February 17, 2022

Alumni Spotlight: Melissa Duncan

Melissa Duncan Faegre Drinker Alumni

Name: Melissa Duncan
Title: Legal Head, Global Seeds and North America at Syngenta
Firm Background: Melissa was an associate in the firm’s business litigation practice group in the Des Moines office from 1993-2000.

What have you been doing since moving on from the firm?

In 2000, I left Faegre and joined Monsanto Company and continued with my legal career in the area of agriculture. I joined Monsanto as a litigation attorney and held several different legal leadership roles, including International Commercial, Asia Pacific General Counsel, General Counsel of Monsanto’s Vegetable Seeds Business and Legal Head of Product & Supply/Crop Protection. One of my biggest challenges was when I was asked to step outside the legal department to help lead Monsanto’s Corporate Affairs function. That taught me a lot about leadership and the importance of surrounding yourself with very smart and talented people that know more than you do! My last role at the company was to lead the integration efforts after Bayer acquired Monsanto. Shortly after the merger received regulatory approval in 2018, I was approached by Syngenta where I now serve as Syngenta’s General Counsel for Global Seeds and North America. Coincidentally, Syngenta is a long time Faegre client, so I have the opportunity to work with some of my old Faegre colleagues again!

What is the most challenging and most rewarding part of your work?

One of the biggest challenges is leading a team of legal professionals that are based in many different parts of world. In a strange way, while COVID has curtailed travel, I have been able to connect with colleagues based in Brazil, India and Singapore in the same way that I connect with colleagues in different parts of the U.S. – via Zoom! As is the case with other industries, issues in agriculture tend to be pretty similar, so making sure we have a closely connected team is critical in helping us anticipate legal challenges in a proactive manner.

What made you want to become an attorney?

My father and two of my uncles were attorneys. My husband and I met in law school and my father-in-law and one brother-in-law were attorneys. I don’t really remember wanting to be anything else when I was growing up. I previously mentioned stepping outside the legal profession for a period of time. While that was a great experience, I absolutely knew I wanted to get back to being an attorney.

What is your fondest memory of the firm?

I was based in the Des Moines office where we had a fantastic group of legal professionals. While I had the opportunity to work closely with many colleagues in Minneapolis, having a smaller office helped establish a very collegial environment. The Faegre partners that I worked with helped train me to take on significant legal challenges all around the globe.

What is different about working as an in-house lawyer compared to private practice?

The biggest difference about working in house is you have one client, as opposed to many. This allows you the opportunity to become very familiar with all parts of the business and to hopefully anticipate and prevent legal issues before they arise.

What book(s) are you reading right now?

I just finished “The Lincoln Highway” by Amor Towles. It was the first time I have read one of his books and it was fantastic! I have “A Gentleman in Moscow” on my nightstand to be read next.

What would you change about the legal industry if you could?

The plaintiffs’ bar! When I look at the global risks for our company, and frankly the industry, U.S. litigation risk is at the top. We absolutely need tort reform.

How do you like to spend your time outside of work?

Fortunately for us, our adult son lives in the Chicago area, so we see him with some frequency. One of the best things to come out of COVID is our golden retriever, Goji. My husband and I like taking him on long walks through the many neighboring forest preserves. We also love to travel and are planning a trip to NOLA for Jazz Fest in May and Egypt in October.

What’s next for you personally or professionally?

I absolutely love my job and the challenges it presents. It is public knowledge that Syngenta is in the process of an IPO in China, so I am confident 2022 will be a very exciting year. While my husband and I talk about retirement in the distant future, I really don’t know what I would do with myself if I didn’t work – I love the practice of law!

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