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Spotlight on Commerce: Malcolm Lee, Director of the Office of Policy and Strategic Planning

Portrait of Lee

Ed. Note: This post is part of the Spotlight on Commerce series, which highlights members of the Department of Commerce who are contributing to the president's vision of an America Built to Last.

I am honored to serve as Counselor to the Secretary of Commerce, where I support Secretary Bryson and lead his Office of Policy and Strategic Planning.  I direct a team of policy advisors that works across the Department and Administration to implement President Obama’s America Built to Last blueprint through focus on a few key priorities:  increasing exports and investment, and strengthening U.S. manufacturing and innovation.  As Secretary Bryson has said, our mission at Commerce is to help American businesses “Build it here and sell it everywhere.”  As part of Secretary Locke and then Secretary Bryson’s senior staff, I have focused my time on economic relations with China, U.S. manufacturing and innovation, and cybersecurity.

I joined Commerce from Microsoft, where I directed international policy and strategy in headquarters, then moved to China as General Manager for China Policy and Strategy.  Prior to that, I served at the White House and State Department during the Clinton Administration as Special Assistant to the President and Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, working on international trade, economic and technology policy.  

I graduated from Yale College, worked in the U.S. Senate, attended University of Pennsylvania Law School, then practiced trade law.  As a young lawyer, I served on the Immigration Committee of the Asian American Legal Defense Fund, and as pro bono General Counsel of the Organization of Chinese Americans.  Living in China in recent years, I was an elected governor of the American Chamber of Commerce in China and a member of the board of USITO, which represents U.S. technology companies in China.            

Returning last year to serve President Obama made sense to me because I am passionate about American economic strength, innovation and leadership.  We are at a historic juncture, and must dig deep to ensure our children, and all Americans, have the same opportunity and future we enjoyed in the last century.  Each day I try to put my experience in helping American companies and workers to compete and win to work, and try to provide the best advice my team and I can find from the incredible talent around us to this Secretary and this President.  

President Obama has called upon us to out- educate, out- innovate, out- build, and out- sell our competition.  That is our history as a nation.  It rings close to home for both my family and the Asian Pacific American community more broadly.  My father’s side drove spikes to build the Transcontinental Railroad.  My father was born in his family laundry in New Haven.  As a child, he earned a penny for each shirt he ironed, and waited tables in their restaurant on the outskirts of Yale.  He served in the South Pacific during WW II as a stretcher bearer and ran an Army malaria clinic, went to college on the GI bill, then spent his career with a U.S. pharmaceutical company, innovating and selling it abroad.  My mother emigrated from Australia and was raised in New York Chinatown where their corner store was the center of their lower east side community.  Her father was a merchant and civic leader.  My mother spent her career as an educator counseling learning disabled and troubled youth in Philadelphia area public schools and faith-based institutions.  She retired a few years ago, at 83.   They raised three daughters, and I have three daughters, which helps keep me straight.  One of my sisters is a social worker, another is a women’s college dean, and the youngest is a doctor. 

I thank the President and both Secretary Locke and Secretary Bryson for this privilege, and thank my wife and three daughters for uprooting twice in one year, across an ocean then across the country, to make this possible.  I promised my daughters a puppy, and have made good on it.  His name is Cooper.

If I have any advice for young Asian Americans and others, it is to pursue your passion with passion.  Pick yourself up when you fall, and keep coming, because we all fall.  And think about what you want to leave behind.

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