Alumna uses international experience as in-house counsel for pump manufacturer
When Brigette Burnell ’02 took the job as general counsel and corporate secretary for The Gorman-Rupp Company in Mansfield in 2014, she found a role that suited her varied background and aligned her professional and personal goals.
Burnell, who spent more than eight years working as an associate for Jones Day—including two years in the firm’s Hong Kong office—quickly discovered the “broad-based experience” she gleaned working overseas would be beneficial as the only in-house attorney at the pump-manufacturing company, which reported net sales of $406.2 million last year.
In Hong Kong, there were fewer lawyers and less specialization, resulting in all of the attorneys handling a wide-range of clients and cases, she said.
“It was more of a Wild West type of practice that you rarely get in big firms anymore,” she said. “In big firms, lawyers settle into a niche practice group and tend to become a person with a depth of knowledge versus a person with a breadth of legal knowledge.”
It trained her well for Gorman Rupp. “That’s what I need in my job now.”
Serving as corporate counsel and general secretary for Red Capital Group in Columbus further prepared Burnell for her current job at Gorman Rupp, which provides pumping solutions worldwide for numerous markets including municipal, industrial/chemical, and fire protection. Although she jokingly refers to her role on a team of lawyers at Red Capital as “in-house lite,” the job did provide her with necessary experience handling human resources and governance issues.
“When I look at my career in retrospect, it’s one of those things that wasn’t entirely mapped as I was going through it; but now I realize I needed each step,” she said.
At Gorman Rupp, she divides her time between public company compliance duties and SEC filings, labor and employment issues, litigation, intellectual property, and contracts. “I’m the only lawyer in our entire organization globally,” she said. “I see everything that comes in the mail that nobody knows what to do with but looks official.”
She spends a lot of time looking at how much risk is associated with various situations and determining the company’s comfort level with those risks, she said. She enjoys the variety of the work as well as the opportunity to be associated with the company that has a long history in her hometown of Mansfield.
“It’s rewarding to have a participatory role in helping shape what this company might look like in the future,” said Burnell, who has an engineering degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “Feeling liked a valued part of the team, it’s very fulfilling. It’s something you don’t get everywhere.”
Her M.B.A from Ohio State’s Fisher College of Business has been indispensable in helping her build credibility and camaraderie with her colleagues. “I don’t interact with other lawyers,” she said. “It’s all business people who need the legal aspects converted to language or opinions that they can use to make informed decisions based on the underlying legal information or risk analysis.”
The work is made more rewarding by the company’s strong business ethics, she said. “It’s a company that in every aspect I have encountered wants to be the good guy and do the right thing. That’s not something to take for granted.”
Another perk of the job is that it allows Burnell, her husband, and their two young children to live close to her parents. The family lives on a hobby farm south of Mansfield. “It was the rare circumstance where a professional growth opportunity lined up very nicely with my personal life.”