Alissa Hsu Lynch has 25 years of global health technology, MedTech, and Consumer Goods experience including at Google and Johnson & Johnson. As the Chief Strategy Officer of MedTech at Google Cloud, she launched market-leading innovation and partnered with Fortune 500 and startup companies to drive digital transformation in healthcare. She also serves on the board of Pulmonx (NASDAQ: LUNG) a medical device company. In this episode we discuss digital transformation in healthcare and the board’s role in that process.
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Extraordinary Women On Boards (EWOB)
Effective onboarding at Pulmonx Board
Pulmonx is a medical device company that offers a medical device, a valve, for severe emphysema. It helps people with lung issues to breathe more easily and requires only a minimally invasive procedure. Pulmonx has breakthrough FDA status. “It’s been wonderful to work with a company that is looking to improve and save people’s lives.”
AHL: I think a lot of boards in their onboarding process do the typical stuff: meet the senior executives, the management team, get to know the business. I did that and it was super helpful to be able to speak with all the key leaders of the organization.
But what they also did that I especially appreciated is partner with a consultant from NACD (the National Association of Corporate Directors) a very experienced board director and consultant who worked with me and the other new directors over a period of about six months to take a deep look at all aspects of board governance.
Every month we met for a couple of hours and focused on one committee, and we would go over the roles and responsibilities of that committee. What are the risks; what are the questions you should ask. She would, for example, pull up the Nominating and Governance Committee charter from Pulmonx, and go through it, and she would be able to provide perspective on, “Well, this charter is covering these aspects, but in other companies, maybe once you join a larger cap board, they may also have these other aspects.”
It was really helpful to be able to meet one-on-one with her and be able to ask any questions as a new director and get confidence that, “Okay, I’m walking into this with a really great background on governance.”
Areas of Digital Transformation for Companies
There are four areas that I’ve seen many organizations think about when they talk about digital transformation. The first where many healthcare organizations, in particular, are starting is around operational efficiency.
Operational efficiency is a common place where many organizations start. The second one is around improving customer experience. The third is helping them accelerate innovation. The fourth is on consumer engagement.
Advice for Boards on Digital Transformation
Earlier I talked about the concept of crossing the digital divide and how difficult that is to go from your legacy business to a new technology-enabled business.
I’d like to provide three tips. One is to help management identify where they should go. Second is to help them think about how to get started, so going back to the “what is the problem to solve.” The third is: what is needed to build a sustainable business model, where this should go, how to get started, and what’s needed to build a sustainable business model on that next s-curve.
10X Thinking for Boards
AHL: One of the things I learned at Google is around 10X thinking. This is the idea of solving big problems by coming up with radical solutions, going for a 10 times improvement instead of just a 10% improvement. That is the type of expansive approach that boards should encourage their companies to consider as they work through the strategic planning process with respect to digital transformation.
Joe: Hello and welcome to On Boards, a deep dive at what drives business success. I’m Joe Ayoub, and I’m here with my co-host. Raza Shaikh. On Boards is about boards of directors and advisors and all aspects of board governance. Twice a month, this is the place to learn about one of the most critically important aspects of any company or organization; its board of directors or advisors, as well as important issues that are facing boards, company leadership, and stakeholders.
Raza: Joe and I speak with a wide range of guests and talk about what makes a board successful or unsuccessful, what it means to be an effective board member, the challenges boards are facing and how they’re addressing those challenges, and how to make your board one of the most valuable assets of your organization.
Joe: Our guest today is Alissa Hsu Lynch. Alissa has 25 years of global health technology, MedTech and consumer goods experience at [00:01:00] Johnson & Johnson and Google. As the Chief Strategy Officer of MedTech at Google Cloud, she launched market leading innovation and partnered with both Fortune 500 and startup companies to drive digital transformation in healthcare.
Raza: Previously she was Vice President at Johnson & Johnson and led multi-billion dollar international businesses in operational and strategic roles. Alissa serves on the board of directors of NASDAQ-listed Pulmonx. She is on the board of trustees of American Ballet Theater and is a Henry Crown Fellow of the Aspen Institute.
Joe: Before her business career, Alissa lived her childhood dream of becoming a professional dancer. She toured internationally for six years with the Limón Dance Company and Ralph Lemon Dance, performing at some of the world’s most prestigious venues, including the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, [00:02:00] Lincoln Center and the Cannes Dance Festival. Welcome, Alissa. It’s great to have you today on On Boards.
Alissa: Thank you so much for having me. I’m looking forward to the conversation.
Joe: So are we. Let’s just start with a little background, talk about your work at both Johnson & Johnson and Google, and then we’ll get into some details about that later.
