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NJBIZ General Counsel winners: Seven top lawyers bring home big awards

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Seven top lawyers in the state of New Jersey received a high honor Friday morning as they were selected as the winners at the NJBIZ General Counsel of the Year event at the Palace in Somerset.

Trial Graphix, Update Legal and Update Discovery served as the presenting sponsors for the event.

The firms Gibbons, K&L Gates and Archer&Greiner served as the premier sponsors of the event.

The seven event winners were as follows:

Public company (revenues up to $1 billion)
Hugh O'Berine, Chambers Street Properties

Public company (revenues over $1 billion)
Marilyn Wasser, Realogy Holdings

Private company (revenues up to $1 billion)
Barbara Oif Stack, Ironstate Development

Private company (revenues over $1 billion)
Sam Khichi, Catalent Pharma Solutions

Corporate compliance
Tom Wyatt, American Water

Health care
Gary J. Lesneski, Cooper University Health Care

Nonprofit or government
John Farmer, Rutgers

Complete bios on the winners plus the list of the finalists in each category appear below.

Princeton Legal Search and Hudson Court Reporting & Digital Media served as the supporting sponsors.

NJBIZ is currently accepting nominations for two future events.

Click here to nominate someone for our CFO event.

Click here to nominate someone for our Forty Under 40 event.

Hugh O'Beirne

Public Company with revenues up to $1 billion — winner

Hugh O'Beirne
Title: General Counsel
Company: Chambers Street Properties
Town/County: Princeton, Mercer County

Bio: The real estate business often pulls an attorney in two directions. There’s the daily drumbeat of property transactions. But there’s also a need for the kind of strategic, long-term thinking that fuels a company’s growth.

Hugh O’Beirne has balanced both directions during his tenure as general counsel at Chambers Street Properties, a real estate investment trust that oversees a portfolio of industrial and office properties around the world.

O’Beirne has had a hand in multimillion- dollar real estate deals, and he took a leading role in the initial public offering undertaken by Chambers Street in 2013, as well as other transactions that cemented its place in the stock market. The trust was spun out of real estate company CB Richard Ellis in 2012.

“Hugh’s tireless efforts in 2013 as Chambers Street Properties’ lone inside counsel were critical to its successful launch,” says a friend and legal colleague. “Hugh handled the pressure with aplomb and professionalism, and made it work.”

For O’Beirne, the key to bridging the business and legal worlds lies in fully adopting the mindset of the business before translating between the two.

He’s had plenty of practice. O’Beirne served as general counsel at CB Richard Ellis before moving to Chambers Street. He helped the new trust develop corporate governance and compliance programs, as well as human resource and IT programs.

But even as he was helping lay the company’s foundation, real estate deals continued to cross his desk. In 2013, O’Beirne handled numerous transactions for Chambers Street, including the nearly $11 million purchase of a warehouse/distribution center in South Carolina, the $55 million acquisition of an office property in Texas and the $30.2 million purchase of a distribution center in Indiana.

Overseas deals also drew O’Beirne’s attention. Chambers Street bought a logistics center in France for $56.4 million and logistics properties in Germany for $49.6 million.

As befits an attorney with one eye on the future, O’Beirne has clear ideas about where pro bono service could do more long-term good.

“Utilizing our training and resources to foster a widespread growth of entrepreneurship will do more for the growth of civil society and empowerment of citizens than any other activity,” he says.

What is the most pressing legal challenge facing businesses in 2014? “The drain on talent, time and resources caused by the need to effectively comply with the seemingly endless proliferation of foreign, domestic, state and local laws, rules and regulations.”

Public Company with revenues up to $1 billion — finalist

John Kuntz
Title: Executive Vice President, Chief Administrative Officer and General Counsel
Company: The Provident Bank
Town/County: Iselin, Middlesex County

Marilyn Wasser

Public Company with revenues over $1 billion — winner

Marilyn Wasser
Title: Executive Vice President and General Counsel
Company: Realogy Holdings Corp.
Town/County: Madison, Morris County

Bio: Realogy Holdings Corp. plunged into the financial crisis of 2008 with an extra weight strapped to its back. A year earlier, the company had undergone a private equity acquisition that saddled it with debt.

Many investors believed Realogy— which operates high-profile real estate franchises—would not survive.

They weren’t counting on Marilyn Wasser, who leads the company’s team of legal professionals. The team worked hand-in-hand with Realogy’s finance department to reorganize debt and keep the company going.

