Cheree Johnson, who became general counsel in January at W.R. Grace & Co. in Columbia, Maryland, had an unusual trajectory to the top legal job.

Johnson worked as an engineer at 3M before attending law school, giving her an “in” at the Minnesota-based company. She did not take on a full-time law firm job, beyond a stint as a summer associate. When she graduated from the University of Minnesota Law School, she headed right away to the in-house department at 3M, overseeing intellectual property.

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