Alissa: Sure, yeah, so I feel like you already told my whole life story, but I’ve had a pretty diverse career background. As you mentioned, I started as a professional modern dancer right out of college, but you can’t do that forever, so I did that for about six years, went back and got my MBA and my first job in business was with J&J, and I had a wonderful 20-year career with J&J starting on their consumer businesses, working in marketing, leading a lot of iconic brands like Johnson’s Baby, Aveeno, Neutrogena.
Also, I had the opportunity while at [00:03:00] J&J to live abroad, both in Shanghai, China, as well as in Europe, so most recently before the pandemic, I was based in Switzerland, and I also was able to work across marketing, sales and strategic roles, as well as in their consumer businesses and in medical devices.
In medical devices, I worked on their diabetes care business, helped them divest the LifeScan diabetes business and also in Europe, I was working on medical devices. Really, a wonderful career and experience with J&J all over the world.
And Right before the pandemic ,I moved back with my husband, we had become empty nesters, to Seattle, and we moved back to the US. Everything shut down in mid-March 2020 is when we moved back and everything shut down, and I had decided to leave J&J and wanted to work in health technology, but also at that time, I was starting to think about serving on boards and I was [00:04:00]able to take on a role with Google Cloud based here in Seattle and my role was really to develop their whole MedTech strategy and the solutions that we could offer to healthcare organizations.
I thought a lot about what problems we could help organizations solve using our technologies and really partnered with organizations on digital transformation and helping them think about how do you use technology to really help transform their businesses.
That leads me to where I am today. I’ve recently left Google and am now embarking on a portfolio life, so looking to serve on more boards in addition to the boards I currently serve on.
Joe: Before we go on to the next thing, let’s not leave out one of important aspects of your portfolio life, Extraordinary Women on Boards, one of our favorite groups. Some of our favorite guests have been from uh, EWOB as it is [00:05:00] known, and it’s great to meet yet another extraordinary woman from EWOB.
Alissa: Yes, EWOB has been wonderful. I actually just discovered them and joined them earlier this year as I was leaving Google, and they’re really helping women in particular to focus on transitioning from perhaps a very successful full-time career to what they call a portfolio life, so really pursuing interesting and impactful work, but through a portfolio approach versus a full-time operating role, so it’s been great to get connected into that network.
Raza: Alissa, what a terrific background. You serve on the board of Pulmonx. Can you tell us a little bit uh, what Pulmonx does, and then we can talk more about the board?
Alissa: Pulmonx is a really wonderful organization. They’re a medical device company, small cap company, that offers a valve, so a medical device for severe emphysema, so for people who are suffering from lung [00:06:00] disease, and it helps them to breathe more easily.
It’s a minimally invasive procedure. They have breakthrough FDA status and so it’s really just wonderful to work with a company that is looking to improve and even save people’s lives
Raza: And you mentioned that it already has FDA approval and in the market or getting there with clinical data now.
Alissa: Well, they have a number of really strong clinical studies, but they do already have FDA approval and they are also sold around the world, so in many different countries. They’re already commercialized and revenue generating.
Raza: Terrific. Maybe there’s a little bit of a background of how this Pulmonx board position came about for you. How did you get to join the Pulmonx board?
Alissa: Yeah, I mentioned earlier that when I left J&J at the start of the pandemic, I was already starting to think about whether I wanted to transition to a portfolio life and take on more boards, and then the [00:07:00] job with Google came through that I couldn’t turn down. I started at Google. I also joined the board of American Ballet Theater at that same time when I started at Google, but I decided to delay serving on a public board just given the learning curve I knew I was going to be facing joining Google.
However, after about six months, I sort of raised my head from all of the steep learning curve at Google and said, “You know, I think I’m ready and I think I’d like to reengage in my board search.”
I reconnected into my board network because as many people know, getting on boards is often through your networks, and one of the people in my networks was Beth Vanderslice at Trewstar. Trewstar is a search firm that really focuses on placing diverse qualified directors on boards.
Shortly after speaking with them, and I had spoken with them earlier, of course, when I was initially thinking about joining boards, they quickly came back with this [00:08:00] opportunity that really was just a great fit given my medical device background, and I was able to join the board of Pulmonx about nine months after I started at Google so that is my first publicly-traded board.
Raza: That is terrific, and talk about how big is the board and how it’s composed.
Alissa: Sure. The board has eight members, including the CEO, so there are seven independent directors, and what I really love about this board is the chairman of the board who’s wonderful. Basically when he was interviewing me, explained that, “You know, we already have a lot of very experienced board directors and we feel we can take on first-time public board directors.”