Wasser proved to be a pragmatic leader who focused on getting the job done, despite pressing deadlines. Under her guidance, the legal team produced complex documents, developed innovative features for inclusion in debt instruments, and ensured that new agreements did not conflict with language in existing documents. The effort culminated in a successful initial public offering in 2012.

“The series of carefully devised and orchestrated offerings allowed a company that many investors had abandoned to survive and ultimately flourish,” Wasser says. Overall, the company offered more than $4 billion in equity and cut its debt and interest obligations by more than 50 percent.

Survival was not the legal team’s only goal over the last six years. Wasser and her colleagues worked to reduce legal risk for the company across many fronts, including ethics, franchise agreements, and labor and employment. For example, the company introduced state-of-the-art documents for use with independent real estate agents, franchisees, customers and suppliers.

“These efforts have won the company recognition from our industry, Ethisphere and various other organizations,” Wasser says.

Indeed, the Ethisphere Institute, which promotes best practices in corporate ethics and compliance, has named Realogy one of the world’s most ethical companies.

And the financial work continues. In 2013, Wasser and her team helped the company complete two secondary stock offerings, and transition to full public ownership. The company also added directors to its independent board and adopted corporate governance programs affecting compensation, board leadership, enterprise risk management and strategic planning.

Realogy is the parent company of Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate, CENTURY 21, Coldwell Banker, The Corcoran Group and other real estate-related subsidiaries. It employs roughly 11,000 people supporting services around the world.

What is the most pressing legal challenge facing businesses in 2014? “Increased regulatory burdens coupled with ever-expanding class-action litigation are two enormous and pivotal risks facing business. Class actions frequently have become so broad and unwieldy—with such enormous exposures— that companies feel they must settle rather than risk catastrophic judgments.”

Public Company with revenues over $1 billion — finalists

John Dauer
Title: Chief Patent Counsel
Company: Caraco Pharmaceutical Laboratories, Ltd. (A Sun Pharma company)
Town/County: Cranbury, Middlesex County

Dana Gilbert
Title: Senior Vice President, Chief Compliance Officer and General Counsel
Company: Cognizant Technology Solutions
Town/County: Teaneck, Bergen County

Robert Ingato
Title: Executive Vice President, General Counsel and Secretary
Company: CIT Group Inc.
Town/County: Livingston, Essex County

Scott McLester
Title: Executive Vice President, General Counsel and Corporate Secretary
Company: Wyndham Worldwide
Town/County: Parsippany,  Morris County

Scott Meece
Title: General Counsel
Company: Bayer Healthcare LLC
Town/County: Whippany, Morris County

Barbara Oif Stack

Private Company with revenues up to $1 billion — winner

Barbara Oif Stack
Title: General Counsel
Company: Ironstate Development
Town/County: Hoboken, Hudson County

Bio: As general counsel for Ironstate Development, Stack has paved the way for developments that are reshaping New Jersey’s waterfront. Projects on which she has worked include the mixed-use Pier Village waterfront development in Long Branch, the Port Liberté and Liberty National Golf Course projects in Jersey City, and development of the former Bethlehem Shipyards site in Hoboken.

“This multiphase, mixed-use project opened the waterfront to extensive high-end development by Ironstate and other developers,” says Stack, who has proven adept at forging the kinds of partnerships that make complex projects get off the ground.

Over the years, Ironstate has partnered with redevelopment agencies, landowners, large corporations, real estate investment trusts, hotel-management firms and financial institutions. As her company’s work has diversified, Stack has challenged herself to keep pace. She embraces the opportunity to learn new areas of the law.

For example, as Ironstate ventured into the hospitality business, she brushed up on the management of hotels, bars and restaurants, as well as the agreements that govern their operations. She also is becoming more familiar with taxation and other issues affecting partnerships as Ironstate undertakes more joint ventures.

“As a young general counsel, it took a while to develop the confidence necessary to teach myself without guidance from more experienced colleagues,” she says. “Now, however, it is the most gratifying aspect of my career.”

It’s an approach similar to what she admires in her favorite fictional lawyer: Thomas Cromwell, the protagonist of “Wolf Hall,” a historical novel set in England during the reign of King Henry VIII.

“He is always prepared, always creative, always a step ahead of his colleagues, his adversaries, even his client, who happens to be King Henry VIII,” Stack says. “In Cromwell’s efforts to secure Henry’s divorce from Catherine of Aragon, we see fascinating antecedents of the work today’s lawyers do outside the courtroom to advance their clients’ interests.”

