Claudia Brea-Stevens – 3Sixty Duty Free
The oversight didn’t happen on her watch, but it might have been among the factors that led to Claudia Brea-Stevens becoming 3Sixty Duty Free’s first general counsel in August 2021. A year or so earlier, the global leader in duty-free specialty and inflight shops had its customs license expire at El Dorado International Airport in Bogota, Colombia.
“Our operations there were shut down for two months,” she explains from Miami headquarters. “It lapsed because nobody was keeping track.”
Everything’s since been accounted for, with Brea-Stevens’ initiatives including a close watch on all matters contracting, initially through Microsoft Excel and now with LinkSquares. She says the artificial intelligence-powered system is more efficient for a company active on so many shores.
All documents upload into the cloud and are available as PDFs for authorized personnel. Details such as expiration dates automatically highlight and with everything in a calendar, it’s easy to see when a contract nears renewal time.
Most encouraging to Brea-Stevens, the brass didn’t press her to justify the expense. Cybersecurity was Chief Information Officer Carsten Schlimm’s primary concern and once he was satisfied that this was an added layer of protection that also would enhance efficiency, he gave her the green light to include LinkSquares in the legal budget. One year later, the project seems well vindicated.
“With the volume of contracts we have, it was so overwhelming,” says Brea-Stevens, who remains a one-woman legal department. “But I’m proud of myself. I’ve managed to do this all by myself and in the last two years we haven’t had any more issues.”
Business as usual
The past few years had been hard on the company with so few travelers crossing borders and thus lacking reason to patronize a duty-free shop. 3Sixty Duty Free having around 120 stores on five continents meant a lot of underutilized properties and labor issues.
Brea-Stevens acknowledges it was a gamble when a recruiter beckoned her to leave a seemingly secure position as associate general counsel at the Miami office of IBT Group, to lead legal here. Still, she anticipated a turnaround even while other employees were being furloughed.
Whatever was happening in other departments, there was much to do in legal, which had been overseen by an external general counsel. It made sense, the bosses reckoned, to finally bring that position in-house, and Brea-Stevens had quite the workload awaiting her.
“COVID had us having to renegotiate a lot of contracts and seek rent relief,” she says. “But we were able to turn that negative into a positive.”
While negotiating joint venture and shareholder agreements with airports worldwide is Brea Stevens’ major responsibility, governance and compliance are a close second as she’s also corporate secretary. She’s reshaped legal processes and procedures, which she reminds is expected by auditors and is essential to a company’s overall well-being.
“The driver was we didn’t have these before and any company can tell you that these procedures are necessary for corporate governance, effective review of the business and effective risk-management,” she says. “A lot of our vendors require these policies to be in place. Some wouldn’t sell to us if we didn’t have them.”
Then there are personnel issues stemming from 3Sixty Duty Free having retail or contract employees and the labor rules and regulations often differing by jurisdiction. The human resources department often solicits Brea-Stevens’ advice, and there always are variables—3Sixty Duty Free having some labor harmony agreements and unions involved at some airports.
As the only in-house lawyer, Brea-Stevens must outsource some functions, including litigation, for which she depends on local counsel. Early in her career she distinguished herself in this area as an associate with the Miami office of Ogletree Deakins, but she’s glad to have moved into the more collaborative area of in-house law.
Litigation came first
It took much doing for Brea-Stevens to get this far—she moved to Florida from the Dominican Republican with her family as a 7-year-old with a younger sister in tow. But everyone’s acclimated to their new country, she says.
Brea-Stevens earned her poli-sci undergrad and law degrees from the University of Miami and began her career in 2012 at Rivero Mestre, a boutique commercial litigation firm in Coral Gables, Florida. In 2014, she started at Ogletree Deakins. Fluent in Spanish and English, she immersed with the firm’s global practice group, representing many multinationals with Latin American subsidiaries. Her two years with the firm also introduced her to HR policies—if, for example, an executive was being dismissed at a Mexican company, she’d review the severance package.
She might still be litigating had she not given birth to the first of her two daughters in 2017. While the firm was willing to accommodate her needs, she commenced with looking in-house and taking the position with IBT Group, a Spanish-headquartered builder of infrastructure for the private and public sectors.
Though Brea-Stevens had little experience in transactional matters, she learned fast, advising the general counsel and management on business related to their Latin American and U.S. operations. All that contract negotiating and drafting would serve her well four years later with 3Sixty Duty Free.
“It got me out of my comfort zone,” she says. “IBT gave me confidence and the chance to prove I was more capable than I had thought.”
She hasn’t been hurting for confidence since then, joining 3Sixty Duty Free at a seemingly precarious time but helping position it for a return to normalcy. Recent times have been encouraging with last fall’s opening of a new shop in Dallas Fort Worth International Airport, and more planned elsewhere.
She’s making the most of her opportunity while assessing her future and her personal life as a mother of 7- and 6-year-olds. In January she was welcomed into Lawyers of Distinction, a nationwide legal fraternity for those who have distinguished themselves in a very competitive landscape.
“I’m always looking to grow professionally,” she says. “I like the collaborative model of working in-house and with different business units and novel issues.”
View this feature in the Vanguard Summer II 2023 Edition here.
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