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Not many general counsel at publicly traded companies spend their first day on the job tracking shipments, stocking inventory, and arranging floral displays at a crafts store. But that’s exactly how Valerie Gentile Sachs learned the ropes when she took over the legal department at Jo-Ann Stores, Inc., the top fabric retailer in the United States in January. That roll-up-your-sleeves approach to executive training is a hallmark of this successful company. The Hudson, Ohio-based store has bucked the downsizing in the retail sector thanks to a nesting trend that swept the country post September 11. And after implementing cost-cutting in 2001, the retailer’s stock rebounded spectacularly in 2002, making the fabric giant a Wall Street darling. The store is on a growth path, with plans to convert as many as 700 of its 900-plus stores to superstores over the next few years. For Sachs, Jo-Ann’s first general counsel, working for a family-owned retail store, even one this large, is a nice change of pace. The 47-year-old has spent almost 15 years as in-house counsel for technology and telecom companies. She says she also wanted to learn about the retail industry, which made that day on the store floor well worth the exhaustion. “The more you know about your business, the easier it is to make legal decisions,” says Sachs. “[The customer] is not AT&T anymore; it’s Mrs. Smith.” At Jo-Ann, she works on a wide range of issues, from corporate governance and compliance matters to contract negotiations. Sachs arrives at the retailer from Marconi plc, where she was general counsel for about a year; before that, she was GC of RELTEC Corporation, a telecom company, which Marconi acquired in 1999. Though based in London, Marconi allowed her to operate out of its Cleveland office (she took the top job with the understanding that she wouldn’t have to move). But as the telecom giant experienced difficulties with its many acquisitions, Sachs was asked to relocate. “If I were 15 years younger, maybe I would have found a move exciting,” she says about her reluctance to leave Ohio. So when she learned about the job at Jo-Ann, Sachs jumped. A graduate of Bowling Green State University and Case Western Reserve University, Sachs is a lifelong resident of the Buckeye State. She first worked with Jo-Ann as outside counsel when she was an associate at Cleveland’s Baker & Hostetler in the 1980s. Who says you have to leave home to go far?

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