Robin Lampkin Finds New Challenges

Robin Lampkin reflects on many years of transformation at Ashland, where her career has evolved as much as Ashland’s business

Robin Lampkin, VP, Associate General Counsel, and Chief Compliance Officer, Ashland

Photo by Christina Vitellas

Robin Lampkin used to think that she had a few more lucky streaks than the average person. Too many things had shaken out too well for the current vice president, associate general counsel, and chief compliance officer at Ashland. Even her hiring thirty years ago at Ashland was a small miracle. As the young lawyer was reading up on decisions in the Supreme Court Reporter, she noticed an ad for an in-house litigation attorney role at Ashland.

Lampkin didn’t even have a professional post–law school résumé. She walked across the street to a printer, created a résumé on the spot, and sent in her application. Four interviews later, she was hired by a company where she would spend the next three decades building out new areas of practice, staying consistently out of her comfort zone, and helping Ashland go through a major transformation that would involve divestments, acquisitions, and a great deal of evolution from the legal team.

It all seemed like luck for the longest time, but eventually, Lampkin learned to cut herself just a little bit of slack. “At some point I had to move from ‘It’s luck’ to ‘Maybe it’s luck and a lot of hard work,’” the CCO says, laughing. There’s a lot of evidence to back that up.

“I have had the privilege of working alongside Robin for nearly two decades,” says Gibbons environmental group chair Camille Otero. “What she has accomplished in that time has been amazing, which I attribute more to her dedication and drive than to luck.”

Photo by Christina Vitellas

Rightsized Transformation

 Over the course of Lampkin’s tenure at Ashland, she’s been an active participant in one of the most interesting periods in the company’s history. The company that was originally founded as a refinery business divested mostly all its businesses directly involved in the refining or marketing of fuels in 2005.

“When I started with Ashland, we were eleven separate operating divisions,” Lampkin remembers. “Shortly after I started, the transformation and transition away from oil and gas really began.” There was a landmark joint venture with Marathon that helped set Ashland down the path of divestment, as the company worked to evolve its specialty chemicals business and place it front and center as the company’s main driver.

One of Lampkin’s transformational legal opportunities at Ashland was having a leadership role and being part of the environmental due diligence team for Ashland’s acquisition of Hercules in 2008, helping the company begin cementing its journey to becoming a leading specialty chemicals company. The 2011 acquisition and integration of International Specialty Products was pivotal in Robin’s career—another shining example of using legal expertise and effort to aid the evolving enterprise.

While her current role may be overseeing compliance, Lampkin says she’s lucky to have had the opportunity to navigate smaller M&A deals earlier in her career. “It was just another example of the amazing opportunities I have had with this company,” Lampkin explains. “Our head of M&A asked me if I’d be interested in shadowing him to gain some acquisition experience. He told me he would treat me like a paralegal, but I wound up doing the deal instead of carrying the briefcase.”

Lampkin’s career has evolved just as Ashland’s business has. From aiding transformations to business integration to regulatory legal practice, the VP continues taking on new roles. “Ashland’s chief executive officer and extended executive council (EEC) are very committed to sustainability and ESG,” the lawyer explains. “I’ve really enjoyed having a role in Ashland’s efforts as a member of the EEC, helping figure out what our goals and targets are going to be and what makes the most sense for our businesses.”

The Difference Between Luck and Opportunity

Lampkin’s penchant for operating outside of her comfort zone isn’t anything new. It’s been her entire career. The self-described “daddy’s girl” attended the Ohio State University with the intention of majoring in accounting, just like her IRS-employed dad, but she quickly found law far more appealing—even if there wasn’t a prelaw program at the time.

There are moments that still stick out to Lampkin as unbelievably lucky. She was the first African American female attorney hired by her first firm, following stints there as a summer associate and a law clerk while she was in law school. Memorably, she was offered the summer associate position during the interview.

“Later on, I remember the lawyers at the firm not believing that it had happened that way,” the lawyer remembers. “People would come up to me and say, ‘Who offers a job in an interview?’”

As a young lawyer, Lampkin had an opportunity to do first-chair trial work, but it takes a certain kind of perspective to see it as “lucky.”

She was a new lawyer, sent out on an appellate argument with the Sixth District Court with absolutely no backup. No help. Barely a “good luck.” A woman who had killed her abusive husband had been acquitted criminally but sued civilly.

“I got my little colored pencils out like I had in moot court and prepared my argument outline folder and met with my client on the courthouse steps,” Lampkin recalls. “I drove down early and prayed and hoped I wasn’t first on the docket so I could watch and see how the other attorneys were conducting themselves in the courtroom.”

Lampkin’s client won on appeal, and the civil case for monetary damages was dismissed. “It was just the sort of initiation that they do for young lawyers,” Lampkin says. “I like to think of it as an amazing opportunity.”

Maybe that’s the luck Lampkin is talking about. It’s the ability to see a challenge as an opportunity, a potential slight as a chance to grow, or what seems like an unfair fight as the moment to truly stand out. It doesn’t seem to faze her. It’s just part of who she is.

“I have all these new areas that I’ve been moving into, and even my current position as the chief compliance officer is new,” Lampkin says. “The international trade practice, it was new. The government relations, was new. But it’s just the story of my career.”

Available to All

Along with all her own successes, Robin Lampkin has helped mentor many on their own paths. “I’m a social person, and I just like to be interactive,” Lampkin says. “I always wanted to make sure that I was accessible to anyone at any grade level.”

The lawyer has mentored both formally and informally throughout her career along with taking the time to speak with students from her schoolteacher mother’s classroom, at OSU’s Moritz College of Law, and everywhere in between. Grade school, middle school, college, and law students have all benefited from mentoring opportunities with Lampkin. And with a daughter who just started at Michigan Law School, there is sure to be more mentoring to come.

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Expertise Spotlight

With offices in New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Washington, DC, and Florida, together with long-standing ties to groundbreaking matters that have had a lasting impact on the region’s most prominent industries and countless citizens, Gibbons is a “go-to” law firm in the mid-Atlantic for public and private sector clients engaging in matters of regional, national, and international significance. The firm and many of its nearly two hundred attorneys have been recognized nationally for their work—for example, with its environmental practice earning National Tier 1 rankings from Best Law Firms for the past four years and Gibbons itself appearing as one of only twenty firms on National Law Journal’s inaugural Midsize Hot List. Regional recognition has also been noteworthy. The New Jersey Law Journal awarded Gibbons a Litigation Practice of the Year designation four times in recent years, and Law360’s Regional Powerhouse series has highlighted the firm’s multidisciplinary litigation strength and contributions to high-profile corporate and real estate transactions, many with environmental components, in the public and private sectors. For four straight years, Gibbons has been selected a top three law firm and lobbying firm in New Jersey in the NJBIZ Reader Rankings. For more information, please visit www.gibbonslaw.com.