By  on August 11, 2009

Marvin Fenster, legal counsel for R.H. Macy & Co. for more than 40 years, died Aug. 6 at the Regents Park rehabilitation and nursing facility in Boca Raton, Fla. A funeral service was held Sunday in Manhattan at the Frank E. Campbell funeral chapel.

Fenster was 91.

He was born in Brooklyn, graduated from Cornell and Columbia Law School, became a member of the New York Bar in 1942, and served as a first lieutenant in the Army. Fenster joined Macy’s in 1948 and retired as senior vice president, general counsel and corporate secretary in 1989. Throughout his career, he was a close adviser to the chief executives and senior teams of Macy’s.

He could be outspoken at meetings and was said to have a blustery and argumentative side. Once, then-chief executive Edward Finkelstein urged Fenster to block the publication of a coffee-table book about the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade by a former employee. Fenster said he could not. When asked why, he replied: “Ed, have you ever heard of something called the Constitution?”

However, under the veneer of a master actor, Fenster was quite analytical, thoughtful and powerful in argument. Fenster was a key player in Macy’s leveraged buyout in the late Eighties, starting with the seminal memorandum he crafted in 1986 on strategies and alternatives for strengthening Macy’s and unlocking the value of its assets. Back then, Macy’s assets were diversified. Aside from the stores and merchandising operations, Macy’s held extensive real estate, from malls and stores to warehouses and land, as well as having a credit operation. The memo was instrumental in the board’s decision to pursue the buyout with the participation of a few hundred key employees. However, the debt from the buyout compounded by costs associated with store acquisitions and difficulties meeting projections pushed Macy’s into bankruptcy in 1992. Federated Department Stores Inc. bought Macy’s out of bankruptcy two years later and ultimately became Macy’s Inc.

Fenster is survived by his daughter, Julie Fenster; son Mark Fenster, and his companion of many years, Ruth Bachrach.

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