Although she earned a bachelor's degree in journalism and a Juris Doctor and stayed away from anything science-related in college, Suzanne Echevarria now handles environment, health, safety and security issues for a global petrochemicals firm.
Echevarria previously worked at ExxonMobil, establishing the diversity program within the law department and negotiating precious metal catalyst contracts with Japanese suppliers. At Union Pacific Railroad, she developed a companywide ethics and compliance program and was named a Rising Star of Top Young Lawyers in 2006 by Law & Politics and Texas Monthly. At age 22, immediately out of college, she joined the American Red Cross Coastal Bend Texas Chapter's board of directors.
At Sabic, she was promoted to acting chief counsel, EHSS, in December 2020, just 14 months after joining the company. She was appointed director and chief counsel, EHSS, in March 2021.
Echevarria's responsibilities include providing legal support to the vice president of EHSS, advising clients on all EHSS aspects of Sabic activities, preparing environmental reserve and liability estimates and engaging with sustainability and environmental social governance teams.
"I have learned that stepping out of my comfort zone opens my mind to learn and achieve new and exciting things; plus, you don't have to be a scientist to be a good lawyer," she said.
Her current challenge is keeping up with regulatory changes in all the regions where Sabic operates in order to predict upcoming challenges based on trends and ensuring thoughtful, useful communication to colleagues.
"Go in [to the plastics industry] with an open mind, understand the impact the plastic industry has on our everyday lives, make it personal and have fun," she advised.
Q: What is the most unexpected thing you learned from the pandemic?
Echevarria: The pandemic opened my mind's eye to the way I see and understand others. It was when I was on conference calls and could hear children in the background, dogs barking, other adults talking, etc., that I realized that people have all sorts of issues outside of the workplace, and certainly some were more severe than my situation. Everyone was dealing with their own issues at home, especially at the start of the pandemic. I have more empathy towards others now. I am certainly more sensitive to my own mental health fitness and well-being and to that of others as well.
Q: What is the best advice you have ever received?
Echevarria: If you have a dream, go for it; don't give up and keep reaching for the stars. And don't ever let the dream get stale; adapt if you must.
Q: What's an accomplishment of yours that most people don't know about, either for work or in your personal life?
Echevarria: I have run a 10K a month since January 2015. I started this habit in order to stay healthy and keep my goals in mind. It has not been easy; some months I am in great shape and have great races, while other months are a true struggle and a reminder to myself to not give up and get back to a healthy lifestyle. I am not a fast runner. The challenge is very personal and it is a commitment to myself.