Last night, friends and alumni of the University of Michigan were able to listen to Yoon C. Lee, a Michigan alum (B.Eng./M.Eng, ME) himself, talk about the future of technology and the importance of innovation. As Senior Vice President at Samsung, Lee has seen the technology that’s sure to create great changes in America today. After completing his Bachelor’s and Master’s in Mechanical Engineering at the University of Michigan, Yoon C. Lee has worked his way from a management position at Accenture up the one of the highest roles in electronics innovations today.
We had a chance to sit down with Lee last week, and here’s what he had to say about his time at Michigan, his advice on startups, and the future of technology:
Q: Tell us about your role at Samsung.
Yoon C. Lee: I’m responsible for the product innovation team (PIT). The mission of PIT is to better understand consumer insights. We then reflect that to new products across all product categories. It’s product architecting with a heavy focus on data, insight, concept generation & value propositioning. I also oversee both consumer electronics and mobile business. The second piece of my job is heading up content & services for North America, which means I’m responsible for developing content and services that can enhance our product for North American customers. A good example of what we do is VR; my team manages the VR store and its contents.
Q: What are some of your favorite places on U-M’s Campus?
YCL: My favorite building is GG Brown; that was where I spent the majority of my time and burned all my midnight oil studying. I was always eating at Chicago Dog, which was one of my other favorite places on campus. And you’ve gotta love the Law School; it’s one of the most beautiful buildings at Michigan.
Q: What’s something every Michigan student should be studying?
YCL: When it comes to engineering, it’s not a specific something you’ve learned in a course. The things you learn in a classroom are needed and crucial, but something students should really focus on is storytelling. From my point of view, we’re all in sales positions; you could be selling your idea, your product, your anything. Those who know how to tell a good story will succeed. I believe instructors have the same need. Don’t just examine students based on a lesson.
Q: What’s the biggest myth surrounding product innovation?
YCL: That it comprises 90% engineering and 10% other works. That’s definitely a myth. Engineering is an enabling skills and not limitations to what can or cannot be done in problem solving.. Problem solving takes time to craft and understand which tools should be used and engineering skills are only a part of toolset required to solve problems.
Q: What is the biggest issue when working with startups?
YCL: There’s a big difference in what is market-ready for big companies versus what is market-ready for small companies. If you’re a smaller company, you’re more eager to put it out to market. But that passion and eagerness can comprise what is commercially ready. We see a lot of hardware failing and being delayed in that area. A big challenge for startups is setting the right expectation for what’s commercially ready.
Q: What’s something you wish you would’ve known while you were a student?
YCL: I had a hard time imagining what I could do while I was learning. I wish I would’ve had a better big picture on what mechanical engineering can do and the role we can play in an industry as a whole. Having that perspective in mind would’ve allowed me to refine my idea of what I wanted to do/be. As a student, it’s hard to lift your head up to evaluate what you want to be and understand opportunities but I recommend doing this from time to time while in school.
Q: What should the Michigan community be watching for in 2017 with Samsung?
YCL: 2016 was particularity difficult because of the Note 7 recalls, and we learned a tremendous amount from that. We learned a lot about what we need to change to not make a mistake like that again. 2017 will showcase our efforts to be more meaningful and our desire to add value to society as a whole. In 2017, the big industry-paradigm is surrounding intelligence; we’ll be looking at how to best capture that in our work.
A big thank you to Yoon C. Lee for taking the time to chat with CFE and our alumni network. If you’re interested in hearing more speakers like Lee, be sure to follow CFE on Twitter and Facebook to stay in the loop about upcoming events and speaker series!