Whole Foods Market, PillPack, Ring, Zoox, and the recent acquisition of MGM—they’re some of the highest-profile merger and acquisition (M&A) deals in Amazon’s history. Each brings the promise of exciting innovations that could positively impact millions of customers, and all five of these transactions—as well as many other needle-moving acquisitions by the company—were led by the lawyers on Susan Jong’s team.
“M&A work is very much a team effort,” said Jong, associate general counsel and leader of Amazon’s M&A legal team. “Everyone on our team has unique strengths and looks at things a bit differently, and that’s contributed to our success with the complex transactions we handle.”
Jong has worked with Amazon for more than 10 years, and while that means she’s run point on many exciting deals, an equally important part of her work has been supporting the growth of the attorneys she manages.
“The female leadership was actually one of the reasons the role was very appealing to me,” said Gina Jung, senior corporate counsel on Jong’s team. “I've been doing M&A for a long time now, but before I came to Amazon, I didn’t have much experience with tech M&A or with managing other attorneys. Susan and others on the team helped me build those skills, and that focus on training has helped me become a more effective lawyer and grow in a leadership role.”
Jong’s focus on the continued growth of each member of her team has showed up in the positive impact they’ve made at Amazon and the companies it works with.
“Susan and her team of lawyers leading deals are some of the most talented in the field,” said Peter Krawiec, senior vice president of Business & Corporate Development at Amazon. “Under Susan’s leadership, they have a long history of working hand-in-hand with Corporate Development to unlock value for mission-driven entrepreneurs who innovate on behalf of customers.”
We spoke with Jong about her work and what makes her team unique. Keep reading to learn more about the leader of the legal team behind some of the biggest moments in Amazon’s M&A history.
What is your favorite part of working as an M&A lawyer?
The job is never boring. Every transaction is different, with different issues and personalities, and that makes the work exciting. I’ve also had the opportunity to work with amazing people at Amazon—colleagues, clients, and mentors—who are extremely smart, hard-working, and dedicated to innovating for customers. It’s the combination of those two things that has kept me doing this work at Amazon for 10 years. If you do work that excites you with people you enjoy working with, it makes all the difference.
What has been the most exciting moment of your career?
I would take it back to when I was flying to Austin, Texas for the announcement of the Whole Foods Market deal. This was the biggest transaction we had done, and in a very compressed period of time, and I was so proud of our team. The best part was, I was on a plane with spotty Wi-Fi and nowhere else to be, so I actually took the time to let it sink in and reflect on all that it took to get there.
What makes a good M&A deal lead?
The best lawyers are creative problem-solvers for their clients. We’re trying to use all the tools we have at our disposal to get an outcome that we and the other party are happy with. This is where diverse perspectives are invaluable.
There was a recent study that showed there are few women lawyers leading M&A deals. What are your thoughts on the research?
I read the study by professor Afra Afsharipour at UC Davis, and it certainly was disappointing to learn that few women have led the largest M&A deals over the last decade. Women now represent over 50% of students at law schools, and law firms are getting better in terms of diversity in the partnership ranks, but there still appears to be a lack of female leadership in this particular area of law. My team has followed a different trend, with women running point on high-profile deals like Whole Foods Market, PillPack, Ring, and MGM, but there is always more work to be done. We have a responsibility to use our success and scale for good, and we’ll keep working to hire, promote, and support attorneys and legal professionals of diverse backgrounds and skillsets.
How is Amazon supporting the growth of M&A lawyers?
We have smart business partners who value our partnership, and the breadth of Amazon's business means we have a lot of variety in the types of deals we handle. We’re intentional about how we assign those deals to ensure team members have the diversity of work and experiences necessary to advance in their careers. Amazon’s legal leadership is also working with the OnRamp Fellowship to support female lawyers rejoining the workforce. This is exciting because it provides an avenue for women to come back to legal roles, including roles in M&A, with the resources they need to achieve work-life harmony as they ramp up.
What’s your favorite way to celebrate a successful deal?
All acquisitions are a team effort, so I like to take time to do something fun to recognize the good work that made the deal happen. To mark the recent closing of the MGM acquisition, everyone on the team gathered for a celebratory post-closing lunch and we all wore T-shirts honoring some of MGM’s classic movies!
If you could meet anyone from any point in time, who would it be?
Michelle Obama. She’s so inspiring and she’s also a lawyer. I admire what she stands for and what she brought to the table as first lady of the United States, making the role her own. She’s a role model and somebody many of us look up to.
What is one thing you wish you would have known at the beginning of your career?
Early on, I didn't know about all of the things I could do with a law degree. Like a lot of people, I had a perception of what lawyers do based on what I’d seen on TV, and that was oftentimes a picture of lawyers in courtrooms. While that is definitely an available avenue, there are so many other careers where having a law degree is useful, and I’m glad I found a good match for my personality and skillset.
What advice do you have for lawyers starting out in the M&A field?
There’s space for you. Don’t be discouraged, even if you walk into a room and nobody looks like you. Things are changing, and there is a role for you.