When I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my life post-Air Force, I reflected on my days at the academy and recalled really enjoying two law courses I took during my junior and senior years. I don’t have any lawyers in my family, whereas 60 percent of my wife’s family members are attorneys. She’s one of those people who grew up wanting to be a lawyer. I think that’s more typical than waking up at 26 and deciding to go to law school.
Todd Wilkowski: Career Highlights
1989: Graduates from the US Air Force Academy
1990: Begins works at the Pentagon and two South American embassies as a counterdrug intelligence officer
1998: Graduates from the Regent University School of Law
1998-2007: Serves as an associate and then a partner at Keating, Muething & Klekamp PLL
2007: Joins Baker Concrete Construction as its first general counsel
I actually met my wife in law school, and we targeted several cities to send out resumes to. During that time, a mutual friend recommended that I apply at a firm called Keating, Muething & Klekamp because they had a national presence and a strong, local client base in Cincinnati. I was at a disadvantage because the firm [had] never previously hired someone who didn’t summer clerk for them, but after my interviews I received an offer.
I started as a general litigation associate, but because of my bachelor of science degree, the firm asked me to specialize in construction litigation. After seven years, the firm elected me partner. Shortly thereafter, I became aware that Baker Concrete, who was not a client, decided to hire its first general counsel. My wife encouraged me to apply. The company wanted to make sure that the candidate was qualified and a good cultural fit. Eventually, after a four-month process, Baker chose me to be its first general counsel in March 2007.
General counsel are generalists, and increasingly companies are hiring litigators for this role. We’re not necessarily professional fighters; we just understand how to resolve disputes. In private practice, to be successful in business development and connect with businesses, litigators need to market themselves in this manner. Similarly, general counsel need to be viewed as business partners that regularly ask their internal customer, “What keeps you up at night? What’s detracting your attention from your responsibilities?” Whatever those things are, you need to be ready and willing to assist in handling them.
I believe that growing up as a military dependent best prepared me for life as Baker’s general counsel. When you move every two years, you learn adaptability. I can go from a high-level negotiation in a white-collar professional environment to an environment where I tour or help pour concrete on one of our construction sites, and it’s not a difficult transition for me. I’ve learned to deal with different kinds of people on their level. I was born in the Philippines and spent a majority of my youth in Panama, where I became fluent in Spanish. There was a lot of moving around in between, and when you move around that much, you learn to develop relationships very quickly. I’ve become a quick study of people and situations.
I never planned to be general counsel. As my wife and Baker coworkers will attest, by nature I’m not a planner. I’m more spontaneous and rely on intuition, but that said: I have a deep personal faith that guides my daily decisions. I do my best to do the right thing every day, work my hardest, and I believe things will always work out in the end. It’s great to have goals, but I recommend that you hold on loosely to your plans. Sometimes opportunities come your way, things you never planned, and if you’re up for it, things can turn out better than anything you planned. ABQ