Rounding the Bases

For General Counsel Brent Bostrom, leading and participating in incredible teams at Growmark in order to help farmers feed the world is the ultimate home run

Brent Bostrom grew up in the wide-open spaces of Minnesota, raised in a family with deep roots in the farming industry. He regularly visited aunts, uncles, and cousins on Midwest homesteads, where they raised a mix of livestock and crops. Over the years, those experiences and relationships have cultivated Bostrom’s respect for the land and for those who work it.

At the same time, Bostrom’s mother began to recognize his natural ability to see both sides of an argument—to analyze and communicate well—and she encouraged him to study law. By high school, Bostrom knew he wanted to be a lawyer, and he attended law school right after finishing his undergraduate degree in political science with hopes of becoming a litigator.

Along the way and throughout his studies, Bostrom participated in a variety of team sports—football, basketball, and especially baseball—which he played from grade school through college. Those experiences fed his natural love of competition and drove him toward litigation. But more importantly, they exposed him to the immense satisfaction of working alongside others to achieve a common goal.

Bostrom landed his first job as a litigator at Doherty, Rumble & Butler in St. Paul, Minnesota—the oldest law firm in the state. The firm had a rich tradition of representing farmers and even housed an agricultural cooperative practice group, where Bostrom eventually found his niche. That role took him to meetings of the National Council of Farmers Cooperatives, and while working on a committee there, Bostrom met Steve Carr, who was the first attorney to have been hired by Growmark since its founding in 1927.

Carr was looking to expand the legal capacity of Growmark and approached Bostrom about joining his small legal team. He explained that Growmark was a federated cooperative made up of local cooperatives that were owned by individual farmers. The company provided wholesale products and services to member cooperatives, who would then resell supplies to farmers. And as they were growing, so too was the company’s need for additional in-house counsel.

Working for a company that supported an industry so rooted in his family’s history was attractive to Bostrom, especially one with such a noble purpose as “Helping Farmers Feed the World,” as Growmark did. Going in-house would also bring a welcome business component to Bostrom’s work and allow him to be involved in projects from inception to completion. Most intriguing was the notion of putting on a proverbial jersey and joining a team—stepping into the inner circle and going to bat for only one client.

Bostrom accepted the position in 2004 and became general counsel one year later when Carr retired. “All those things that drew me to Growmark have exceeded my expectations, and I have particularly enjoyed the opportunity to work with several high-performing teams,” he says.

One such team is the executive business group or CEO staff, made up of an impressively cohesive and collaborative collection of Growmark leaders. Another is Growmark’s board, comprised of sixteen highly experienced farmers who make the decisions that drive the company forward. The General Counsel’s Division (GCD) is the in-house legal team that Bostrom helped build from the ground up—not to mention teams of outside counsel, project teams, and other cross-disciplinary teams. “There are so many teams, and they are all wonderful,” Bostrom says. “I truly enjoy the challenge and variety of our work together.”

It’s not only the impressive work and functionality of Growmark teams that keep Bostrom’s head in the game, but also the integrity and character of the people. “I have found ethical behavior to be the rule at Growmark, not the exception. And not only among our leadership and employees, but especially among our owners,” he says, continuing that, throughout his career, he has found farmers to be particularly honest and trustworthy. “Farmers own this business, and they want it to be an extension of themselves, so it makes sense that, as a company, Growmark reflects the values of our owners.”

Upholding ethical, transparent conduct starts at the top and permeates throughout Growmark’s business, from interactions with customers to employees to suppliers to lenders and even competitors. As a lawyer, Bostrom particularly enjoys such a high standard of integrity in his client. He also takes pride in the expectation that directors and board members set the tone for the company through leading by example.

For the GCD, this commitment to integrity has manifested itself in a mission statement titled “The Iron Triangle.”

“We provide high-quality, responsive, and cost-effective legal services for Growmark,” he says. “Those are the three sides of our Iron Triangle, and you can’t uphold anyone without the others, because answers aren’t worth anything if they aren’t right, are too late, or cost too much.”

Bostrom is regularly proud of the GCD and the work they accomplish together, most notably when teammates have willingly stepped up to the plate when they’ve been down a player. “They cheerfully split up and carry the extra workload until we fill the slot on the roster, and they look at it as an opportunity to learn,” Bostrom says. “I just love that.”

Bostrom is also proud to be part of a leadership team and organization that reflects his own values. He credits his lifetime of playing team sports, as well as his Christian faith with his approach to leadership and his love of building groups that uphold each other for the sake of a greater mission.

All of this is reiterated in his work with an organization whose entire purpose is to foster teamwork between farmers as they work together to feed the world. And for Bostrom, that’s what knocks Growmark out of the park.
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Steptoe & Johnson LLP:

“We feel fortunate to work with Brent Bostrom and his colleagues—a team that reflects Growmark’s core values of honesty, professionalism, and a deep commitment to growth through collaboration.”

—Anthony G. Hopp and Robert L. Shuftan