When Sue Lee joined Entegris as its general counsel and corporate secretary in 2016, she became the company’s second general counsel in its fifty-year history. Since then, she has introduced innovative legal practices and business strategies while providing an incredible range of experience and expertise. In fact, innovation is exactly what attracted her to the company.
“I was always drawn to technology and emerging markets,” Lee says. “The most successful companies are always innovating. To serve our clients, lawyers need to constantly evolve and embrace change as a natural state.”
Change is something that certainly has been a constant throughout Lee’s life. She immigrated to the United States from Taiwan at a young age. As a child, she learned English by going to the library, reading, paying close attention to pop culture, and by her own admission, watching a lot of TV. She credits her career to the determination of her mother, a former school teacher in Taiwan, who had Lee moved from remedial English into regular classes.
“If I had continued on the remedial track, the instruction I received and the expectations placed on me would have been completely different,” she says. “I learned from an early age the fundamental importance of language and the value of each individual word. Legal terms are often complicated and usually not intuitive, so lawyering frequently requires translating text for yourself and your client.”
After graduating and earning a bachelor’s and a JD from Harvard, Lee began working as outside counsel, where she made sure to learn about different industries. At Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati, Lee saw Google reinvent the search engine industry and Pixar set the standard for computer animation. At Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton, she worked on matters for Under Armour, which created the performance athletic wear market, and McDonald’s, which constantly innovates to keep up with changing customer tastes.
These experiences made her realize she wanted more opportunities to work on the full life cycle of clients’ businesses. This led her to in-house roles at Genzyme, where she witnessed the ability of technology to save lives. Then at MTV and its spin-off Harmonix Music Systems—the developers of the video games Guitar Hero, Rock Band, and Dance Central—she saw how technology can transform the way people experience music. And at CYREN, she saw that cybersecurity protection requires constant innovation to fend off malicious threats.
One of Lee’s most challenging and rewarding experiences was helping to guide the creation of MTV’s The Beatles: Rock Band video game. “Economics are often a project’s primary driver, but The Beatles: Rock Band was about how we could best honor the band’s legacy,” she recalls. “We had to gain the trust of the two surviving Beatles, the estates, the record labels, and the publishing houses. There was much more to it than just licensing the songs. It was an enormous responsibility.”
The high-profile project carried tremendous risk since it was the debut of electronic distribution of The Beatles’ catalog. Even iTunes had been denied access at the time.
Ultimately, the game was a huge success. The New York Times stated, “It may be the most important video game yet made.”
Lee loves that her son, who was born during development of the game, is listed in the credits. Interestingly, her experience as a mother also came into play with LEGO Rock Band. She made sure risks with phthalates—potentially dangerous compounds in plastics—were addressed because young children might put the game’s microphone in their mouths. It’s that kind of shrewd judgment Lee is bringing with her to Entegris.
Since Lee joined the company, Entegris’s stock price and market capitalization has doubled, but the company isn’t resting on its laurels. It is still focused on trying to push itself to do better and to be better. To that end, Lee has been given free rein to take the law department to the next level.
When she joined Entegris, she assessed the needs of the different stakeholders and set out to map the most efficient delivery of legal services. For example, she challenged the company to think about how to support its Asian business. Lee studied the region by business demand, markets, revenue sources, and other metrics to develop a strategy to support the business and its needs.
“Asia isn’t one monolithic state. It’s many different countries with distinct cultures, histories, and legal systems,” she explains. “Even Chinese speaking countries are very different. We can’t assume because Mandarin Chinese is spoken in China, Taiwan, and Singapore that we can support them the same way.”
By focusing on differentiated business and customer needs, the legal department improved its ability to provide real value to the company and the overall quality of its service. It also led to increasing the department’s diversity, which is now 75 percent women and 40 percent people of color.
This is typical of Lee’s approach to most challenges. “Lawyers are among the best equipped to tackle the most vexing issues,” she says. “We are trained to think analytically and to tease out the logic of issues of first impression and issues that haven’t come up before. In that way, law is innovation.”
Photo: Randy Brogen