The gradual dismantling of billionaire Leslie Wexner’s retail empire, which once included Express Inc., L Brands Inc. and Victoria’s Secret & Co., is creating new roles for law department leaders.
Express announced Sept. 1 its hire of Laurel Krueger as a senior vice president, chief legal officer, and corporate secretary. Krueger confirmed via email that she succeeded Melinda McAfee, who in April was named the first-ever legal chief for Victoria’s Secret as the latter prepared to become its own public company.
“Laurel brings rich experience in litigation, regulatory, international, intellectual property, and employment areas,” the Columbus, Ohio-based company said in a statement released via LinkedIn. “We look forward to having her on our executive leadership team and as part of the Express family.”
L Brands split itself on Aug. 3 into two independent retailers, Victoria’s Secret and Bath & Body Works Direct Inc. The breakup came as Wexner, L Brands’ founder and former CEO, faced scrutiny over his ties to disgraced financier Jeffrey Epstein.
Wexner claimed he severed those connections a decade ago after Epstein misappropriated “vast sums” from him. Wexner stepped down as CEO of L Brands in early 2020. Earlier this year he and his wife, Abigail, left the company’s board.
Krueger most recently served as general counsel and corporate secretary for Kontoor Brands Inc., a Greensboro, N.C.-based denim clothing company that owns jeans brands like Lee, Rock & Republic, and Wrangler. Kontoor disclosed in an Aug. 18 securities filing that Krueger would leave the company, which hired her in early 2019 after it was formed by being spun-off from Denver-based VF Corp.
Proxy filings by Kontoor show that Krueger received nearly $1.3 million in total compensation from the company during 2020, a nearly 59% drop from the more than $2.3 million she earned in 2019. Kreuger was one of several senior executives at Kontoor that took voluntary pay cuts due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Kontoor didn’t respond to a request for comment about its plans for replacing Krueger as legal chief. Miranda Fields Stephani, a former senior attorney at L Brands, has been a deputy general counsel at Kontoor since 2019.
Krueger spent nearly seven years working for Akron, Ohio-based Signet Jewelers Ltd., the world’s largest diamond jewelry retailer, where she was named general counsel in 2017. She joined Kontoor two years later.
McAfee, who Krueger succeeded, was a former top in-house lawyer at Express and Abercrombie & Fitch & Co. Express became its own public company more than a decade ago after being sold off by L Brands. Wexner had also previously owned Abercrombie until the apparel retailer went public in 1996.
Michael Wu, a former top lawyer at clothing companies Carter’s Inc. and Madewell Inc., was hired by L Brands in May to be its legal chief ahead of the split into two separate companies. He is now general counsel for Bath & Body Works, a spokeswoman for the Columbus-based company told Bloomberg Law.
Other key in-house lawyers at L Brands, such as vice president of legal, global ethics, and compliance Amber Lee Williams, as of last month became affiliated with Bath & Body Works.
As for Victoria’s Secret, the newly independent company has built out its own legal staff. Reid Wilson, a former vice president of legal at L Brands who spent nearly a year as interim general counsel at Victoria’s Secret, became a deputy general counsel earlier this year after McAfee was hired as legal chief.
In July, Victoria’s Secret hired two former Abercrombie & Fitch in-house lawyers in Forrest Deegan and Kelly Alto to respectively serve as vice president of ethics and compliance and vice president of legal for privacy, marketing, and retail operations. Deegan had been a top compliance executive at Abercrombie since 2012.
Melissa Barnett, a former lead intellectual property counsel at L Brands, joined Victoria’s Secret last month in the same role. Victoria Secret’s also hired former L Brands senior attorney Brian Kenney and Big Lots Stores Inc. corporate counsel Robin Amlin as senior attorneys for its in-house legal group in August.
Bloomberg News reported in mid-July that Wexner had sold off more than $1.2 billion in L Brands stock, just weeks after stepping down from the board of the company as it planned to split into Victoria’s Secret and Bath & Body Works.
Just prior to that separation, L Brands settled several workplace misconduct lawsuits by agreeing to spend $90 million to further diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives. Plaintiffs had accused L Brands of having a corporate culture rife with harassment.