Jeff Benjamin Puts a New Face on Avon's Legal Department
Avon Products Inc. has selected a fresh face to head its legal department. And not a moment too soon: the appointment of Jeff Benjamin as general counsel comes 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 the Novartis Corporation, a healthcare portfolio company, after a 40-year career, most of which he spent working his way up in the Novartis legal department.
Rucker left Avon for a high-level post at Kraft Foods Inc., where she is now executive vice president of corporate and legal affairs in the companys grocery subsidiary, and she will also become GC for the newly spun-off grocery unit Kraft Foods Group Inc. later this year.
Avon reports about $11 billion in annual revenue, and the company has struggled with both a competitive retail environment and ongoing legal problems. According to the Wall Street Journal, Avon has 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 internal investigation [PDF].
Luckily, Benjamin may have just the right legal make-up Avon needs to polish its image. From 1986 to 2011, he worked in Novartis Corporations legal department (Through mergers, its name changed from the company he started with, Ciba-Geigy). Benjamin had his first general counsel role with the company, 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 from Avon, Benjamin was known for recruiting high-caliber talent to the companys legal department.
During his career, Benjamin also served as Novartiss chief ethics and compliance officer and chair of the ethics and compliance committee from 1997 up until his retirement. And he has served on the advisory board of the Brennan Center for Justice since 2002.
Avon CEO Sheri McCoy, who came to the company in April, said that she would look to Benjamin to create a productive work environment and enhance compliance culture within the company. Jeffs proven commitment to business ethics and law compliance and his credibility within and outside the legal profession will be a tremendous asset for Avon, McCoy said in the companys statement.
Benjamin began practicing law as a litigation associate with Kronish, Lieb, Shainswit, Weiner & Hellman, after earning his law degree from New York University Law School in 1971, and holds a bachelors degree in government from Cornell University.