Around the house: NASA unveils new GC; Rite Aid hires ex-Walgreens legal head

This week’s roundup of top in-house moves also includes appointments at The Toro Company, Inbenta and Vinson & Elkins

Iris Lan Courtesy of NASA

NASA ends search for new GC with DOJ appointment

US space agency NASA has named Iris Lan as its new general counsel, replacing Sumara Thompson-King who retired from the organisation last December.

Lan joins from the US Department of Justice, where she has spent the past decade as associate deputy attorney general, helping oversee the US’s 93 attorneys and the DOJ’s executive office. At NASA, she will be responsible for overseeing all of the agency’s legal matters and teams.

Bill Nelson, NASA’s administrator, said: “The office of the general counsel’s work often goes unseen… Our team of attorneys, paralegals and professionals are critical to NASA fulfilling our mission to explore the unknown in air and space, innovate for the benefit of humanity and inspire the world through discovery. With Iris at the helm, I am confident they will continue to help NASA maintain our standing as the world’s premier space agency.”

Prior to taking on the associate deputy AG role, Lan spent eight years as an assistant US attorney for the Southern District of New York and another two years prior to that at the DOJ, half of which in its national security division. Lan started her career in private practice at Cravath Swaine & Moore.

Associate GC Scott Barber and NASA Langley Research Center chief counsel Charles ‘Pete’ Polen have been serving as acting GCs since Thompson-King retired at the end of last year. Thompson-King joined NASA in 1986 at the Goddard Space Flight Center, where she worked in the office of chief counsel before moving to NASA headquarters in 1991 as a senior attorney. She became GC in 2014.

Rite Aid names former Walgreens legal head as GC

US drugstore chain Rite Aid has appointed veteran general counsel Thomas Sabatino as its new chief legal officer.

Sabatino brings with him four decades of experience in the legal industry, most recently as GC at automotive parts-maker Tenneco. As CLO at Rite Aid, he will oversee all of the company’s legal matters, including enterprise risk management, compliance, regulatory affairs and privacy. The company said he will play a pivotal role in its growth strategy.

Busy Burr, interim CEO at Rite Aid, said: “We believe Tom’s proven leadership and extensive background in the healthcare industry and company transformations will help us further our mission to provide whole health for life to all of our customers.”

Sabatino’s in-house career has seen him lead the legal departments at a number of high-profile brands, including Hertz, Walgreens and United Airlines. He also had spells at healthcare businesses including Aetna, Schering-Plough and Baxter International. He currently serves as a board member at The Humane Society of the United States and the University of Pennsylvania Law School, and is chair emeritus at the International Institute for Conflict Prevention and Resolution.

Sabatino said: “This is an exciting time to join Rite Aid and be part of a performance-driven workforce focused on revitalising operations and making a meaningful impact on improving health outcomes for all people. I look forward to supporting these efforts while strengthening our internal legal, compliance and governance-related capabilities.”

Outdoor machinery company TTC names Cooper Standard CLO as new GC

US lawnmower maker The Toro Company (TTC) has hired Joanna Totsky as its new general counsel, replacing Amy Dahl who recently took on a new role at the company leading and refining its global enterprise strategies.

Totsky joins from automative components supplier Cooper Standard Holdings, where she was chief legal and transformation officer. As a member of the company’s leadership team she was involved in operational strategy and was responsible for leading its global legal and compliance functions.

Richard Olson, chairman and CEO of TTC, said: “As we continue to advance our strategic business priorities and navigate the complexities of our evolving markets, we are excited to add someone of Joanna’s calibre to our organisation. Joanna is a highly regarded leader with broad legal experience and a proven track record of driving growth and operational transformation.”

Totsky spent almost seven years at Cooper Standard, initially joining as deputy GC before moving up to chief legal and compliance officer in 2019. Prior to that she spent more than 16 years at Ford Motor Company in a variety of roles, including as legal director. She started her career in private practice at Miller Canfield.

Dahl has been with TTC since 2007, joining as corporate counsel from Norton Rose Fulbright and becoming GC in 2020.

Olson said: “During [Dahl’s] tenure, she provided exceptional leadership and counsel through the complexities associated with the global pandemic, significant enterprise-shaping acquisitions and new autonomous technology platforms, all of which have been key to our continued growth and success.”

AI company Inbenta appoints privacy expert as new CLO

US headquartered conversational AI platform Inbenta has hired Adam Rivera as its new chief legal officer.

Rivera joins from food delivery startup DoorDash, where he spent just over a year as senior privacy leader. As Inbenta’s CLO, he will be responsible for leading its legal, compliance and regulatory oversight amid a period of heightened scrutiny on the AI industry from regulators and policymakers.

Melissa Solis, CEO at Inbenta, said: “Adam joins Inbenta at a time when efforts to expand Inbenta’s conversational AI platform and footprint are fast underway. Adam and his team will ensure that Inbenta’s practices and services meet and exceed the evolving regulatory requirements of the AI and privacy landscape.”

Prior to his time at DoorDash, Rivera was head of privacy for the Americas at the London Stock Exchange Group following its acquisition of Refinitiv, where he was also head of privacy for the Americas. He was also previously senior counsel and privacy officer at Thomson Reuters and senior counsel for employment and compliance at Louis Vuitton. He started his career in private practice as an executive compensation and employment attorney at Schulte Roth & Zabel.

Rivera said: “Inbenta is a fast-growing business navigating a very dynamic market. As the market matures, security, compliance and privacy will become a top priority for companies looking to leverage AI solutions. It’s important that AI firms, like Inbenta, take steps now to differentiate themselves in this area.”

Vinson & Elkins promotes deputy GC to legal head role

US law firm Vinson & Elkins has named Vanessa Griffith as its new general counsel, replacing John Wander who is leaving the firm to join Talen Energy.

Griffith was previously the firm’s co-deputy GC, a role she assumed in 2020.

Keith Fullenweider, chair of Vinson & Elkins, said: “During Vanessa’s tenure as deputy general counsel, she has consistently demonstrated a deep understanding of the firm’s legal affairs, governance and industry landscape. Her collaborative approach, analytical skills and sound judgment have been instrumental in supporting V&E and advising the executive committee and management committee on a wide range of issues.”

Griffith has been with Vinson & Elkins since 1996 and almost two decades as a partner. She has expertise in legal ethics, risk management, employment and other workplace issues. Prior to her deputy GC role she was an employment lawyer, advising companies across a range of industries.

Wander departs after roughly a year in the GC role but almost 30 at the firm. He has held a number of leadership positions including co-department head of litigation and regulatory.

Fullenweider said: “We want to recognise John for his many years of service and deep respect for his fellow colleagues, dedication, legal acumen and teamwork, which strengthened our culture and contributed to our success.”

Bob Denby, who joined the firm in 2019, will now be sole deputy GC.

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