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Brussels-based Etablissements Delhaize Frères et Cie "Le Lion" (Delhaize Group) has named MAURA ABELN SMITH to its top legal position. As the global food retailer's general counsel, executive vice president, and general secretary, Smith will manage the company's legal and government affairs functions and will be responsible for information security and global compliance. She replaces retiring GC MICHAEL WALLER, who has been in the role since 2001.
The new GC has relocated to Belgium to take the position. "When the opportunity presented itself, my husband and I decided to embrace it," she says. She looks forward to passing her weekends with him exploring, visiting museums, and traveling throughout Europe. "It's a chance to really immerse ourselves in this new culture," she says. Although she doesn't speak "a word of Dutch," the French she studied in school is quickly coming back to her.
Globally, Delhaize Group runs approximately 3,500 stores and has more than 100,000 employees. U.S. subsidiary Delhaize America is one of the largest supermarket operators on the East Coast, with retail brands including Hannaford Bros. Co. and Food Lion. The majority of the company's sales come from the United States.
Smith takes over the legal department of a company in transition. As part of a restructuring, Delhaize closed some of its stores in 2012 and remodeled others to boost sales. CEO Pierre Olivier-Beckers also recently announced his decision to step down at the end of the year. He'll stay on as a member of the board.
Smith brings more than three decades of corporate legal experience to the table at Delhaize. A protégé of General Electric Company's Ben Heineman Jr., she most recently served in-house as PepsiCo Inc.'s general counsel, secretary, and EVP for government affairs. Smith parted ways with the soft drink maker last summer, a little over a year after she joined the company. She spent the past year as a consultant, but says she's ready to get back to in-house legal work.
A GC position with a retail company is a bit of a shift for Smith, who previously worked for products companies. At age 36, she left a partnership with Baker & McKenzie to take her first in-house job, serving as general counsel of GE's plastics division. She later spent five years as general counsel of Owens Corning and eight years at the helm of International Paper Company's legal department before joining PepsiCo.
"I had always liked being at companies where people make things," Smith says. "But I'm interested in learning about the retailing side of the business—a world where things are changing so rapidly." Large-scale trends such as a surge of female workers in developing countries will have an impact on how the company positions itself moving forward, she says.
Smith earned her J.D. from the University of Miami and graduated from Vassar College with a bachelor's degree in economics. One of the first female Rhodes Scholars, she also earned a graduate degree in economics from Oxford University.
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MAKING THE CONNECTION
Nokia Siemens Networks, the joint venture of Nokia Corporation and Siemens AG, has named MARIA VARSELLONA general counsel. She'll work in the Munich office of the Espoo, Finland–based company and report to chief executive officer Rajeev Suri, effective at the beginning of July. Varsellona replaces general counsel JOYCE NORCINI.
Varsellona takes over the legal department of the telecommunications–network equipment maker at a time of uncertainty for the company: A six-year shareholders' pact expired in April, leaving both Nokia and Siemens free to independently let go of their respective halves of the company.
In late 2011 the company launched a dramatic two-year transformation program and refocused its business around the mobile broadband market. It slashed head count by 20 percent in the first year of the plan, closed plants, and divested itself of several of its businesses.
Nokia Siemens currently operates in more than 120 countries. The company reported net sales of €13.4 billion last year.
Varsellona comes to Nokia Siemens from Tetra Pak International, a food and beverage packaging company. As its general counsel, she was responsible for all global legal operations, including providing legal support to the business units and leading IP strategy, corporate governance, and risk management.
The new GC previously worked for GE Oil & Gas, where she held a number of in-house positions, including senior counsel of commercial operations, and the Hertz Corporation, where she was senior counsel for Europe.
Varsellona holds a law degree from Italy's University of Palermo and is admitted to practice in Italy, England, and Wales.
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Having top-shelf legal skills has certainly paid off for Supervalu Inc.'s KARLA ROBERTSON. The in-house lawyer was promoted by the Eden Prairie, Minnesota–based retail grocer to the post of general counsel, executive vice president, and corporate secretary. She'll be responsible for the company's legal, risk management, and asset protection functions.
Robertson joined Supervalu in 2009 as senior labor and employment counsel. She most recently served as VP of the employment, compensation, and benefits legal functions. She'll work closely with the company's nonexecutive chairman and its board of directors.
Robertson's promotion is part of sweeping changes by new CEO Sam Duncan. Robertson replaces outgoing GC TODD SHELDON, who checked out just ahead of chief financial officer Sherry Smith. After too many quarters with insufficient cash in the till, the grocer ousted chief executive officer Craig Heckert last year. Successor Wayne Sales was also let go, after less than six months, at the beginning of 2013.
Ahead of the shake-up, Supervalu had announced plans to shed several of its banner retailers, including grocer Albertsons Inc. Those deals were finalized earlier this year. In March the store said it would trim down further by eliminating approximately 1,100 positions nationwide.
Before joining Supervalu, Robertson worked in the legal department of Minneapolis-based Target Corporation. She was responsible for counseling internal clients on employment law matters and providing legal support for the company's human resources department. Robertson also served as senior employee relations counsel, supporting Target's U.S. and India operations.
Before going in-house, Robertson was a litigator with Minneapolis firm Faegre & Benson, now Faegre Baker Daniels. She earned her J.D. from the University of Denver College of Law in 1998 and her bachelor's degree from the University of Minnesota. Between graduation and going into private practice, Robertson clerked for Judge Harold Vietor of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Iowa.
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SEND IN THE DEAN
Rutgers University named former New Jersey Attorney General JOHN FARMER JR. its new senior vice president and general counsel on April 11. He replaced JOHN WOLF, who resigned earlier the same day.
In a statement announcing the appointment, university president Robert Barchi said that Farmer, the dean of Rutgers School of Law–Newark since July 2009, would take office immediately. Wolf stepped down amid the scandal surrounding fired basketball coach Mike Rice.
Wolf had been a part of the decision-making process that kept Rice on staff despite mounting evidence of his abusive conduct toward basketball players. Rutgers also announced that it would hire an independent investigator to review how the episode was handled. The university had said earlier that Wolf would stay on as a staff attorney, but it later announced that he would leave "in the best interests of the university."
Barchi said Farmer will help the Rutgers administration manage, among other things, the July 1 integration of Rutgers with the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey.
Ronald Chen, who had served as vice dean of Rutgers Law School–Newark, stepped in to replace Farmer as acting dean. He will work closely with Rutgers Law School–Camden dean Rayman Solomon on the merger of the two schools, Barchi said.
Government work constitutes a large portion of Farmer's resume. From 1990 to 1994 he was an assistant U.S. attorney for the District of New Jersey. He joined the administration of Governor Christine Todd Whitman in 1994, working as chief counsel before serving as attorney general from 1999 to 2002. He is a former commissioner of the State Commission of Investigation and a former member of the Executive Commission on Ethical Standards and the New Jersey Governor's Ethics Advisory Board.
Farmer was the first chair of the New Jersey Domestic Preparedness Task Force, leading the coordination of the state's responses to the terror attacks of September 11, 2001. He was a senior counsel and team leader for the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States (the 9/11 Commission) and a principal author of the commission's final report. His own book, The Ground Truth: The Story Behind America's Defense on 9/11 (2009), is a highly critical reconsideration of the government's 9/11 response.
Farmer got his B.A. from Georgetown University and his J.D. degree from the same institution. He clerked for New Jersey Supreme Court Justice Alan Handler, then worked for two years as an associate at the law firm of Riker, Danzig, Scherer, Hyland & Perretti in Morristown, New Jersey, before moving into government work.