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File Under: Advice
The world's largest office products company has tagged a new number one for its law department. Staples Inc. named MICHAEL WILLIAMS its general counsel, vice president, and secretary, effective November 7.
Williams replaces CYNTHIA PEVEHOUSE, who held the GC position for less than a year. According to a Staples spokesperson, Pevehouse left the company to "pursue other interests."
Williams comes to Staples from Sony Electronics Inc., where as general counsel he was responsible for the division's legal operations in the United States and Central and South America. In 2008 the Minority Corporate Counsel Association gave Williams and Sony an Employer of Choice award for workforce diversity.
Before going in-house, Williams was a partner in the Los Angeles office of Heller Ehrman, where Sony was among his Fortune 500 clients. He was a partner at Andrews Kurth in Los Angeles from 1991 to 1998 and an associate at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher from 1982 to 1991, also in Los Angeles.
Between earning a bachelor's degree in political science from Ithaca College in 1975 and embarking on his legal education, Williams spent four years serving as a Marine infantry officer. He graduated cum laude from the University of San Diego School of Law in 1982.
Williams joins the office supply giant at a time when it's facing retail challenges in a weak U.S. economy. Total sales for the second quarter of 2012 dipped 6 percent compared to the previous year. Staples scaled back its 2012 sales and earnings outlook as a result. Staples has a worldwide staff of 88,000 and generates more than $25 billion in annual revenues.S.G.
Avon Products Inc. has selected a fresh face to head its legal department. And the hire came not a moment too soon: The appointment of JEFF BENJAMIN as the company's new top lawyer was announced amid talks with federal investigators over a bribery probe, and shortly after the July departure of former GC KIM RUCKER to Kraft Foods North America.
Benjamin came out of retirement September 12 to join the cosmetics company as general counsel and senior vice president. He had stepped down from Novartis Corporation, a health care portfolio company, after a 40-year career, most of which he spent working his way up the Novartis legal department ladder.
Avon reports about $11 billion in annual revenue, and the company has struggled with both a competitive retail environment and ongoing legal problems. The Wall Street Journal reported in August that Avon had entered talks with the U.S. Department of Justice and the Securities and Exchange Commission in order to settle possible violations of the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. Avon allegedly engaged in bribing Chinese and other foreign officials. A number of top executives have left the company or have been fired since 2008, when Avon began its own internal investigation.
Luckily, Benjamin may have just the right legal makeup that Avon needs to polish its image. From 1986 to 2011, he worked in the legal department of Ciba-Geigy, then with Novartis Corporation when it was created by Ciba-Geigy's 1996 merger with Sandoz. Benjamin had his first general counsel role with the pharmaceutical giant, helping to develop its first formal compliance program. In his time at Novartis, he gained experience in both litigation and government investigations. According to a statement by Avon, Benjamin was known for recruiting high-caliber talent to the company's legal department.
During his career, Benjamin also served as Novartis's chief ethics and compliance officer and chair of the ethics and compliance committee from 1997 until his retirement. He has served on the advisory board of the Brennan Center for Justice since 2002.