We continue our monthly feature, “Upfront & Personal”, a column created by Rose Ors that brings “the person behind the title” to the forefront in interviews with some of the most influential members of the legal community.
Jan Kang, founder of the Women’s General Counsel Network and Acting General Counsel of wind turbine company Makani, spoke with Ms. Ors, the CEO and Founder of ClientSmart, about joyous memories, the value of networks, and the importance of being nice to your IT person.
Rose Ors: What childhood memory brings you joy?
Jan Kang: For me, it’s not a single memory. It’s basically any memory of my youngest brother, Steve, who was killed in a car accident when he was 28. In a family where my sister became a doctor, my other brother became an electrical engineer with an MBA, and I became a lawyer, Steve was the creative one. He was working towards a Master of Fine Arts in film at USC. He was funny and quirky and could make me laugh harder than anybody else.
Let me give you an example. My husband and I, and Steve, were going to an investment club meeting and stopped to buy beer to bring to the event. I didn’t have my purse, so I just grabbed my husband’s wallet. As luck would have it, the clerk asked me for my driver’s license. Since I didn’t have it, I yelled for Steve to come in and show his I.D. I also showed the clerk my husband’s I.D. and said, “Here’s my husband’s ID — he’s old.” Typical of Steve, he poked fun at my efforts, saying in front of the clerk, “Yes, but he ordered you from a catalog. I’m very glad you sent for me.” We laughed so hard then, and just retelling it now makes me happy.
Rose Ors: It’s wonderful that you can keep these types of moments alive.
Jan Kang: I do. What makes me really sad is when I think about how my children will never have the chance to meet Steve. They would have loved him so much, and he would have loved being an uncle to them.
Rose Ors: What have been the most significant moments in your career?
Jan Kang: There have been several. The first occurred years ago when I returned to the Bay area after spending a couple of years in Korea, leaving a position as a foreign legal consultant at Shin & Kim. Economic conditions were bad. I was having trouble finding a job and sent out 100 letters to Bay Area companies.
Founding the WGCN 10 years ago was huge. What started out as a dinner with five women is now approaching 1,000 members nationally.
The only interest I received was from Jim DeLong, who was Applied Materials’ Director of Legal at the time. Not only did he hire me as a contract lawyer, but he offered to pay me more than I asked. I will always remember how kind and compassionate Jim was to me and how that was the start of my in-house career.
Another significant moment arose from a seemingly mundane interaction with an IT help desk guy when I worked at Prism Solutions. It turns out that guy was Stephen Gillett, who was the co-founder and CEO of Chronicle. About six years ago when Stephen was COO of Symantec, he invited me to connect on LinkedIn, explaining how he knew me from Prism. A year or two later I ran into him at a fundraiser, and then in the summer of 2017, he reached out to me again on LinkedIn to arrange a discussion about joining Chronicle. So, the moral of this story is always be nice to your IT guy.
Rose Ors: I imagine the Women’s General Counsel Network (WGCN) also has been an important part of your professional journey.
Jan Kang: Founding the WGCN 10 years ago was huge. What started out as a dinner with five women is now approaching 1,000 members nationally. We are not a nonprofit. We do not collect dues and, except for last year’s 10-year anniversary events, we do not seek sponsors. Our remarkable success has happened purely as a volunteer-based organization.
Rose Ors: Talk about how it started.
Jan Kang: Laura Weinstein, then general counsel at Symphony Services and one of the original five, said she did not know what to expect at that first dinner. She described feeling like it was a blind date with four people. But it was an amazing first date. We immediately had so much to talk about and liked each other so much that we began to invite our colleagues in other companies to join us.
In these 10 years, friendships have developed, trusted relationships have been built, and people have gotten jobs through the network. I am forever grateful for what WGCN has given me — a sense of community and accomplishment. I am equally gratified that I helped create an organization that so many women find valuable professionally and personally.
Rose Ors: What is your favorite pastime and why?
Jan Kang: One of my favorite pastimes is doing the daily New York Times crossword puzzle. I’ve done the puzzle now for 625 consecutive days and counting. Ok, so I cheat a bit, but not that much! I enjoy the challenge of it, as well as the memories the old references call to mind. When else would you think about old TV shows like Hazel and Mr. Ed?
Rose: In another life, what career would you find interesting to pursue?
Jan Kang: Two careers come to mind, both of which I have sampled and found to be less romantic than I imagined. The first is archeology. I attended an archeology camp when I was in high school. It was a lot of hard and tedious labor involving scraping away layers of dirt in a three-foot square and rarely finding something significant.
I also had an interest in writing. When I was in Korea, before joining Shin & Kim, I was a journalist and wrote two articles for the Arts and News section of the Asian Wall Street Journal. When I was looking for a job after returning to the States, I started to write a screenplay. While the notion of writing was appealing, I found it to be very lonely and isolating.
There are a lot of people who seem to have career aspirations for me. Lauren Segal, who is a friend and another one of the original WGCN five, says the phases of life are “learn, earn, and serve.” I feel like now I may be approaching the serve phase. I don’t think I want to be an elected official — the idea of asking people for money seems unsavory to me. However, I might consider doing something in the public sector or government. Stay tuned.
Rose Ors: Aside from legal acumen, how can outside law firms add value to their corporate clients?
Jan Kang: This may seem like an odd word choice, but what I want are law firms that delight me. Delight can take many forms. It could be avoiding negative surprises such as showing up at a meeting with way more people than necessary and then charging me for it.
It could be understanding that diversity matters to me and staffing my matters with a diverse client service team. It could be sharing with me, without divulging confidential information, a solution they successfully employed with another client in a situation similar to mine.
To sum up, I want to feel like they have my company and my internal client’s best interest in mind.
This interview has been edited and condensed by Rose Ors.