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Ann Taylor, Michaels Owners Land New GCs in Rough Retail Times

May 12, 2020, 5:44 PM

Two prominent U.S. retail chains have appointed in-house veterans to lead their law departments as stores around the country prepare to do business during a pandemic.

The Michaels Cos. Inc. recently recruited a senior in-house lawyer from Walmart Inc. to serve as its new general counsel. Michaels’ retired legal chief, Michael Veitenheimer, May 4 became the new executive vice president, general counsel, and corporate secretary at Ascena Retail Group Inc.

Veitenheimer, whose new role at Ascena hasn’t been publicly announced, initially joined the Mahwah, N.J.-based parent company of the Ann Taylor and Lane Bryant brands earlier this year as a legal operations adviser to its executive team and board of directors.

He most recently ran MJV Legal Consulting LLC, a suburban Dallas-based outfit that Veitenheimer started in late 2019 following his retirement. Before retiring, he had spent more than a decade as the top in-house lawyer for the Irving, Texas-based owner of the Michaels specialty retail chain.

Veitenheimer moved into Ascena’s full-time top legal role last week after first serving as an interim replacement for former general counsel Wendy Hufford, who parted ways with the company last month as it grappled with store closures stemming from U.S. coronavirus outbreak.

“The current situation is unprecedented in my 35-year career,” Veitenheimer told Bloomberg Law in an email, adding that he’s never seen “anything so perilous to the retail trade” as Covid-19.

Veitenheimer said he’s been through the 2008 economic crisis, the downturn that followed the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and a stroke that felled former Michaels CEO John Menzer, which resulted in the temporary postponement of the company’s 2014 initial public offering.

A Texan, Veitenheimer had been traveling between the Lone Star State and New York until March, when the pandemic kept his work confined to his home near Dallas. Ascena’s offices are closed for the immediate future, Veitenheimer said.

He’s optimistic about the U.S. moving past the coronavirus, but remains concerned about long-term ramifications for retail.

“I wake up each morning to news of new retail bankruptcy filings and additional furloughs and layoffs,” Veitenheimer said. “I fear efforts to restart the economy in haphazard ways are too soon and without appropriate consistency.”

Michaels Shops at Walmart

Veitenheimer’s former employer, Michaels, has recruited Timothy Cheatham to serve as its new executive vice president, general counsel, chief compliance officer, and corporate secretary.

Cheatham spent more than 16 years in a variety of in-house legal roles at Walmart, including separate stints as general counsel of the Bentonville, Ark.-based retail giant’s U.S. and international units, as well as legal chief for information systems and intellectual property.

Cheatham started at Michaels April 2, a company spokeswoman told Bloomberg Law. His hire by Michaels, which has previously exchanged executives with Walmart, also hasn’t been publicly announced.

Cheatham succeeds Veitenheimer’s interim replacements Janie Perelman and Navin Rao, the latter of whom left the company in January to become general counsel for Irving, Texas-based PrimeSource Building Products Inc. Perelman remains at Michaels as a vice president and assistant general counsel.

Veitenheimer called Cheatham “a good guy and well-seasoned” in-house hire, noting that he’s previously crossed paths with the former Walmart lawyer at industry trade group the Retail Industry Leaders Association and its affiliated Retail Litigation Center.

Bloomberg Law reported last month on the Washington-based RILA backing a new coalition urging lawmakers pushing through coronavirus relief packages to afford protections to companies facing claims from independent contractors seeking to be classified as employees.

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

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Seth Stern at sstern@bloomberglaw.com

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