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Maura Abeln Smith’s work at Owens Corning is done. Last month the general counsel of the embattled building materials manufacturer left to take the top in-house post at Stamford, Connecticut’s International Paper Company. To those who have followed the recent travails of Toledo-based Owens Corning, Smith’s move wasn’t surprising. Former CEO Glen Hiner hired her away from GE Plastics in 1998 for one purpose: to solve the corporation’s asbestos crisis. It was a tall order. At the time, the company faced close to 270,000 asbestos-related lawsuits. Four months into her tenure, a Mississippi jury ordered Owens Corning and other defendants to pay $50 million to a group of plaintiffs. The award set Smith, now 47, on a crusade to settle every last asbestos case. After getting the go-ahead from Hiner, she first publicly acknowledged that the company bore some responsibility. Then she barnstormed the country, talking settlement with plaintiffs lawyers from Boston to Bakersfield. The strategy worked. Sort of. The company settled all but some 36,000 of the cases. But the lingering threat of liability forced the manufacturer to file for Chapter 11 protection in fall of 2000, at which point Smith became chief restructuring officer. The restructuring is now on its way. In January, Owens Corning and a group of remaining plaintiffs filed a comprehensive restructuring plan with the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Delaware. If the court approves the plan, the manufacturer will finally turn the page on the ugly asbestos chapter. Reaching that agreement gave Smith more than a sense of accomplishment: It freed her to pursue other challenges. “It was sort of a natural time to look around for something new,” she says. Her search led her to International Paper, which recently lost its esteemed GC, William Lytton, to Tyco International Ltd. Smith says Lytton’s stamp made IP an easy choice. “I have a ton of respect for Bill,” she says. “And it looks like he left the department in impeccable shape.” In recent years, IP has been active in the M&A arena. “So I’ll likely have to stay on top of this,” says Smith. Other than that, she anticipates the “normal, everyday” slate of lawsuits, including a regular stream of environmental litigation. But after so much crisis-solving at Owens Corning, Smith says she welcomes the normalcy and stability offered by the $25 billion paper giant. “I can finally take off this firefighter’s hat,” she says. “And yeah, that’s going to feel nice.” — Ashby Jones

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