In Corporate America these days, business gurus never tire of hammering home the importance of “building up the brand.” Over the past three decades, in America’s progressive circles, no institution has a done a better job at building up the brand — for careful, cogent number crunching — than the Washington, .-based Economic Policy Institute. Now the 31-year-old EPI stands poised to begin a new era. Thea Lee will next month succeed veteran economist Larry Mishel as the think tank’s president. Lee’s no stranger to EPI. She worked there early in her career, over 20 years ago, specializing on global trade during the pivotal debates on NAFTA. Lee continued that trade policy work at the AFL-CIO, America’s labor center, where she went on to become the labor federation’s policy director and then its deputy chief of staff. What will Lee’s new role mean for EPI’s widely respected work on income distribution and the squeeze on America’s working families? sat down with Lee earlier this week to get her take.