- Tech Insights
Agilent improves quality of life with products that support testing to ensure the safety of water, food, and pharmaceuticals. Agilent is a leader in the life sciences, diagnostics, and applied chemical markets under Virginia MacSuibhne's leadership as the global chief compliance officer.
A year into the global COVID pandemic and after more than a decade at another healthcare company, Virginia joined Agilent. Agilent was the first Silicon Valley unicorn, with the largest IPO in 1999 as it spun out from Hewlett-Packard. She graduated from Santa Clara Law that year. Virginia's parents emphasized non-profit and community activities, she recalls. Nonprofit boards helped her become a leader. She helped establish and teach the first Compliance Master's program at Santa Clara University School of Law, which she says humbled her.
After law school, she tried cases of white-collar crimes, securities fraud, and employment matters. For her, policies, processes, training, and reporting methods prevent misbehavior. Though certificates, master's degrees, and law school courses on compliance are offered, this profession is still in its infancy. She can influence compliance, privacy and data protection, and life sciences and healthcare best practices. We're misunderstood as the Department of "No," and we must prove we're the "How" Department. Many people don't know what to make of her and are surprised by her and her brand of compliance. She appreciates the variety of daily and weekly themes. "Being a compliance officer is easy; everything's on fire," says her favorite mug. Everyone would do what we did if it were easy. In a rapidly changing regulatory environment with technological improvements and after a global epidemic, being a global CCO is tough and exciting. We prevent and detect corporate wrongdoing – what could be more interesting than that?
Virginia loves her work and considers it a hearts-and-minds job, encouraging staff to behave in a specific way. She thought trial law was her calling, but that was the dark side — fighting the fights. Here, they prevent problems from getting worse. Her team's compliance is clear, actionable, and fun. No spectators are allowed for this full-contact sport. They use catchy, brief messages, explain the why, and instruct employees on what to do and not do. People don't read 50-page guides; they need highlights, insights, tools, resources, animal pictures, and sometimes memes and gifs.
Effective communication is early, clear, imaginative, compelling, and diverse. She prefers infographics, visuals, and short "why, what, and how" summaries. She believes policies and communications should focus on what people can do rather than what they cannot do.
Virginia attempts to think of the most important thing first before making any decisions, so she makes a pyramid: people could die; millions of dollars in fines or people could go to jail; people could lose their jobs; and so on. She tries to focus on that when things come to her desk and are presented as "urgent"—are people going to die? go to jail? Will there be millions in fines? Will people lose their jobs? Or is this "everything else"?
Virginia's most exciting and daunting project is reimagining the "Code of Conduct." She wants to move from their father's code to one for their grandchildren. They need actionable steps. Virginia makes quick, clear, decisions due to her experience and team. She believes that being clear is the same as being kind.
She doesn't like her comments sandwiched between two fluffy slices. She's clear about events, actions, and consequences. How others see her affects her ability to be effective, advance, be heard, etc. My team keeps a whole word cloud of my "Virginia-isms." I like to think it’s because these weird and wonderful word choices are inspiring!
Virginia loves words and is an avid reader of fiction and nonfiction. She reads most nights to find balance, ideas, and fun outside of work. Reading clears her mind and helps her form ideas. She also says that being a part of the Society of Corporate Compliance & Ethics and local groups and networks, giving talks at panels and webinars, and writing about current issues help her grow as a leader.
As her family's lone lawyer, she's been lucky to discover great mentors. Reece Bader, Lynne Hermle, Rob Shwarts, and other Orrick colleagues Greg Triguba helped her with compliance and growth. Kevin Marks, former general counsel for Roche, and Rhoma Young mentor her, while Veronica Conway coaches her. She consults Agilent's general counsel and business heads often for guidance.
Virginia respects many people in the field and beyond, and many influence how she thinks about her work, from authors like Adam Grant, Brene Brown, Malcolm Gladwell, Dan Ariely, Robert Cialdini, Chip and Dan Heath, Karla McLaren, Simon Sinek, and Michael Bungay Stanier to legal and compliance professionals like Nick Gallo, Matt Kelly, and Thomas Fox.
Virginia advises aspiring corporate leaders to be authentic. The finest leaders are the ones who can be the best versions of themselves by embracing what makes them unique. If you love color, rock it. If you are a Taylor Swift fan, "shake it off." Animate your affections, use your hobbies, and bring forth your passions into your work life. It links you to others; it resonates with people and connects you to them—even if they don’t love the same things.
Virginia lives and works with the "invisible" disabilities of chronic pain, depression, and complex PTSD. As a leader, it’s on her agenda to de-stigmatize these disabilities, so she wants to be open about her struggles with them. She didn’t and won’t "overcome" these things; they are part of her existence; in fact, they have created the drive that she has to live her most authentic life.
Agilent's biggest strength is its amazing people with strong values who support the purpose of producing trusted answers and insights that improve customers' lives. Strong individuals with a great mission will win over time, and this organization is long-term. As our CEO, Mike McMullen, says, "The best is yet to come." "In the next five years, I see Agilent continuing to innovate across the business, including in compliance," says Virginia.
Global Chief Compliance Officer
Analytical scientists and clinical researchers worldwide rely on Agilent to help fulfill their most complex laboratory demands. Our instruments, software, services and consumables address the full range of scientific and laboratory management needs—so our customers can do what they do best: improve the world around us.