I was hired at the same time as another woman also through the Trewstar recruiting process, so the two of us joined at the same time and the chair really said, “You know, you’re going to have a lot of mentorship and it’s a really great board,” [00:09:00] and I found that to be true, and they have actually an excellent onboarding process, which I can talk about it in here.
Raza: Yeah, actually, do talk about it. It looks like the onboarding was intensive, both in terms of training you as a board member, but also learning about the company and meeting people there. Please talk about that a little more.
Alissa: Yeah, so I think a lot of boards in their onboarding process do the typical meet all the senior executives, the management team, get to know the business, and I certainly did that and that was super helpful to be able to speak with all the key leaders of the organization.
But what they also did that I specially appreciated is they partnered with a consultant from NACD, the National Association of Corporate Directors, a very experienced board um, director and consultant who worked with myself and the other new director over a period of about six months to really go [00:10:00] deep on all aspects of board governance.
Every month we would meet for a couple of hours and just focus on one committee, so one meeting would just be on the nominating and governance committee and we would go over what is the roles and responsibilities? What are the risks, what are the questions you should ask? And also what I thought was really great is that she would pull up the nominating and governance charter from Pulmonx, and we would go through the company’s charter and she would be able to provide perspective on, “Well, this charter is covering these aspects, but some other companies, maybe once you join a larger cap board, they may also have these other aspects.”
It was really helpful to be able to meet one-on-one with her and just be able to ask stupid questions as a new director and just get that confidence that, “Okay, I’m walking into this with a really great background on governance.”
Joe: And this [00:11:00] was all arranged through the company. You did not do this yourself, right?
Alissa: Yes. What I really appreciated is that this was arranged, actually Trewstar had recommended this consultant to Pulmonx and then Pulmonx really provided that as part of our onboarding process.
Raza: It sounds like it’s a very well-functioning board that is looking at the business and challenges that it needs to face. Alissa, how is this board applying digital transformation to Pulmonx? What does digital transformation mean for Pulmonx?
Alissa: Yeah, that’s a great question, and before I answer it, I also wanted to mention that as we think about our superpowers because we’re always encouraged to identify what our superpower is, one of the reasons I think Pulmonx was interested in me is because of the work that I had been doing on digital transformation with many, many companies at Google.
I do view part of my role on the [00:12:00] Pulmonx board as bringing that tech perspective, and it’s also great because they are investing in digital transformation. As part of their procedure, physicians need to understand, is this patient actually a good candidate for this procedure? Patients undergo getting imaging so they get a CT scan before it’s determined whether they can actually get the procedure.
What Pulmonx offers is what they call the StratX lung analysis platform, and it really is using a cloud-based technology to evaluate the CT scan and provide a recommendation to the physician of whether that patient is one that they should be selecting for that procedure. They are using digital and incorporating emerging technologies in that way, and I think there’s a lot more that they can do and it’s been interesting just to advise them as they think about using more cloud-based technologies like that.
Raza: [00:13:00] Digital in Pulmonx’s case is about the patient journey.
Alissa: Yes, it is. Patient journey, making it easier for physicians to do their jobs as well, and then ultimately if they’re able to match a good patient candidate with the procedure, that can also improve the patient’s outcomes.
Joe: Great. Let’s talk a little bit about the role you played at Google Cloud in advising companies on digital transformation. Talk about the profile of the companies, and then let’s talk about some of the challenges you faced.
Alissa: My job at Google was really fun because really spanning, as you mentioned, startups to Fortune 500 companies and really speaking one-on-one with a lot of executives in the C-Suite about what are your business challenges.
I think one thing as we think about digital transformation that it’s important to keep in mind is that digital [00:14:00] transformation should not be about just adopting technology. It shouldn’t just be using technology for technology’s sake. It really needs to be in service of your overall business strategy and in solving specific problems.
It was very interesting to see and work with companies that are very different, so I worked with digital natives. For example, QHealth is a company I loved working with because they make an at-home diagnostic reader. They’re able to collect all of that data and they are really a digital native company because they were really thinking about it from the beginning, and so they were adopting data analytics, predictive analytics to be able to predict when hotspots were going to be outbreaks.
They were really a digital native company from the beginning, thinking about how do they use technology to automate their manufacturing supply chain, how do they use the data that they’re collecting from their diagnostic [00:15:00] readers to help predict the next outbreak of COVID, so really super fun to work with a company that gets it and is moving really fast.
At the same time, I also worked with a lot of large, what I’ll call, traditional or legacy organizations that have built very, big successful based businesses that may be more product focused versus technology focused, and many of them would say, “We want to become a technology company,” because they recognized that they were at the risk of being disrupted by smaller, more digitally native companies.
