will say back then I never felt a part of the old boys’ network. However, through it all, I’ve enjoyed being different. Generally, my background has generated curiosity and genuine interest from colleagues, and it’s a source of personal pride.”
Because Burchinow once served as general counsel at a company that changed hands twice during his tenure, he knows that the legal profession sometimes calls for flexibility. “I like being general counsel of a complex enterprise. It’s a role that requires a willingness to provide a mix of business and legal advice, based on experience. I think that’s the role where I can be of greatest use to my company,” says Burchinow. “Right now, I’m doing what I do best and what I enjoy most.” DB
From the September/October 2008 issue of Diversity & The Bar®