Alumni Spotlight: Seymour Liebman '89
When something serious needs handling at Canon, Inc., the managers back in Japan always say, “Call Seymour Liebman and he’ll resolve it.” His reputation for solving serious problems earned Mr. Liebman an appointment to Canon Inc.’s Executive Board, making him the first non-Japanese Canon executive to receive such recognition. Liebman, trained as a lawyer, CPA and mathematician, arrived at Canon U.S.A. when it was a small growing company, and established Canon U.S.A.’s in-house legal department, where today Liebman oversees 50 in-house attorneys working in all fields of law, including intellectual property. A natural dealmaker, Liebman’s talent and dedication has helped Canon defend patent litigations and infringements, as well as negotiate contracts, acquisitions, intellectual property matters and a range of lawsuits and settlements. As of 2019, Canon was ranked among the top five companies 34 years in a row with the most U.S. patents.
What have been the biggest influences on your career path?
When I started at Canon, I had only one year of work experience under my belt from my previous job with the firm KPMG. Despite this, the CEO said, “You’re in charge of credit. You’re our new national credit director.” I said I didn’t know anything about credit, but he told me that I’d be fine and that I was qualified. He replied, “If you make a mistake, I’ll support you.” His trust in me has remained with me as I have moved through my career. In Canon U.S.A.’s legal department, I use the same approach. I tell our attorneys that if they make a wrong decision that I will support them.
Why did you choose Touro Law Center for your degree?
After I assumed the role of overseeing the national credit department at Canon, I was asked to oversee Human Resources and later, the legal division. After several years at Canon, the president urged me to go to law school. I chose Touro because I could attend classes at night and it was on Long Island, just a 20 to 30-minute drive from Canon. It also featured a kosher cafeteria and allowed me to have my Friday nights free.
What role did Touro Law Center have on your career path?
My legal training provided a foundation and vocabulary to fully understand and provide input on the variety of transactions Canon was doing, including protecting Canon’s intellectual property.
What personal qualities have helped you succeed in your career?
I have always been willing to accept challenges. When asked to work on a project, I would take things as far as I could and then make sure that I told the people I answered to exactly what the challenges were. Also, I was always open to opportunities and didn’t shy away. To get ahead, I knew I had to take risks and move out of my comfort zone. In fact, in my first job at KPMG, where I was hired to work as an accountant, I was moved to the management consulting side and asked to work on Canon, even though I had no experience. Soon thereafter, Canon offered me a job.
What advice would you give a Touro Law Center student today?
Be open to other options and unafraid to consider something that doesn’t match up with your vision. I completed my B.A. in Mathematics at Hofstra in three years because I wanted to finish school quickly. I entered a Ph.D. program at Rutgers, planning to become a math professor. At the time, university mathematics departments everywhere were shrinking, and my dream fell apart. Instead, I completed my M.S. in Mathematics at Rutgers and a master’s in accounting at Long Island University the following year. Upon graduating, I landed a job at KPMG, which, at the time, was both an accounting and a management consulting firm.
What are the skills that a person needs to develop for a career in law and business?
- Flexibility – Be flexible enough to move into other fields and to take on new responsibilities.
- Good Listening Skills – Listen to advice and criticism openly to learn what you must do to move
- Be Good to the People Around You – Always be kind to the people around you, including those who are in support positions.
- Fight Hard but Fight Fair – Why leave behind rubble when you can leave behind a foundation on which to build?
- Make Time for Family – Those are hours you never get back.