That’s good that they recognize they needed to disrupt themselves. That’s really important also for boards to think about. But becoming a technology company, when you have a big successful, let’s call it, more analog business, you can’t necessarily do that overnight, and I think one of the big challenges that a lot of legacy organizations [00:16:00] face is how do I move from doing what I’ve done so well and made me successful today to becoming a digitally transformed technology enabled company.
That’s a lot of what I was working on with companies, it’s helping them with that digital transformation, and I think what it made me realize is that there is this digital divide and crossing that digital divide from a legacy to a technology enabled company, it takes this mentality of thinking both ends.
Rather than either/or, either be a product company or a technology company, in fact, they need to be both. They need to be both a successful big based business that delivers against the customer expectations that they’ve done so well and they need to start to incorporate more technology that can significantly transform how they do their business, how [00:17:00] they engage with customers, how they’re creating consumer experiences and really transform their businesses and disrupt themselves before they become disrupted.
But it really takes doing both what they’ve done well and adopting these new emerging technologies, and that’s really hard. That’s really hard to do.
Joe: With a large, highly successful company that is interested in digital transformation, how do you help them begin that process?
Alissa: Yeah, that’s a great question and a big question for all organizations. I think they need to, again, not think about the technology because we all get enamored with ChatGPT and all the emerging fun technologies coming out and really start with the problem to solve.
Clay Christensen really talked about jobs to be done and understanding fundamentally what is it you’re solving for, [00:18:00] and then think about how can technology help you solve that problem or not? Maybe technology can’t help you solve that problem, so that’s really critical for organizations to think about.
As a board director, it’s also really critical to ask that question, so as you’re evaluating a company’s strategic technology investments and having those discussions with the CIO , the CTO, and the management team, it’s important to ask, “Well, what business problems is this helping you solve? Or how is this solving a customer pain point?” And that will help you better understand whether this is going to be a valuable technology investment.
Raza: Alissa, maybe stepping back, could you talk about the areas that you’ve seen companies focus their digital transformation efforts when they embark on it?
Alissa: Yeah, so there are four areas that I’ve seen many organizations think about when they talk about digital transformation. The [00:19:00] first where many healthcare organizations, in particular, are starting is around operational efficiency. Maybe I’ll go through the four and then I can give a couple of examples for both.
Operational efficiency is a common one where many organizations start. The second one is around improving customer experience. The third is helping them accelerate innovation. The fourth is on consumer engagement.
I’ll just give an example for each one. Operational efficiency, one of the things that we really were working on at Google Cloud was to help organizations with their manufacturing and supply chain. Medical device companies are essentially manufacturers and during COVID really supply chain issues and getting medical equipment where it was needed really became a crisis for many medical device organizations. Many of them realized, “Wow, our manufacturing line is not automated. From a supply chain perspective, [00:20:00] we don’t have visibility to where our products are.”
One of the things we helped a lot with is just giving them visibility to the data from the end-to-end supply chain so they had better visibility to being able to direct where equipment was needed but also using things like computer vision AI for quality inspection on the production line, so that can help automate defect detection and improve productivity and save costs. Operational efficiency is a big, big area for many organizations.
From a customer experience perspective, thinking about using tools like chatbots or conversational AI really just to free up human agents from having to answer the same questions over and over and over. Chatbots can do that very easily and they’re very conversational today, so you may not even know you’re not speaking to a real person, but that enables human agents to focus more on those specialized and complicated [00:21:00] questions that they get.
Joe: The reason you might not think you’re talking to a human is that chatbots are going to be far more patient with the same question over and over, that’s just a great example. Thank you.
Alissa: they’re always friendly and helpful. The third one is accelerating innovation using high performance computing to go through hundreds of millions of molecules and scientific data to accelerate drug discovery, so that’s something that we were working with pharmaceutical organizations on.
Then consumer engagement, the world is digital now, particularly in healthcare, which maybe is a little bit behind other industries in terms of digitizing. A big opportunity in terms of digital transformation is just digitizing the whole patient journey and making it easier for consumers to engage with their care teams or to be able to find health information, so those are some examples of specific problems that [00:22:00] companies are looking to solve using technology.
Raza: I think, Alissa, these four areas provide a really good framework of how to look at different parts of digital transformations that an organization may go through.
Joe: That’s a great look at the company perspective. Now, let’s look at the board perspective, and maybe let us know what advice you have for boards on how to help their company successfully navigate digital transformation.
