Freshly unemployed in July, Mark Menghini encouraged himself to take a year off and try to get some rest.
The St. Louis-area attorney had been executive vice president, general counsel and corporate secretary for Aegion Corp., a multinational construction company. But the company was sold to a private equity firm and, as part of the deal, he and other executives agreed to leave.
But Menghini didn’t rest for long. On April 4, he was hired as the new general counsel for the University of Missouri System. In that role, Menghini works closely with the UM System Board of Curators and its administration on legal issues affecting the four UM campuses.
“Rest sounds great, but then you realize at 49 years old, none of your friends have the days off, they’re all working. So, you get bored pretty quickly,” Menghini said in an interview.
The jump from construction to higher education wasn’t something Menghini had ever particularly envisioned himself making.
But, when long-serving former general counsel Steve Owens announced his departure from MU late last year, Menghini’s sister coaxed him that he should look into the job opening, even with his different career background. Menghini obliged and started digging.
“That opened my eyes to just the entire world of what the University of Missouri System is, and also the breadth of the legal issues and the size of the team that tackles those issues,” Menghini said. “From a general counsel’s perspective, the intellectual curiosity of coming to the System was extremely appealing.”
Having gone from a clear primary interest stakeholder group of the stockholders at a public company like Aegion, Menghini highlights that the university’s stakeholders are vastly diverse, ranging from the Board of Curators, to the students, to the faculty and staff.
“It’s a different way of thinking about my job in advising from a legal risk perspective, my client, the university, versus where I come from,” said Menghini. “But it’s a fun thing to try and get your arms around all those different stakeholders and really think about what’s in the best interest of the university and what that means.”
Curator Robin Wenneker, who announced Menghini’s hiring in March, said she “understands large organizations and has worked with leaders to drive change and achieve efficiencies.”
“As a complex organization ourselves, we know the viewpoint and skills he brings will help us grow and evolve the UM System, one of the state’s best resources,” she said in a news release.
Ties to Mizzou
As a graduate of Northwestern University and Washington University’s law school, Menghini’s personal ties to the UM System come with a degree of separation. His wife Wendy is an MU alum.
Menghini says living as a Missouri resident has cemented his strong draw to the UM System.
“I’ve grown up watching the Tigers play, and I’ve grown up 15 miles from UMSL. It’s been a part of my upbringing since I was a baby,” Menghini said. “This is my home state, and this (university) is the cornerstone. It’s really the jewel of education in Missouri.”
In his new role, Menghini reports directly to the nine-member Board of Curators, many of whom are also attorneys.
“The advice and comments they’ve provided have been extremely helpful,” Menghini said of the curators. “I come into this not knowing everything in the world, and I don’t pretend to know everything. If I act like I do, shame on me, but I’m more of a sponge right now. I’m soaking everything in.”
At the April curators meeting in Rolla, Menghini officially assumed his seat at the executive table for the first time and gave a presentation about board governance and professionalism.
“He’s a very, very smart guy, very impressive attorney, and we’re very happy and lucky to have him as part of our great university system now,” board chair Darryl Chatman said in an interview. “He’s not scared to come in and help us get better, help us improve and help us communicate better from administration and board perspective.”
Menghini said he feels a draw to the responsibilities of a general counsel role, especially when it comes to managing teams of lawyers like the extensive network of attorneys working in the university’s legal office.
“Well, I hate being told what to do,” laughed Menghini. “I’m only half kidding.”
Though technically the one in charge, the reality of being general counsel is inherently collaborative, he said.
“You have to play well in the sandbox with others. You have to give credit to other people’s ideas, you can’t go in with a fixed mind on anything,” Menghini said. “You have to be willing to say, ‘I’m going to compromise on this.’”
Menghini said the first month has been a busy one full of drives to and from his family home in St. Louis to his MU campus office and learning as much as he possibly can.
Future plans are starting small, said Menghini, but the primary aspiration is to begin connecting with individuals within the university and developing relationships that show his desire to serve the needs of all who fall under the umbrella of the UM System.
“It’s going to be a long road to get there,” Menghini said, “but I’m confident that the legal team here is going to be successful.”