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Spirit AeroSystems Elevates In-House Veteran to Top Legal Role

March 12, 2021, 11:58 PM

Spirit AeroSystems Holdings Inc. has a new law department leader, two months after the Boeing Co. parts maker parted ways with its former legal chief.

Mindy McPheeters, a former Stinson partner who has spent the past six years in-house at Spirit, takes on the role of senior vice president, general counsel, and corporate secretary, the company announced Thursday.

“Mindy has gained an understanding of the many facets of our business and our industry during her tenure,” Spirit CEO Thomas Gentile III said in a statement.

The announcement comes after Stacy Cozad departed her post as Spirit’s legal leader to become general counsel and chief compliance officer for Ingevity Corp., a North Charleston, S.C.-based specialty chemicals maker.

Cozad, who spent nearly a decade in-house at Southwest Airlines Co. prior to joining Spirit in 2016, left the Wichita, Kan.-based company after it laid off thousands of workers in the face of the ongoing struggles of its largest customer, Boeing.

Spirit is working with Boeing, its former parent company, on an analysis of potential structural defects in the aviation giant’s 787 Dreamliner. The company also makes the fuselage for Boeing’s 737 MAX aircraft, whose prolonged grounding has brought financial difficulties to Boeing’s many suppliers.

McPheeters will now be part of Spirit’s executive leadership team. Bloomberg data shows that she owns roughly $611,000 in Spirit stock.

Spirit named McPheeters its interim legal chief in January. She had been a deputy general counsel at the company before being promoted last year to vice president of legal and compliance. McPheeters spent nearly two decades at Stinson, where she handled employment litigation and business law work, then left private practice in 2010 to go in-house at Delta Dental of Kansas Inc.

Paul Hechenberger left his post as a Spirit deputy general counsel in November to become general counsel at iAero Group LLC. The Miami-based company, formed via a merger in 2018, operates a fleet of cargo and charter aircraft used by casinos, cruise lines, sports teams, and the U.S. government.

Hechenberger, a retired U.S. Navy captain and former Shutts & Bowen partner in Orlando, told Bloomberg Law in an email that he’s the first general counsel at iAero.

In-House Turbulence

Spirit isn’t the only scuffling aviation company changing over its legal leadership.

Hong Kong’s flagship carrier Cathay Pacific Airways Ltd., which just reported a $2.8 billion net loss for 2020 due to a downturn in business stemming from the coronavirus pandemic, is seeing its group general counsel and company secretary Paul Chow depart for the parent company of Hong Kong’s stock exchange.

Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing Ltd. announced March 11 that Chow will become its group general counsel April 19. Chow, a former corporate partner at Davis Polk & Wardwell and leading U.K. firms Linklaters and Slaughter and May, joined Cathay in mid-2019. Chow takes over at HKEX from Ferheen Mahomed, a former Slaughter and May lawyer who left in December, according to Bloomberg News.

Hong Kong’s government gave Cathay a $5 billion lifeline last year as Covid-19 caused the airline to nearly collapse. Cathay disclosed in a March 10 HKEX filing that its hired Joanna Lai, a former Sidley Austin associate serving as head of legal at Swire Properties Inc., to succeed Chow as its legal chief and company secretary April 19.

Swire’s parent company, Chinese conglomerate Swire Pacific Ltd., owns a 45% stake in Cathay. Bloomberg News reported last year on Swire’s own financial troubles.

Other notable in-house legal appoints in the aviation industry include:

ORIX Aviation Systems Ltd., a Dublin-based unit of Japan’s Orix Corp., said last month that Milbank, Tweed, Hadley & McCloy transportation and space law partner Helfried Schwarz will come aboard April 1 as general counsel. Schwarz spent three decades at Milbank, where he worked in New York, London, and Frankfurt. He takes over at ORIX Aviation from Dean Gerber, a former executive chair of the global transportation finance practice at Vedder Price in Chicago. ORIX Aviation said Gerber is leaving to “pursue opportunities closer to his home.” Gerber, hired by ORIX Aviation in April 2019, said via email he helped recruit Schwarz to the company.

ESCO Technologies Inc., a St. Louis-based manufacturer of smart meters and filtration products for aerospace companies, announced Feb. 8 that general counsel Alyson Barclay will retire this year and be replaced by current intellectual property counsel and assistant secretary David Schatz. Barclay has spent the past 33 years at ESCO, 21 of them as legal chief. She owns more than $8 million in ESCO stock. Schatz has held several ESCO in-house roles since joining the company in 1998.

QuEST Global Inc. announced Feb. 4 its hire of DuPont de Nemours Inc. associate general counsel Lindsey Gauthier as general counsel, reporting to the Singapore-based aerospace engineering and transportation services company’s co-founder, chairman, and CEO Ajit Prabhu. Gauthier joins QuEST after spending almost the past three decades in-house at DuPont and its predecessors, where he played a key role in transforming the chemical giant’s legal operations.

To contact the reporter on this story: Brian Baxter in New York at bbaxter@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Chris Opfer at copfer@bloomberglaw.com
John Hughes in Washington at jhughes@bloombergindustry.com

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