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Name and title: Michael A. Brizel, senior vice president and general counsel Age: 49 The company: The Reader’s Digest Association Inc. publishes the world’s leading general-interest magazine, Reader’s Digest. Some 100 million customers read its 48 editions, and the monthly is translated into 20 languages. The publication’s founder, DeWitt Wallace, launched his empire with a book on farming. He and his wife next put together a collection of “digested” articles, which morphed into the Reader’s Digest in 1922. By 1935, its circulation had reached 1 million. The company has been international since 1938, with offices on five continents. In addition to its signature undersized magazine, Reader’s Digest markets how-to guides and reference books, cookbooks and children’s editions. Special-interest magazines, music and videos, as well as financial and health products round out its extensive list of offerings. It maintains a world-class consumer database, one of the industry’s largest, which it uses to market its products. The company was the first publisher to use direct-mail advertising with personalized letters to promote its wares. The public company, headquartered in Pleasantville, N.Y., employs an estimated 4,200 people. At last report its annual sales were in the vicinity of $2.4 billion. Daily duties: Brizel described himself as “these days, mostly a generalist.” From day to day he responds to colleagues’ requests and makes sure that he and his team remain accessible. Reader’s Digest’s operations outside the United States mean that Brizel must remain sensitive to different systems of jurisprudence around the world. He remains cognizant of varying approaches to legal issues while striving to maintain an “overriding sensitivity” to other cultures. Duties related to the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 involve Brizel to some extent, but another department attorney is generally saddled with the bulk of the significant compliance activities. Brizel declined to discuss current or pending litigation, believing that “the proper forum is before a judge or jury.” Alternative marketing: Reader’s Digest used to rely heavily on its well-known sweepstakes to get the company’s name out there. Due to regulatory changes related to sweepstakes solicitations, the company has eliminated them and immersed itself in alternate forms of marketing. Brizel said that this development has required him and his staff to reinvent themselves to comprehend the “rules, boundaries and sensitivities” of the new marketing arenas, which include e-mail, direct mail, the Internet and the use of independent contractors or employees. It “gets my intellectual juices going” to find and establish the appropriate best practices, and to “focus more externally” than was necessary before, he said. Contracts and recapitalization: Reader’s Digest’s legal team handles contracts, with Brizel especially involved behind the scenes in managing lawyers or grappling with thorny issues. Recent deals include the company’s 2002 acquisition of magazine publisher Reiman Publications for $760 million, and a high-profile collaboration with Food Network star Rachael Ray. The company has become the world’s leading aggregator of food-related content in print and online. Approximately five years ago, Reader’s Digest underwent a major recapitalization. A pair of funds named after the original owners had possessed 50% of the company’s voting shares. Pressured by investors, fund managers agreed to a stock recapitalization plan and sold off the funds’ stakes. Two classes of stock were consolidated. Brizel characterized the negotiations and litigation surrounding the changes as “intellectually challenging, with tough issues.” Legal team and outside counsel: Brizel manages seven attorneys at corporate headquarters, with “eight or nine” others reporting to him from overseas. He praised his lawyers as “very experienced and seasoned,” adding that he has “key relationships with them.” Team members’ decisions require his approval, but “99% of the time” he “blesses” their opinions. “There are a lot of different ways for lawyers to approach business issues, but it does not have to be my way,” he said. “I’m comfortable that between colleagues and the department here, we’ve provided high-quality, timely, real professional legal advice and counsel.” The selection, retention and management of outside counsel are critical responsibilities for Brizel and his staff. Rather than rely upon a set roster of firms for external assistance, they try to find “the right lawyer or group of lawyers.” All litigation is handled outside, as is complex transactional work. If special expertise is lacking, or “as a learning experience” in a fresh area of law, Brizel will seek outside counsel. Otherwise, he prefers to perform all legal duties in-house. Brizel reports to Reader’s Digest’s President, Chief Executive Officer and Director Eric W. Schrier. Route to present position: Reader’s Digest has been home to Brizel since 1989. In 1996, he was named vice president for domestic legal matters and associate general counsel. Two years later, he was promoted to vice president and general counsel, and he ascended to senior vice president and general counsel in 2002. He subsequently was given oversight of global human resources. In his multiple roles, Brizel is charged with protecting the company’s worldwide legal interests and helping to foster its financial growth. Before joining Reader’s Digest, Brizel spent six years at General Foods Corp., focusing on employment and labor law. Later he supervised various legal and business aspects of that company’s acquisitions, joint ventures and divestitures. Brizel began his career with a three-year stint as an associate at Summit, Rovins and Feldesman, a New York law firm. Personal: Brizel is married to Dr. Judith Schwartz, a gynecologist and gynecological surgeon. They are the parents of a pair of daughters: Ilana, 19, and Alexandra, 12. The Monticello, N.Y., native grew up at the base of the Catskill Mountains and enjoys “outdoor stuff,” including skiing and snorkeling. He holds a bachelor of science degree from the New York State School of Industrial and Labor Relations at Cornell University (1977), and was awarded a juris doctorate from Cornell Law School in 1980. Last book and movie: Special Topics in Calamity Physics, by Marisha Pessl, and The Devil Wears Prada.

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