Target Names Capitol Hill Veteran Zabel New General Counsel (1)

Target Corp. said Thursday it’s promoting senior vice president Matthew Zabel to executive vice president and general counsel as the company seeks continued growth in the face of rising wages and higher freight costs.

Zabel, a former Justice Department lawyer and chief of staff to Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), has worked at Target since 2010. He most recently led an internal Covid-19 task force, the company said in a statement.

In his new role, Zabel will be a member of the senior leadership team and oversee legal operations at the company, according to Target.

Zabel’s promotion follows the company’s forecast in March for an operating profit increase, defying Wall Street expectations for declines in that metric. Target also said it would add $300 million in wage and benefit expenses at a time when shipping cost growth and inflation threaten all retailers.

The retail company employed about 100 in-house lawyers as of 2018, according to a profile of the legal group that year by trade publication Corporate Counsel.

Zabel spent his first seven years at the Minneapolis-based company overseeing government affairs efforts at the state and federal level. In 2017, Target promoted him to senior vice president of enterprise risk. Three years later, he added oversight of employee and labor relations to his portfolio.

Zabel led an in-house team of lawyers, paralegals, and other professionals handling employment litigation, labor relations, and field investigations in support of the company’s roughly 40,000 employees, according to his LinkedIn profile.

He took on that former role as Target and its hometown of Minneapolis were reeling from the fallout of George Floyd’s death earlier that year. Target was scrutinized for its close ties to police in the Twin Cities area. The company announced plans to spend $2 billion by 2025 on products from Black-owned businesses.

James Rowader Jr., a 26-year Target veteran who preceded Zabel as the company’s top lawyer for employee and labor relations, was appointed by Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey to become city attorney in August 2020. That same month Target appointed former Sidley Austin corporate partner Christine Leahy to its board.

Legal Group Changes

Zabel in his new general counsel position will continue to report to the company’s chief legal and risk officer, Don Liu. Target has not had a general counsel in recent memory, said company spokesman Joe Poulos.

James Hale held the general counsel title prior to his retirement from Target in 2004. Hale was succeeded by chief legal officer Timothy Baer, who retired in 2016 after helping Target resolve claims related to a consumer data breach, a matter in which the retailer is still litigating with insurers.

Target hired Liu, a former top lawyer at Xerox Corp., to replace Baer. Liu spoke with Bloomberg Law last year about the company’s plans to use efficiency, diversity, and risk tolerance metrics in deciding how to streamline its outside legal panel.

Liu has responsibility for all legal, corporate governance and security, government affairs, and risk and compliance matters at Target.

The company disclosed in a proxy statement filed last month that Liu earned more than $4.3 million in total compensation during 2021. That’s a slight decline from the nearly $4.7 million and $5.2 million he received in 2020 and 2019, respectively.

The risk management function previously led by Zabel has been consolidated with government affairs under senior vice president Isaac Reyes, Poulos said. Reyes, who is not a lawyer, reports to Liu. Target’s government affairs team hired attorney and director of government affairs Chanell Autrey in January from Starbucks Corp.