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Toy Giant Mattel Hires ViacomCBS General Counsel as Legal Chief

Dec. 9, 2020, 4:20 PM

Mattel Inc. has hired its first new law department leader in two decades, tapping ViacomCBS Inc. general counsel Jonathan Anschell to succeed Robert Normile as chief legal officer Jan. 1.

“I am proud to join Mattel at such an exciting and important time in its transformation,” Anschell said in a Tuesday evening announcement of his hire. “I look forward to working with the leadership team on this next stage of growth.”

Anschell leaves ViacomCBS a month after former colleague Laura Franco, general counsel of the company’s legacy CBS Corp.-branded businesses, decamped to become the top lawyer at dating app Bumble.

Their departures occurred a year after ViacomCBS was formed upon the completion of an $11.7 billion reunion between the two media companies, which were both controlled by the late Sumner Redstone’s National Amusements Inc.

ViacomCBS legal chief Christa D’Alimonte and a company spokesman declined to comment about Anschell’s exit or about who will replace him and Franco at the New York-based media conglomerate.

A separation agreement disclosed in a Dec. 8 securities filing by Mattel shows that Normile will continue to receive his $600,000 base salary while he serves as an executive adviser to the El Segundo, Calif.-based company through April. During that time Normile will transition his legal oversight duties to Anschell.

A Mattel spokeswoman said Normile’s departure is not a retirement, but did not provide further information about his next steps. The departing legal chief didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Media Background

In a statement, Mattel chairman and CEO Ynon Kreiz touted Anschell’s global brand and media expertise.

Anschell joined legacy CBS Corp. in 2004 as general counsel for its television network after nearly eight years as a litigation partner at White O’Connor Fink & Brenner, a Los Angeles-based law firm that merged with Kelley Drye & Warren in 2011.

“His leadership skills and strong transactional experience at the highest levels of the media and entertainment industry will further strengthen our capabilities as we transform Mattel,” Kreiz said.

Anschell follows newly hired senior counsel for corporate and securities Carly Ginley in joining Mattel. Ginley, a former of counsel at Womble Bond Dickinson who previously worked at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom and Cahill Gordon & Reindel, joined Mattel in August.

That same month Mattel’s head of global employment, ethics, and compliance Marlene Nicolas left the company to take a similar role at construction software provider Procore Technologies Inc.

Mattel Fighter

Kreiz also praised Normile, Mattel’s outgoing legal department leader, for his nearly three decades of service to the toy maker.

“He built a world-class in-house legal team and was a key part of numerous acquisitions and joint ventures,” said Kreiz, who in 2018 became the company’s fourth leader in four years.

Normile, a former associate at Latham & Watkins and Sullivan & Cromwell, joined Mattel as an assistant general counsel in 1994. He was promoted to general counsel in 1999 and became chief legal officer in 2011.

Normile played a key role guiding the company through a years-long legal battle with MGA Entertainment Inc., maker of Bratz dolls, a rival to Mattel’s Barbie doll brand.

MGA’s CEO Isaac Larian has half-jokingly referred to Normile in public as “Bob Abnormal,” a play on the pronunciation of the lawyer’s last name, according to reporting by the Wall Street Journal.

During the dispute with MGA, the latter’s litigators from Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe accused Normile of working with Mattel’s lawyers at Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan to steal trade secrets and engage in a racketeering conspiracy against MGA.

MGA scored an $88.4 million win in 2011 and subsequently sought more from Mattel to cover its legal costs. The $1 billion war between both companies has continued over the past decade, with seemingly endless counterclaims and appellate court rulings. Mattel prevailed last year in a trade secrets dispute with MGA.

MGA has periodically approached Mattel about a potential merger but has been rebuffed by the company. Normile, in a June 2019 letter to MGA’s management, said such a deal would not be in the “best interests of Mattel and its shareholders.”

In 2016, Mattel competitor Hasbro Inc. mulled a potential acquisition of the company, but a deal never materialized. In the following years Mattel saw its finances slip amid weak sales and whistleblower claims.

Recent Challenges

Mattel has faced securities litigation from shareholders upset about its slumping Barbie and Hot Wheels toy brandsin a case that was dropped in February.

The company was also sued last year by investors over a $109 million accounting error that led it to fire its former financial chief last year.

Mattel retained O’Melveny & Myers to probe its accounting practices, which have drawn scrutiny from federal regulators. In June, the company hired a new CFO, shortly before its finances began to rebound as a result of cost-cutting measures and sales bolstered by the coronavirus pandemic.

Mattel is riding high after posting strong third quarter financial results, spurred by customers snapping up the company’s myriad toy products as they seek to entertain children stuck at home as a result of lockdown orders related to Covid-19.

Normile will now assist Anschell in taking over his duties heading Mattel’s corporate governance, intellectual property, litigation, privacy, and securities functions, as well as compliance and government affairs, the company said.

Manatt, Phelps & Phillips has handled nearly 23% of Mattel’s litigation work in federal courts within the past five years, according to a Bloomberg Law analysis. Manatt has had a role representing Mattel in cases related to the recall of an infant sleeping product made by subsidiary Fisher-Price.

Bloomberg data shows that Normile owns roughly $2.6 million in Mattel stock. He received a total compensation package of nearly $3.7 million—including almost $1.3 million in cash—during 2019, per a Mattel proxy statement.

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
Rebekah Mintzer at rmintzer@bloomberglaw.com

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