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Elena Stein, General Counsel, Americas at Dyson

Growing up with a dad in corporate real estate meant Elena Stein moved around a lot as a child. Until her early teens, she lived in Michigan, then spent three years in Pennsylvania. Midway through high school, Elena’s family made their final move — settling in the Chicago suburbs, where Elena attended Mount Assisi Academy, an all-girls high school in Lemont, Ill.

Elena didn’t always know she would become a lawyer one day. In fact, with her keen interest in science, she expected to find success in a medical profession, possibly as a dentist.

But she found the environment at Mount Assisi to be new, interesting and inspirational. She felt like she could try anything without the threat of judgment. She joined the speech and debate team, participated in mock trials and was a member of the drama club. These experiences were highly rewarding, and they planted a seed that would begin to grow into a path toward law.

Still considering a career in medicine after high school, Elena enrolled at Benedictine University in Lisle, Ill., majoring in bio-chemistry and eventually entering the school’s pre-dental program.

Despite excelling academically, her dad sat her down one day and pointed out that her favorite classes were law classes, which she was taking as electives. He reminded her that she spent her childhood glued to the TV when Law & Order came on. And he applauded her for her fantastic work on the high school speech and debate team.

Then he dared her to take the LSAT — just to see how she would score. So she did — and she did very well. And that changed the trajectory of the rest of her life.

Having moved around a lot as a child, Elena wanted to set down roots in Chicago, so attending a law school that was Chicago-centric and boasted a strong network of Chicago lawyers and judges was a priority. She found that John Marshall Law School (now the University of Illinois Chicago School of law) fit the bill.

Elena, who had her sights set on a law department career, graduated law school during a tough time in the U.S. economy. In fact, one of her law professors had warned students that getting a job in-house out of law school would be a long shot.

Still, she landed her first gig at a startup, where she navigated a wide range of matters. The role was formative, and although her career took a turn into private practice, it set her on the path to become the General Counsel, Americas of household appliances company Dyson.

We talked to Elena about her law career, landing the in-house role at Dyson and her quick ascension to GC seat.

Please tell me more about your career path after law school.

After a couple of years at the startup, I worked at a small law firm. There, I got some good in-court experience. With my goal really being to go in-house, the law firm helped me broaden my skill set.

I eventually went in-house with a software company that produced compliance software for property and casualty insurers across the country. Moving into that role was a very big shift in terms of working hand-in-hand with a business client. It gave me an up-close look at insurance laws and regulations and how companies can work with regulators in each state.

That role really helped me learn about how law departments operate. I stayed there for about three years. Then Dyson came knocking.

How did Dyson find you, and why is it a great fit?

Dyson reached out through LinkedIn. During the interview process, the hiring manager said for this in-house role, they needed someone whose skillset allowed them to juggle a large range of matters. They needed someone who was self-assured enough that whatever the ask is, that person could serve the appropriate information and answer. I think that my diversified background helped me land the job.

When I first started it in 2021, I was hired as senior corporate counsel. Within nine months, I was promoted to associate GC. Then about four months later, I was promoted to interim GC. That was due to the exit of my predecessor John Curtin, our GC at the time. I was in that interim GC role for six months, then I was formalized as GC in October 2023.

Congratulations on your promotion! Was the quick ascension up the ladder planned, or were you the right person at the right time when opportunity knocked?

It was a little bit of both. I worked very closely with John. He was a mentor and important advisor for me. He saw my capabilities and motivation. He knew where I was looking to go and prepared me to succeed him when he moved up and out.

The timing was quicker than what we thought it would be. But he had mentored and supported me in stepping into this role purposely since I started working at Dyson.

What are some of your biggest priorities as GC, Americas?

First and foremost, building out and structuring the team needed to support the local business and their objectives. Dyson is a very successful and fast-moving company. It’s important for my team and for Dyson that we plan appropriately to meet the ask when the times comes.

On top of that, we have big objectives lined up for 2024. I want to make sure every member of my team is appropriately placed, supported and upskilled to meet that need.

What do you love most about being an in-house lawyer in general?

What’s attractive about being in-house is you get to work day-to-day with the business, and you get to see the finished product. You see the idea when it’s first conceived, you help formulate the plan, and you support the plan as action. Then you see it through to completion and the impact it has.

In a law firm, your time is requested for specific periods but you rarely get to see the finished product.

There is a lot of satisfaction in seeing something all the way through. You are part of a team that your business clients rely on for support. That’s fulfilling. When you have phenomenal business clients, you want to see them succeed. When they succeed, that’s your success too. It’s a team environment and we’re all here for the same goals.

Please tell me about the mentors you had growing up in your legal career.

I would have to say that my strongest mentor is John Curtin, Dyson’s GC before I stepped into the role. He still maintains that mentorship support. It was pivotal working under a leader that was willing and capable to motivate and support me, as well as identify my ability to move up and succeed. He facilitated my growth.

He has been a fantastic mentor, especially when with regard to managing a team, working with business clients and getting down to the roots when you’re thinking about your overall business objectives. It’s hard to find someone in the workplace who has all those qualities.

You recently became a board member for the Illinois chapter of the American Cancer Society. How did that opportunity come about and why is it important to you?

When I was at Benedictine, I was a co-chair on the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life Committee for four years. Since then, I lost a very dear family member to breast cancer. I had been thinking about how I could honor her memory. So, when the opportunity came up, I knew it was right for me.

What’s your life like outside of work. What are some of your hobbies? Family?

I’m close with my sister. We are very active, and we recently picked up scuba diving. Now, all my trips have to have some type of scuba diving element — which is great because that also means beaches and sun.

I really like to focus on my physical and mental health. I run, strength train and do yoga. I always make time for the gym. It’s very important for managing stress.

I also love live music and Chicago is a great city to enjoy that. I really love enjoying everything Chicago has to offer.

What advice would you give a young lawyer who wants to be a GC someday?

Keep an open mind. Take every opportunity and slow down to recognize the opportunities in front of you. If someone wants to meet for coffee, go. Networking is still so important. Find the people who recognize your talent and want to steer you in the right direction.

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