Associate General Counsel, Sharp Electronics Corporation
We sat down with AWE Accelerator Megan Pierson, Associate General Counsel at Sharp Electronics Corporation, the U.S. subsidiary of Sharp Corporation. In her role as a legal generalist, Megan provides support to the B2C and manufacturing businesses as well as the corporate finance, facilities, HR, and IT groups.
Thank you for taking the time to speak with us, Megan. We’ve had an interesting journey. Can you please tell me about your start in politics and how it led you to where you are today?
Absolutely! I spent several years working on campaigns and in government in New York, including serving as Senator Chuck Schumer’s Director of Community Affairs. Before he became the man he is today, the Majority Leader of the Senate, he was known as the other Senator from New York, overshadowed by New York’s more famous Senator, Hillary Clinton. My job with Senator Schumer was to reach out to various communities, mostly in New York City, and make sure that we were listening to their concerns. I learned how to listen to and help lots of different types of people and groups.
Did you ever have interest in running for office?
No, though I reached some success at a very young age in the political field, I wanted to have more of a career, rather than a series of short term campaign jobs, so I went back to school and enrolled at Columbia Law school. I don’t like change very much and going to law school was very scary. I live within a mile of the house I grew up in, but I knew I had to pivot no matter how afraid I was.
Do you think that’s critical for success—the ability to take risks and pivot?
Yes, by nature, lawyers are risk averse. We’re able to think things through but do we typically take the risk? I had a great mentor in politics who said, “When you reach a fork in the road you’re never going to know which path leads where so you have to have faith that everything will be okay.” I’ve held onto that advice.
What were some of your experiences as a young woman in the legal profession?
In my early career, I dealt with impostor syndrome because, a lot of time you’re sitting in a courtroom with 100 lawyers waiting to argue their motions and maybe 20 of those 100 were women, probably less. You just have to get over your fears and have confidence. You’re not putting on a black suit and playing a lawyer, you are a lawyer.
Prior to joining Sharp, you worked as a commercial litigator at a top ranked American Law 100 law firm. Can you tell me about that role?
I concentrated on complex litigations, commercial real estate disputes, and employment law. I worked in that role for 10 years before I pivoted again and joined Sharp as in-house counsel.
How was that transition, from a law firm to being in-house?
Interestingly enough, everyone in the legal department at Sharp are former litigators. Fundamentally, our job as an in-house counsel is to spot issues and to spot risk and advise on it and I think my boss recognizes that having the background of actually doing litigation and seeing how contracts go wrong, how deals go wrong, and how you end up in court would be an asset to the team.
We’re full circle back to lawyers being risk averse.
(Laughs) We’re not the “no department”. We don’t stop projects, rather, we advise on what risks exist and what can be done to protect the company. I regularly provide guidance on issues such as compliance, antitrust, privacy, data security, and marketing and I also draft, review and negotiate complex commercial agreements, and support our acquisitions.
What is the motivating force in your life?
Fundamentally, I’m a problem solver and I think that’s probably why I ended up practicing law. If someone in my life says they have a problem, I have to remind myself to be empathetic first because my default is to consider how I can assist them in fixing their problem. I love puzzles. It’s what I do at Sharp, identifying the issue and counseling the business people.
What were you looking for when you joined AWE? And what did you find?
Honestly, I was super skeptical at first because I participated in several mentorship and sponsorship programs years ago and thought I’d gotten all that I could out of them. But what I found was that AWE was nothing like those programs. Other programs are so focused on early career or so focused on getting to the C-Suite but AWE Accelerator was a network of mid-career people like me. Taking an hour out of my week to connect with equally professional women reminded me to expand my idea of what mentorship and sponsorship is. I’m grateful to our CFO, Moonsun Park, for sponsoring me.
Do you have a secret talent or aptitude for something besides law?
I needlepoint and this is what got me through law school! In law school you read such dense material that I didn’t want to do anything else with my free time. My local needlepoint store is run by a retired General Counsel and I admire that pivot.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.