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Allstate Transitions Legal Leadership With Union Pacific Recruit

Aug. 28, 2020, 9:12 PM

The Allstate Corp. is adding Rhonda Ferguson, who has spent the past four years as chief legal officer and corporate secretary at Omaha, Neb.-based railroad operator Union Pacific Corp., as its newest general counsel.

Allstate announced Friday that Ferguson will come aboard in the role Sept. 28 with the plan of eventually succeeding Susan “Susie” Lees as chief legal officer and corporate secretary when the latter retires in 2021. During the transition period, Lees will expand her focus to include Allstate’s environmental, social, and governance initiatives, the company said.

Lees, an Allstate veteran who has been the company’s top lawyer since replacing Michele Coleman Mayes in 2012, has been a longtime advocate for diversity and inclusion in the legal profession. Her replacement, Ferguson, is part of the Black General Counsel 2025 Initiative, a group looking to increase the number of minority law department leaders.

Under Lees, Northbrook, Ill.-based Allstate has also been a leader in embracing technological innovations to cut down legal costs and increase efficiency.

Allstate president, chairman, and CEO Thomas Wilson said in a statement that he looked forward to “celebrating Susie’s many contributions to Allstate early next year.”

As for her successor, Wilson said, “Rhonda is collaborative yet challenges conventional wisdom, which will be invaluable as Allstate transforms how we serve customers and society.”

Allstate, like other large insurers this year, has been grappling with an increase in claims caused by the coronavirus pandemic, which led to business interruption clauses becoming a focus of contention.

Allstate unveiled in July its largest acquisition ever with its $4 billion buy of National General Holdings Corp., a deal that would expand its presence in the personal insurance space. Willkie Farr & Gallagher is advising Allstate on that proposed purchase, which is expected to close early next year.

In-House Shuffle

Ferguson joined Union Pacific in 2016 after nearly a decade as a vice president, corporate secretary, and chief ethics officer at First Energy Corp., an Akron, Ohio-based utility giant that appointed a new legal chief earlier this year.

FirstEnergy hired Ferguson from Ferro Corp., a specialty chemicals company where she spent four years as an assistant general counsel. Prior to that Ferguson worked in private practice in Cleveland as a litigation partner at BakerHostetler and as an associate at Thompson Hine.

Ferguson will be succeeded at Union Pacific on an interim basis by the company’s vice president of commercial and regulatory law Craig Richardson, who has assumed her role overseeing commercial transactions and litigation, labor and employment, and regulatory matters.

Richardson, who already supervises Union Pacific’s ethics, compliance, and risk management programs, as well as its in-house police department, will keep the top legal job until a permanent replacement for Ferguson is found.

Union Pacific chairman, president, and CEO Lance Fritz issued a statement praising Ferguson for her “leadership, wisdom, and insight” during a “significant time of transformation across our company.”

Union Pacific is one of several large railroad operators facing antitrust scrutiny and a wave of lawsuits over their communications on fuel prices.

Ferguson earned more than $2.3 million in total compensation from Union Pacific in 2019, according to the insurer’s most recent annual proxy statement. Bloomberg data shows she currently owns nearly $10.5 million in Union Pacific stock.

Lees, who has worked at Allstate for 32 years, was not one of its top five highest-paid executives last year. Bloomberg data shows she owns $2.89 million in Allstate stock.

In June, she sold 12,385 shares in the company for a total transaction value of $1.3 million, according to securities filings.

Allstate joins other insurance industry leaders like Assurant Inc., Chubb Ltd., Guardian Life Insurance Co. of America, and Prudential Financial Inc. to name new law department leaders this year.

Pacific Life Insurance Co. announced Aug. 25 that Jason Orlandi, president and COO at Baltimore-based Transamerica Corp., will become its next general counsel Nov. 2.

He will replace Sharon Cheever, who is retiring after four decades at the Newport Beach, Calif.-based insurer.

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

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Seth Stern at sstern@bloomberglaw.com; Chris Opfer at copfer@bloomberglaw.com