Lily Yan Hughes was 11 years old when her family immigrated from Kowloon City, Hong Kong to the United States in 1974 to begin a new life in the Lincoln Heights area of Los Angeles. “English is not my first language,” Hughes told an audience in September when when she was the keynote speaker at the 44th annual dinner of the California Women Lawyers. “I did not know that hot water came out of a tap until I arrived in East Los Angeles.”
Hughes and a sister helped their mother with piecemeal sewing for a factory, which earned them only a few pennies for each garment. Her father repaired shoes by day and bussed tables at night in another town.
In her September speech, Hughes said that her parents’ “courage and grit even in the middle of the worst circumstances provided a solid foundation for my childhood.”
From those humble beginnings, Hughes has risen to become senior vice president, chief legal officer and corporate secretary of Public Storage, an American international self-storage company headquartered in Glendale, Calif.
Hughes chose to attend Boalt Hall Law School after completing her undergraduate studies at the University of California at Berkeley. She said she considered going to graduate school in political science or business school before enrolling in the law school, where she graduated in 1988.
“I made the decision to go to law school but knew from day one I wanted to go into the corporate securities arena, into investment banking potentially,” Hughes said.
Hughes has headed the legal and internal audit teams at Public Storage since January 2015. She previously served in positions of increasing responsibility, including as global mergers and acquisitions legal leader and as VP and assistant GC at Fortune 100 Ingram Micro, which she joined in 1997. Prior to that, Hughes was a corporate partner in Manatt, Phelps & Phillips in Los Angeles.
“I represent a global S&P 500 company,” Hughes said. “My breadth of what I cover is very broad.”
When Hughes joined Public Storage she quickly became an integral part of the company, providing crucial leadership and oversight on a wide range of legal and internal audit matters, including board, corporate, securities, governance, litigation, employment, intellectual property, risk management, real estate and investor relations and communications.
Hughes is a member of Public Storage’s executive team and manages a legal team of 17, including three in Brussels and 15 on the internal audit team. She is passionate about her understanding of the business of the company and launched an initiative to foster better communication and collaboration with her team and the company as a whole.
To ensure that her team is not seen as a roadblock to progress, Hughes regularly hosts team lunch-and-learn meetings, often inviting other business units within the company to present on a wide array of subjects. The meetings are meant to allow her team to better understand the business teams’ opportunities and challenges so that her team is equipped to make recommendations that are business focused.
“She has been widely talked about in Los Angeles as a top general counsel,” said Tom Wingard, partner-in-charge of Alston & Bird’s Los Angeles office, who described Hughes as a client.
“You know she’s the boss,” Wingard said. “You just feel it by her presence.”
Wingard said Hughes makes decisions and does not second guess herself or her advisors. There is no hand-wringing after Hughes had made her decision, he said.
“She is extremely professional, but also very warm. . . She always seems to take the time to give you her full attention,” Wingard said.
Since 2011, Hughes has been married to James Hughes, a farmer in upper state New York, who has two step-daughters.