Arlene Alvares – Siemens Healthineers
Arlene Alvares has sought balance in a legal career that’s extended more than 25 years and includes experience in private practice and in-house.
In fact, she says she shifted to an in-house role because she was raising two children and needed time with them that a private practice couldn’t accommodate.
As general counsel for Siemens Healthineers’ Canada operations, Alvares has found the flexibility she sought and plenty to keep her busy. She and her team of three manage legal affairs, including board governance and shareholder compliance for the parent public company, contracts and agreements with hospitals, health care facilities, supply chain and working with federal and provincial governments.
Whether she’s chatting confidentially with employees affected by the COVID-19 pandemic or guiding efforts to support diversity or help women develop in the company, Alvares, a certified yoga instructor, also helps others find balance in their lives.
“I’m a compassionate leader and love working with a strong visionary management team,” she says. “Transparency is the key to building trust and loyalty, and I want to work in ways that support my values and build the right culture for success for individuals and the company.”
A spectrum of innovation
Established as an independently traded company in 2018, Siemens Healthineers is rooted in almost 180 years of the company’s medical innovations—back to the day in 1844 when Werner von Siemens treated his brother’s toothache with electricity using a volta inductor. In the late 1890s, Siemens supported the innovation and growth of X-ray technology by building X-ray tubes for medical applications.
While imaging technology remains an important facet of Siemens Healthineers’ products and services, the company also makes in-vitro lab diagnostics, and lab testing systems used in areas such as hematology, hemostasis and urinalysis.
Varian, a Siemens Healthineers company, is helping fight cancer with products, software and services for radiotherapy, proton therapy and oncology. Alvares says the company also offers cloud support for remote services.
In addition to managing legal affairs, Alvares and her team also advise their company counterparts in other countries about changes in law. For example, Quebec’s 2022 Bill 96 makes French the default language used, including in communications with some provincial agencies and in advertising and product descriptions.
As Siemens Healthineers launches new products and innovations, she and her team offer legal support and advice on cybersecurity, data privacy and more.
Empathy is essential
Perhaps her most challenging time came as she helped guide the company through the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. Alvares led the company’s pandemic steering committee and worked with national and provincial government agencies to provide hospitals and healthcare facilities with equipment and services.
Alvares was also responsible for creating and communicating pandemic policies supporting Siemens Healthineers employees while keeping them safe.
Helping to supply the necessary equipment to employees who began working remotely, she also supported them emotionally. Her mother died during the pandemic, and she could not see her because of restrictions.
“I would check in with employees and other leaders about how their teams were doing,” Alvares says. “I would connect on a personal level with confidential conversations. Senior management is sometimes overlooked, needing the greatest compassionate support and facing the risk of burnout. That included me.”
Networks are needed
She says the effects of the pandemic are still being felt, both economically and emotionally. Hospitals and health care providers, all operated by the federal and provincial Canadian governments, have been under financial strain, and the staff have faced fatigue and burnout.
“The impact to humans and the strain and burnout that occurred are too often overlooked,” Alvares says. “It’s been a huge challenge for hospitals to reset budgets and personnel.”
Alvares’ support for employees, especially women, was not just pandemic-related. For three years, beginning in 2018, she helped organize the annual Women’s General Counsel of Canada conference.
In 2019, she led efforts to bring the Women’s Impact Network to Siemens Healthineers in Canada. As the founding executive sponsor, she helped start a book club within the network and a mentoring system where women in leadership roles worked with women to advance their careers. It also provided a forum for honest discussions of their challenges.
Though she’s no longer an executive sponsor, Alvares says her experience taught her that women continue to struggle to make time for themselves personally and professionally. She also saw how supporting each other in a non-competitive manner can be challenging.
“We have enough battles, so building a support network with someone to talk to is crucial,” Alvares says.
Compassion and culture
Of Goan descent and born in Tanzania, Alvares arrived in Canada when she was 4 years old. While growing up, her parents emphasized the need for her to pursue a professional career, and she earned her bachelor’s degree in biological sciences from the University of Toronto in 1992.
However, Alvares also loved the law, politics and debating, guiding her to law school instead of medical school for graduate studies. She earned an LL.B. graduate law degree from Western University in 1995 and joined the firm of McCarthy Tetreault as an articling student after graduating. In July 1997, the firm named her an associate attorney, and Alvares practiced corporate and commercial law with an emphasis on mining, health care and biotech companies.
Alvares came in-house in December 2002 when she joined Siemens’ Canadian operations as counsel for its automotive division. She oversaw legal affairs, including board matters, supply chain, engineering, R&D and commercial transactions for four plants. In October 2007, she was named director and senior counsel for corporate M&A for the Siemens AG companies in Canada.
Alvares began practicing in Siemens’ healthcare sector when she was named associate general counsel in June 2009 and became contract management director in February 2014. When Siemens Healthineers was founded as an independent company in 2015, Alvares was named general counsel for Canada.
Although she’s immersed in managing legal affairs and working with the Canadian and provincial authorities regularly, together with cross-border and international deals daily, Alvares says one of the great rewards of her role is the opportunity to work on a global scale with other attorneys and learn international laws, customs and cultures.
“I feel Siemens Healthineers is truly visionary because the company looks at trends in health care and diseases,” Alvares says. “The company is constantly investing in R&D to address longer-term trends such as increased cancer rates and the longer-term impact of diminishing resources.”
When she’s not at work, Alvares enjoys spending time with her two adult children, newly adopted dachshund and friends. She is an avid reader who belongs to two book clubs and a yoga study group and is a member of three Canadian General Counsel organizations.
“Taking time for myself includes spending time with my family, being outdoors and enjoying travel and great food,” Alvares says.
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