Alissa: Yeah, so earlier I talked about this concept of crossing the digital divide and how difficult that is to go from your legacy business to a new technology-enabled business. When we think about companies that have done that really well, I’ll just give one example.
Of course, everyone is familiar with the Netflix example, but I’m going to use that one because they really have crossed the digital divide a couple of times extremely well, and that’s something that board [00:23:00] directors should keep in mind.
Netflix went from being a DVD company to then anticipating the next s-curve of growth and becoming a streaming movie company, so they moved from physical to technology enabled in terms of streaming.
Before they had plateaued on streaming movies, they started investing in developing original content, and so there’s this whole concept of s-curves and moving from the curve you’re on to the next frontier of growth to the next s-curve. They’ve successfully moved from one s-curve to the next and the next.
Really from a strategic standpoint, I think boards need to keep in mind that their company may be on one s-curve, but they need to help management think about what is that next s-curve of growth that the company should be investing in, and most likely it’s going to involve technology. From a digital transformation perspective, crossing the digital divide is [00:24:00] really about jumping from one s-curve to the next.
But I think tangibly I wanted to provide three tips. One is help management identify where they should go, and I’ll talk about that in a moment. Second is, help them think about how to get started, so going back to the problems to solve, and the third is, what is needed to build a sustainable business model, so where this should go, how to get started, and what’s needed to build a sustainable business model on that next s-curve.
From the where they should go, one of the things I learned at Google is around 10X thinking. This is the idea of really solving big problems by coming up with radical solutions, going for a 10 times improvement instead of just a 10% improvement. That type of thinking, that type of expansive thinking is something that the board [00:25:00] should encourage their companies to do as you’re working through your strategic planning process.
The company may come back to you and say, “Hey, here’s our 3-, 5-, 7-year strategic plan, and it gets us from here to there,” and I think it’s really important. On the board I’m on, we have done that and said, “Well, what if you thought bigger? What would need to be true for you to reach that attainable goal? We’re not telling you that that’s the plan and you have to sign up for that plan or that even that you’re not going to communicate that to the street. But internally as a board, let’s think big. Let’s think 10X and agree that there are big opportunities out there that we could go out there to solve.”
Joe: Great board question. Thanks.
Alissa: But in terms of 10X thinking and that big thinking, sometimes it’s so big that companies then don’t know where to start. I’ve seen that as well in my work with organizations on digital transformation. They do map out a big, bold vision, [00:26:00] “We’re going to become a med tech company instead of a medical device company, and we’re going to do it by doing X, Y, and Z.”
Then they start mapping out that whole transformation journey, and they can get bogged down. They can face internal resistance, it could require a huge budget, it could take five years to get there, and they get a little bit stuck because their vision is so big that it becomes unmanageable.
That’s why my second advice is, help your company think about where to get started, so how to get started, and that goes back to what I talked about earlier, which is focus on some relevant problems to solve. Focus on the customer or your business stakeholders. What is the a problem that you can solve today and get started with? Because if you do that and you demonstrate success, so it’s this whole agile methodology of testing, iterating, learning, you can get early success [00:27:00] and then increase your investments over time, but still builds it in a scalable way. That’s the second advice.
Then the third is really what is needed, so a lot of companies need to think about, do they have the talent that’s needed for digital transformation or incorporating new technologies? Do they want to build it? Do they want to buy it? Do they want to partner?
I would say it’s probably all of the above, but my advice is think about what things are really your crown jewels. What are those valuable differentiated assets that made you successful? That goes back to the both ends, and those are things you want to protect. Those are things you want to maintain. It may be your customers, it may be your suppliers, it may be your intellectual property, and those are things you don’t want to lose.
But then you also need to be investing in new areas where you may not have expertise, so that’s when you may want to partner or you may want to acquire. I think [00:28:00] it’s this whole concept again of both ends, you need to be both ,protecting your assets and bringing in new capabilities.
As a board, that’s something that you can help the management team think about and really articulate, so that you all align on what it is that’s going to get you to where you want to go.
Joe: Alissa, that is terrific. Thank you for walking us through that. It’s been great speaking with you today. Thanks for joining us, and thank you all for listening to On Boards with our special guest, Alissa Hsu Lynch.
Raza: Please visit our website at OnBoardsPodcast.com. That’s OnBoardsPodcast.com. We’d love to hear your comments, suggestions, and feedback. And if you’re not already subscribed, please subscribe to the podcast at Apple Podcast, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcast, and remember to leave us a five-star review.
Joe: Please stay safe [00:29:00] and take care of yourselves, your families, and your communities as best you can. We hope you’ll tune in for the next episode of On Boards. Thanks.