The assistant general counsel for PVH, parent company of Calvin Klein and Tommy Hilfiger, on working at a luxury company, teaching fashion law and prioritising what’s important
Jeffrey Hellman is senior vice president and assistant general counsel at PVH and an adjunct professor at Fordham University School of Law. He is based in New York.
You’ve been at PVH for more than half of your legal career; tell us about how you got there and your work at the company.
I was majored in finance in college and saw how raising money can be the lifeblood of a company, and how acquisitions play a major role in the growth of companies. As a young associate at Paul Weiss, I was fortunate to have a great learning experience working on significant transactions and with many smart people where I honed my skills as the corporate law ‘me’. It was there that I decided I wanted to be more involved with the day-to-day aspects of a company. After working in-house at a medical device company, the opportunity to work at PVH presented itself and I made the move in 2007.
How did the pandemic affect PVH?
For us, like so many businesses, the pandemic was an adjustment. Stores were closed. Big retail chains were closed. Several of our business partners filed for bankruptcy.
As I mentioned, raising money is important to the lifeblood of a company. We saw that very directly when the pandemic hit. In 2020, our company undertook two bond offerings, a new credit agreement and an amendment to our existing credit agreement. Given the slowdown in certain economic sectors, it was really important to have cash on hand.
There is a theory that companies should raise money not when they need to but when they can. As a result of the pandemic, many companies have begun to take this position.
You are also an adjunct professor at Fordham University School of Law teaching a course in fashion law and finance. Tell us about the course.
Together with another lawyer, I teach a course on the legal issues related to forming, financing and operating a fashion company.
The course is incredibly helpful for the students and equips them with the knowledge they need on the legal side of a fashion operation. We bring in special guests as part of the course such as PVH’s general counsel Mark Fischer who for the last four years has taught a session on compliance and how to build a compliance program with me.
It’s very invigorating to work with young people at the beginning of their careers and it’s also educational for me to learn from our guests.
What advice do you give to these young lawyers?
Generally, the advice I give is that no matter what, take care of yourself, get sleep, exercise, eat well and talk with positive-minded people.
My advice for lawyers is to try to learn as much as you can, even if it’s not for the immediate project at hand. Showing a great desire to learn is one of the greatest impacts you can make for those you work for and want to work for.
I tell lawyers who work at companies that it’s important to have a coherent understanding of the business side. A mistake I made earlier in my career was that I thought that if I had good technical knowledge of my area, then everything would be fine. When I started with PVH, I understood that I had to do as much as possible to understand the business, the contracts, the acquisitions and so forth. That is key.
And, if you wake up happy every day, you will be more inclined to make a positive impact and more prepared to deal with the challenges of the day.
What makes you happy?
Many things. I enjoy teaching. In addition to the fashion law and finance course, I have taught at the School of the New York Times Summer Academy, teaching high school students about law and its role in our lives. I’ve been a basketball coach – a form of teaching – for my son’s team, and it was meaningful to spend time with him that way. The first year we had an undefeated season, but the second year didn’t go so well, which was a learning experience.
I am also committed to pro bono service and involved with the Fashion Scholarship Fund, helping this non-profit with issues such as compliance, employment, real estate and contracts matters. I am also involved with Comprehensive Youth Development, a charity that partners with New York City high schools to help prepare students for life after high school. Not all of these students go to college and those who do are often the first person in their family to do so.
With a busy career, how do you fit all these things in?
You can do almost anything you want – you just can’t do everything. It’s an issue of prioritising what activities outside of work you want to do. For some, it’s exercise. For others, it’s going to shows or being involved in certain organizations.
For me, it’s teaching the fashion law class in the spring semester and my involvement with the non-profit boards.
Working for a fashion company, do you consider yourself to be something of a fashionista?
No. But my wife is very fashionable and makes great suggestions for me. Also, my daughter wants to be a fashion designer, so I sometimes run choices by her.
Cocoon, Emilio Pucci, L’Oréal, Manolo Blahnik and McKinsey & Co are among the top brands that will be represented at Luxury Law Summit Europe, being held at the British Museum, London, on 22 September.
Click here to read the programme and here to book online. For delegate enquiries email firstname.lastname@example.org and to ask about sponsorship opportunities, email email@example.com. The deadline for entries to the Luxury Law Awards is 5 August. Click here for the full list of the categories and here for instructions on how to enter. To view last year’s winners, click here.