Before joining Ironstate, Stack worked as a public-interest housing attorney and in large law firms. In addition to her work for Ironstate, she is secretary of the Mendham Township Educational Foundation.

When is it appropriate to text in business? “The short answer is, ‘Probably more than we think.’ We lawyers are notoriously late adopters of technology, and we need to overcome our innate conservatism in this regard. Certainly, texting is riskier than other communication channels in terms of privacy and confidentiality. However, anyone who has a teenager knows that nothing compares to a text message for immediacy, urgency and the likelihood of a prompt reply.”

Private Company with revenues up to $1 billion — finalists

Steven Dorry
Title: Senior Vice President of Corporate Development and General Counsel
Company: SGS North America Inc.
Town/County: Rutherford, Bergen County

Hymie Elhai
Title: Vice President of Business Affairs and General Counsel
Company: New York Jets LLC
Town/County: Florham Park, Morris County

Mark Goldberg
Title: General Counsel
Company: Bluestar Silicones USA Corp.
Town/County: East Brunswick, Middlesex County

Robert Kelly
Title: Vice President and General Counsel
Company: Sahara Sam’s Oasis and Diggerland
Town/County: West Berlin, Camden County

Dan Reiss
Title: Senior Vice President and General Counsel
Company: Caliper
Town/County: Princeton, Mercer County

William Robedee
Title: Chief Legal Officer
Company: Lenox Corporation
Town/County: Bristol, Pa.

Stephen Santola
Title: Executive Vice President and General Counsel
Company: Woodmont Properties, LLC
Town/County: Fairfield, Essex County

Samrat "Sam" Khichi

Private Company with revenues over $1 billion — winner

Samrat "Sam" Khichi
Title: Senior Vice President, General Counsel and Chief Administrative Officer
Company: Catalent Pharma Solutions, Inc.
Town/County: Somerset, Somerset County

Bio: Over the last seven years, Samrat “Sam” Khichi has built an impressive legal team that is making a difference at Catalent Pharma Solutions. It also is making a difference in the legal field.

Outside counsel hired by Catalent are expected to provide demographic reports on the gender, race and national origin of the legal professionals assigned to work on the company’s business. Khichi believes that diversity brings tangible benefits to the company by opening the door to multiple perspectives.

Of course, Khichi has been a champion of diversity inside Catalent, as well. The company’s in-house legal team employs professionals from around the world. In addition, he sponsors Catalent’s veterans hiring initiative, and participates in other efforts to find jobs for veterans. Khichi served in the U.S. Army in the early 1990s.

The search for talent led Khichi and Catalent also to establish internship programs with three universities: Temple University, Rutgers University and Fordham University. The programs offer training in the pharmaceutical industry, as well as career opportunities. In addition, he has engaged in efforts that encourage high school students to pursue education in the so-called STEM disciplines of science, technology, engineering and math.

Every employee at Catalent, meanwhile, benefits from the global compliance program developed by Khichi. The program delivers targeted training on the company’s code of conduct and related compliance issues.

A White House fellow in the mid- 2000s, Khichi today plays a critical role in Catalent’s government affairs function, as well.

Before joining Catalent in 2007, Khichi worked for the law firm of O’Melveny & Myers. Khichi recently added a new credential to his resume, one that burnished his business acumen. In 2011, he earned a master’s of business administration from Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management.

In 2010, he told the Minority Corporate Counsel Association why he chose to work in the pharmaceutical industry. The association profiled him as part of a survey.

“I desired to work in an important industry where I could bring to bear my leadership, government, regulatory and legal skills,” he said then. “I selected pharma not only because the industry improves the lives of millions of people, but also because of the complexity of the regulations and the sophistication of the R&D. I find it all fascinating and very rewarding.”

Who are your legal role models? “The partners in the M&A group of Shearman & Sterling and the former chairman of O’Melveny & Myers, A.B. Culvahouse. Under A.B., I learned to be a better adviser and strategic counselor, how to take the entire panorama of issues, and to distill advice and provide judgment into a succinct and sound decision that assesses the myriad long- and short-term implications, and the many stakeholders impacted.”

