Phillips 66 Taps Norfolk Southern Legal Chief for Top Law Role

Phillips 66 is getting a new general counsel, Vanessa Sutherland, from Norfolk Southern Corp., where she was chief legal officer, recruiting firm Major, Lindsey & Africa said Tuesday.

Sutherland, who has worked at Norfolk Southern since 2018, will take over the role being vacated by retiring longtime legal chief Paula Johnson. She will assume Johnson’s titles of executive vice president of legal and government affairs, general counsel, and corporate secretary.

She was the “natural choice” with experience as chair of the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board and divisional general counsel at the U.S. Department of Transportation, said Pete Boerner, a partner and member of the in-house counsel recruiting team at MLA in Houston that helped place Sutherland.

Houston-based Phillips 66 disclosed in a securities filing last year that Johnson would step down at the end of 2021. She earned almost $5 million in total compensation from the company during fiscal 2020, per Phillips 66’s most recent proxy statement.

Johnson owns roughly $9 million in Phillips 66 stock, according to Bloomberg data. Phillips 66 appointed her its legal chief in 2012, the same year the company was formed following a spin-off of the downstream refining and marketing business of oil and gas producer ConocoPhillips Inc.

Norfolk Southern promoted vice president of law Lorri Kleine to its top legal role as of Jan. 10, according to an internal memo. Kleine has worked in-house at Norfolk Southern since 1994. Prior to her last promotion two years ago, Kleine served as senior general counsel for workforce, properties, and insurance risk management.

Norfolk Southern’s most recent proxy statement shows that Sutherland was not one of the Norfolk, Va.-based transportation company’s seven current or former highest paid executives in 2020. Norfolk Southern elevated Sutherland to the level of executive vice president on April 1 of that year.

Sutherland currently owns more than $400,000 in Norfolk Southern stock, according to Bloomberg data.

During her time at Norfolk Southern, Sutherland told trade publication Corporate Counsel in 2020 that she helped the company trim $2 million in outside counsel litigation fees in one year by using data and legal analytics to improve efficiency.

Sutherland spoke with Bloomberg Law in 2020 about her work with the Black General Counsel 2025 Initiative, an affinity group seeking to increase the number of Black law department leaders within Fortune 1000 companies.

Melba Hughes, a leader of MLA’s national in-house diversity practice who helped place Sutherland at Phillips 66, was earlier this month named an executive director of the legal recruitment firm’s in-house counsel team.