Features

Robin Lampkin – Ashland 

Setting up the Ashland legal department for success  

Growing up in Ohio, Robin Lampkin was an average girl who enjoyed school and learning and figured she would have a bright career in whatever field she entered. Her father was a CPA and worked for the Internal Revenue Service, and as the epitome of a daddy’s girl, Lampkin wanted to follow in his footsteps—so she majored in accounting.  

Robin Lampkin | Senior Vice President, General Counsel and Secretary | Ashland 

Robin Lampkin | Senior Vice President, General Counsel and Secretary | Ashland

“But when talking to my older brother, I told him I disliked accounting and wanted to be a lawyer. He suggested I try a criminology major, an up-and-coming area of study in the 1980s,” Lampkin recalls. I took constitutional law, business law and other legal courses, and immediately knew the legal field was interesting.” 

Fast forward over 30 years, and all the hard work and time Lampkin has dedicated to the legal profession has paid off—in August, she was named the senior vice president, general counsel and secretary for Ashland 

Headquartered in Wilmington, Delaware, Ashland is a global additives and specialty ingredients company with a conscious and proactive mindset for environmental, social and governance for customers in a wide range of consumer and industrial markets, including architectural coatings, construction, energy, food and beverage, pharmaceuticals and personal care products, to name a few.  

Lampkin and her global legal team of 38 provide legal support to Ashland commercial business partners and functional teams in all legal practice areas. Legal support includes commercial contract review and negotiations, drafting of non-disclosure agreements,  regulatory compliance and more. Recently, Lampkin’s team has been supporting Ashland’s innovative technology platforms.   Lampkin’s team is also at the forefront of helping the publicly traded company meet its ESG goals and implement initiatives for sustainability and diversity, equity and inclusion. 

“ESG, DEI and technology have a lot to do with innovation, and that keeps Ashland driving forward and continuing to grow,” Lampkin says.  

Building a team 

Artificial intelligence in the corporate world has arrived—and it isn’t going anywhere—so rather than push it aside, Lampkin is exploring how the technology can allow Ashland to be more competitive in the market and how AI can add more efficiency in the legal department.  

Robin Lampkin | Senior Vice President, General Counsel and Secretary | Ashland 

Ashland is putting together a governance board to prioritize and oversee the use of AI across the company. The group will include Lampkin and the company’s chief information technology, security, and compliance officers. They will meet regularly to discuss everything related to AI and how it can be used competitively, safely and compliantly.  

Lampkin thinks AI can be used to complete repetitive tasks like contract review, creating templates, and analyzing spreadsheets. Ultimately, the goal is to ensure the company and customers’ proprietary information and data are always protected.  

“We want to be at the forefront using this technology, and we’re cautiously looking at it and trying to understand it,” Lampkin says.  

Being forward-thinking about technology is part of Ashland’s commitment to ESG. And so are the company’s diversity, equity and inclusion programs, including its three employee resource groups: Ashland African Descendants, Ashland Pride Alliance and Ashland Women’s International Alliance.  

There are in-house resources dedicated to ESG and DEI, and Lampkin says these are maturing programs with multiple stakeholders involved in ensuring success.  

Climbing the ladder 

Acknowledging that some generals counsel at major public companies serve more in an advisory role, Lampkin considers herself a working general counsel. She has her irons in many fires—she oversees significant litigation, M&A projects and high-level regulatory issues. But she is also working hard to get better at delegating. 

Developing talent is a big part of Lampkin’s role, and she takes pride in being able to share her knowledge and expertise within a global department to ensure Ashland legal team’s bench is deep.  

Robin Lampkin | Senior Vice President, General Counsel and Secretary | Ashland 

“I’m looking at our team and their experiences, preferences, strengths, key skill sets and not just their current job descriptions,” Lampkin says. “The cross-training and focus on reaching their goals results in increased energy and morale throughout the department.” 

Across industries, companies face challenges when recruiting and retaining employees, and Lampkin says keeping talented attorneys at Ashland is a focus. Having lawyers who can handle multiple matters in various practice areas and across regions can boost morale, make the department more productive and create development opportunities. Her goal is to retain and develop newer and existing attorneys to evolve from specialists to generalists. 

Lampkin can also motivate her team in other ways, including recognition utilizing the Ashland Way Awards program, which increases job satisfaction and team engagement. With succession planning beginning in earnest, Lampkin says it is crucial to have attorneys and other professionals in the department who know multiple roles and can handle various matters.  

“I’m not going to do this forever, so having a development plan in place and affording the team opportunities to advance and succeed is important,” she says.  

A dream come true 

After taking her brother’s advice, Lampkin earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in criminology from Ohio State University and a J.D. from The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law. She spent nearly three years as a summer associate, law clerk and commercial litigator for Roetzel & Andress, where she was the firm’s first Black female associate, before joining Ashland in 1991.  

When she saw the opening for an in-house litigation attorney for Ashland, Lampkin quickly compiled a resume, went through a four-interview selection process and got the job. But at the beginning, it wasn’t easy.  

Robin Lampkin | Senior Vice President, General Counsel and Secretary | Ashland 

“I didn’t have broad legal experience, and I was expected to know everything right away,” Lampkin remembers. “It was a phenomenal opportunity to come to Ashland, and from the first day, I started learning as much as I could about being a corporate attorney.” 

Over three decades, Lampkin has moved up within the Ashland legal department, and for the first time, she is in a role that is more about governance and oversight than day-to-day legal work.  

Since ascending to her current role in August 2023, Lampkin has received support and guidance from previous general counsels at Ashland. While she acknowledges the role’s challenges, she also says it has been very rewarding.  

“It is outside of my comfort zone, but I’ve spent my entire career working outside of my comfort zone,” she says.  

While rising through the ranks at Ashland, Lampkin says she learned to value and appreciate mentorship.  She knows that the relationships she made and continued communication within the department and organization are her keys to success. Robin also attributes her success to the external relationships she has developed over the years with external law firms and consultants. In hindsight, she also thinks that staying with one company and developing as an attorney makes a lot of sense. She also champions developing legal talent and her team members to position themselves for opportunities for advancement, preferably within Ashland.  

“That knowledge a person has when they’ve already worked for our company and have become ingrained in our culture is invaluable,” she says. “While the new role has been challenging and much more than I envisioned, I believe the transition has been easier because of the internal experience I brought to the job.” 

View this feature in the Vanguard Spring I 2024 Edition here.

Published on: March 14, 2024

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