Private Company with revenues over $1 billion — finalists

Howard Harris
Title: Vice President of Legal Affairs and General Counsel
Company: U.S. and Canadian BMW Group Companies
Town/County: Woodcliff Lake, Bergen County

Anthony Martino II
Title: Vice President and General Counsel
Company: Colas Inc.
Town/County: Morristown, Morris County

Raymer McQuiston
Title: General Counsel
Company: Ports America
Town/County: Jersey City, Hudson County

Gregory Mulligan
Title: Vice President and General Counsel
Company: Evonik Corporation
Town/County: Parsippany, Morris County

Allen Waxman
Title: Senior Vice President, General Counsel and Corporate Secretary
Company: Eisai Inc.
Town/County: Woodcliff Lake, Bergen County

Tom Wyatt

Corporate Compliance professional — winner

Tom Wyatt
Title: Chief Ethics and Compliance Officer, and Securities Counsel
Company: American Water Works Company, Inc.
Town/County: Voorhees, Camden County

Bio: Compliance can be like broccoli. It’s something companies know they have to do, but it’s not the first thing that catches their eye when they scan their busy plates.

Tom Wyatt has been finding ways to make the subject both appealing and relevant to employees of American Water Works. He is getting the message across using a range of new tools, including videos, blogs, posters and promotional giveaways.

An interactive video, for example, trains employees on the company’s code of ethics and engages its audience through the use of real-world situations.

“It has bolstered our culture to be more inclined to ask questions about our code of ethics before making important decisions,” Wyatt says.

Indeed, thanks to his hard work and dedication, employees at American Water responded in record numbers to the company’s annual code of ethics certification.

Another effort, dubbed Ethical Leadership Training, shows managers how to create a safe environment for speaking up, and to determine when and how to appropriately warn of emerging issues.

Wyatt joined American Water in 2006 as corporate counsel, bringing a background in mergers and acquisitions, along with expertise in regulatory compliance and corporate governance. He quickly demonstrated leadership skills, as well. Within a year, he was named SEC counsel and assistant secretary before being named to his current position, where he continues to serve as a key leader in the company.

Wyatt spends his days reinforcing an ethical culture at American Water and reminding employees of their roles in upholding the company’s integrity. In addition, he serves as lead counsel for corporate finance, regulatory filings and disclosure compliance, as well as being the company’s corporate governance expert.

While Wyatt’s knowledge of the law is crucial, so is his grasp of the underlying business. Working with the company’s board and management, he has succeeded in creating a corporate governance structure that is well-suited to the business and transparent to its stakeholders.

“An effective lawyer must understand his or her client’s business strategy before a truly meaningful discussion can occur,” he says. “The most difficult step is translating advice into the language of strategy execution. For example, a certain legal decision or business action could threaten or bolster a certain long- or short-term strategy.”

Who is your favorite fictional lawyer? “Atticus Finch. I know it is cliché, but if integrity, guts, intelligence and compassion are cliché, so be it. I think of his character often, but have never come close to matching his standard.”

Corporate Compliance professional — finalist

Thomas Flynn
Title: Vice President and Chief Compliance Officer
Company: Hackensack University Medical Center
Town/County: Hackensack, Bergen County

Gary J. Lesneski

Health Care organization — winner

Gary J. Lesneski
Title: Chief Legal Officer
Company: Cooper University Health Care
Town/County: Camden, Camden County

Bio: Gary J. Lesneski was no stranger to health care law when he joined Cooper University Health Care nearly four years ago.

After all, he had specialized in health care during his more than three decades at the law firm of Archer & Greiner. He has likely drawn on every last second of that experience in guiding Cooper through the complex changes that have swept through health care over the last few years, largely due to the Affordable Care Act, or ACA, also known as Obamacare.

“Health care is in the midst of a profound transition to a new paradigm of health care delivery, with a focus on evidence-based population health management and quality-based reimbursement incentives,” Lesneski says.

Doctors, insurers and health systems are all experimenting with new models of care, even as regulations grow more complex. It’s a challenging prescription for in-house counsel, but one that Lesneski has handled with aplomb.

Lesneski recently oversaw the legal aspects involved in negotiating and executing an agreement with the MD Anderson Physicians Network to create the MD Anderson Cancer Center at Cooper. The program offers Anderson’s renowned treatment protocols, extensive clinical trials and cutting- edge research to patients in New Jersey and Delaware, as well as parts of New York and Pennsylvania.

Next on Lesneski’s plate was Cooper’s acquisition of a 20 percent stake in AmeriHealth New Jersey. The two partners aim to develop novel approaches to delivering high-quality, cost-efficient care. Their first collaboration is an insurance product designed for sale on the federal insurance exchange created by the ACA.

