Fashioning an In-House Career
Everyone who works for Neiman-Marcus receives an employee discount, but for senior vice president and general counsel Tracy Preston ’91, there’s an added benefit — and a challenge — that comes once a year.
A much-anticipated feature of the retail giant’s annual Christmas catalog (“book,” in Neiman Marcus parlance) is a fantasy wish list that the mind of someone with unlimited funds might conceive. Last year’s gifts included a walk-on role in the Broadway musical “Waitress” (for $30,000), a slumber party for 12 at the flagship store in Dallas ($120,000), a week at three English estates ($700,000), and a Cobalt Valkyrie-X private plane ($1.5 million, but really, if you have to ask you can’t afford it). Most of the proceeds go to the company’s Heart of Neiman Marcus Foundation, which supports youth arts education, and the remainder funds other nonprofit programs and services in local markets. Preston is part of a team that resolves licensing, indemnification and other legal tangles that may arise. It’s a fun project to be a part of, she says, even if most of the fantasy gifts fall a little outside even a general counsel’s budget.
Preston moved to Dallas in February 2013 after 11 years in the legal department at San Francisco-based Levi Strauss & Co. (first as associate general counsel and eventually as chief compliance officer).
“I joke to friends that I only work for companies that are more than 100 years old,” she said, describing her corporate hop as going “from jeans to Jimmy Choo shoes.”
Before moving to Dallas, Preston’s legal career had been based in the Bay Area. After earning her bachelor’s degree at Georgetown (where she was a member of the National Jesuit Honor Society) and law school, Preston worked for several firms, starting first in employment and ERISA law at Baker McKenzie, and eventually expanding her portfolio to include general litigation. During a stint at Latham & Watkins, she began to work for Barbara Caulfield, who had recently stepped down from a federal judgeship in the Northern District of California. When Caulfield moved to Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe, Preston followed her, becoming a litigation partner. She was with the firm until she decided to move in-house in 2002.
Though best known for its high-end department stores, Neiman Marcus is a retailing conglomerate that also owns a direct marketing division, Neiman Marcus Direct; the Last Call clearance stores; the Bergdorf Goodman department stores; German e-commerce business, mytheresa.com; and the home goods furniture outlet, Horchow.
With a lean department that includes only four other lawyers, Preston handles all legal operations, including sales, divestitures, licensing and employee benefits.
One of her first assignments after coming on as general counsel in February 2013 was to supervise the sale of Neiman Marcus to the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board and Ares Management.
“No two days are the same,” she said, but those days in the summer and fall when she is finalizing the fantasy book are more different than most.
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