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Solhee Lee, SDM ’12: systems thinking for the next generation

Solhee Lee, SDM '12
Solhee Lee, SDM '12
Photo: Kathy Tarantola Photography

Solhee Lee, 31, is expecting her first child in May. When Lee’s daughter grows older, the SDM fellow says she will explain what it means to develop technology that makes vehicles safer. She’ll relate her experience as a corporate leader in Asia’s home appliances sector. And she’ll instill in her daughter, starting at an early age, the importance of systems thinking.

“I hope she’ll be able to consider the big picture when making important decisions, whether professional or personal,” Lee says. “I want to teach her not just how to solve a problem, but how to approach it and visualize it in different ways.”

Lee says that the need to practice systems thinking emerged gradually in her career as she grew into a dual-role as an engineer and a business leader. In 2004, she earned her BS in mechanical engineering from Hanyang University, one of South Korea’s top three colleges. Soon afterward, she joined the auto industry, designing and developing powertrain sensors for Siemens VDO Automotive.

Though Lee didn’t have formal business training, she was quickly promoted to management roles and learned to lead by experience. When Siemens promoted her to project manager, she led a task force and interfaced with clients that included General Motors. Under Lee’s leadership, the group reduced the costs of a major product recall by 30 percent.

In 2008, Lee’s stellar leadership record earned her an assistant manager spot in Samsung Electronics’ Kitchen Marketing Division, where she oversaw the company’s kitchen appliance sales in Russia, Ukraine and Belarus. This provided a broad view of the product-development cycle, which encompassed engineering, sales and advertising.

To understand the cycle from a more holistic perspective, Lee began searching for graduate schools. “I wanted to study alongside others who shared my depth of career experience,” Lee says. She chose SDM instead of a traditional MBA program because it provided this environment, along with a unique academic focus.

Courses such as "Human Side of Technology" broadened Lee’s perspective in a way that transcends the classroom. For example, crowded airports are now intriguing to her; while passing through security, she thinks about the flight crews, Boeing jets and landing strips that represent puzzle pieces in a complex system.

Thanks to SDM’s flexible options, Lee will continue her studies after she gives birth to her daughter. “After my delivery this summer, I'll be able to take distance-learning classes from home, which is really helpful,” Lee says. “Without this flexibility, I wouldn't be able to go back to school.”

After she graduates from SDM, Lee will help companies develop product management systems and procedures. Though her career is still evolving, she knows how she may summarize it for her daughter one day. “I want her to know that I’ve enjoyed the challenge of exploring unfamiliar fields,” Lee says, “and I’ve never been afraid to push myself beyond the limits.”

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