It’s not just the big deals that cross Lesneski’s desk. He is involved in all aspects of Cooper’s legal affairs, including development of policies and procedures, reviewing contracts and other legal documents, and resolving disputes, claims and litigation.

No matter what the subject, Lesneski is acutely aware of the extra layer of attention that is needed. “Finding solutions to business issues within the limitations of regulatory guidelines can present significant challenges to health care counsel,” he says.

Lesneski also has been called on to serve the legal profession. He has twice served as chair of the New Jersey State Bar Association’s health and hospital law section, and on the civil practice committee of the New Jersey Supreme Court.

What pro bono work deserves greater support in New Jersey? “Cooper is a safety-net hospital operating in a challenging urban environment. Our patients often have basic, unaddressed legal issues that can be an impediment to their accessing health care. Regional legal-services providers are challenged by a lack of resources to handle the potential demand for services. Cooper is exploring initiatives to address these concerns here in Camden.”

Health Care organization — finalists

Sam Germana
Title: Vice President and General Counsel
Company: Trinitas Regional Medical Center
Town/County: Elizabeth, Union County

Kevin Kramer
Title: Vice President of Legal Affairs and General Counsel
Company: Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital Rahway
Town/County: Rahway, Union County

Jennifer Schwartz
Title: Vice President of Legal Affairs and General Counsel
Company: Lourdes Health System
Town/County: Camden, Camden County

John Farmer

Nonprofit or Government organization — winner

John Farmer
Title: Senior Vice President and General Counsel
Company: Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey
Town/County:
New Brunswick, Middlesex County

Bio: Rutgers University needed a steady hand last spring as it weathered an unprecedented crisis originating in its athletics department.

It found that hand in the leadership of John Farmer, who took over in April 2013 as the university’s general counsel.

What he faced was no cut-and-dry academic exercise. As it confronted the crisis, Rutgers faced an imminent deadline for completing the acquisition of numerous units from the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey. The integration, one of the largest academic integrations in the U.S., involved restructuring more than 4,000 contracts, negotiating 13 clinical affiliation agreements, disentangling components of UMDNJ from the University Hospital of Newark and issuing nearly $1 billion in bonds.

At the same time, legislators were proposing to disband the Rutgers board of trustees, a move that might have jeopardized the bond issue. Farmer was intimately familiar with the school, having served as dean of the Rutgers School of Law-Newark. And he brought an impressive résumé to the task.

After graduating from Georgetown Law Center, Farmer clerked for the New Jersey Supreme Court and worked later as a federal prosecutor in the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Newark. He also served as chief counsel to former N.J. Gov. Christine Todd Whitman, the state’s attorney general, as well as general counsel and team leader for the 9/11 Commission.

Farmer and his legal team pulled off the integration of UMDNJ and fended off the potentially harmful legislation.

But challenges remain. Chief among them are the gradual erosion of public funding, along with the need for Rutgers to function more like a private institution without violating the heightened standards expected of public institutions.

“Those standards and regulations have multiplied over the past two decades; at the same time, the level of public support has been diminishing,” Farmer says. “The legal challenge is to ensure compliance with those standards while finding ways to encourage more entrepreneurial partnerships and activities.”

One of those activities can be found at Farmer’s old haunt, the Rutgers School of Law-Newark. It recently launched Rutgers Law Associates, a program designed to employ recent graduates entering a difficult job market, while supporting clients in the lower middle class who have trouble affording legal fees.

 “I believe that corporations and the larger legal community should support efforts to provide access to justice for this underserved population,” he says.

What are the most difficult steps when translating between the legal and academic worlds? “To persuade the faculty, students and administrators that our function is not to obstruct or frustrate their goals, or to impinge on academic or other freedoms, but to find ways to accomplish the university’s strategic goals within applicable legal and regulatory standards.”

Nonprofit or Government organization — finalists

Bette Renaud
Title: Senior Deputy Attorney General
Company: New Jersey Economic Development Authority
Town/County: Trenton, Mercer County

Holly Stern
Title: General Counsel and Secretary to the Board of Trustees
Company: New Jersey Institute of Technology
Town/County: Newark, Essex County

Steven Weinstein
Title: General Counsel and Senior Vice President of Governmental Relations
Company: Rowan University
Town/County: Glassboro, Gloucester County

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