Irene Chiu – MicroPort Orthopedics
Irene Chiu is a lawyer with roots in medicine. Since childhood, she’s looked up to her parents: her obstetrician-gynecologist father and her cardio-surgeon mother.
“Even in 2023, the fields of cardio-surgery remain male-dominated,” Chiu says. “So, for me, having a mother who excelled as a cardio-surgeon showed me what women can accomplish. I couldn’t have asked for a better role model.”
Her interests in life science manifested in the legal instead of medical world—but she found a way to merge her two passions.
In 2021, she became MicroPort Orthopedics’ senior vice president and general counsel. The umbrella of MicroPort Scientific Corporation covers 12 major business sectors and has a significant focus on total orthopedic joint care. After the corporation’s 2014 acquisition of Wright Medical’s orthopedic business, MicroPort Orthopedics became the sixth largest global producer of orthopedic hips and knees, Chiu says.
MicroPort has 60 years of manufacturing orthopedic implants and sales in more than 80 countries. Chiu was drawn to the company because of the strides it was making to help patients get back to “Full Function, Faster,” a branded effort from the company.
“We’re disrupting the orthopedics industry in the best way: everything we do is focused on reducing recovery time and achieving better outcomes for patients,” Chiu says. “I’m here to protect MicroPort’s inventions and creations so our scientists and doctors can continue changing the world with better patient results.”
Pivoting on IP, litigation and languages
To protect everything from the hip replacement techniques that minimize soft tissue damage to the Medial-Pivot knee implant that Chiu calls the best in class, she created an intellectual property steering committee.
She and executives discuss which information to keep private and what to share with the world. This effort is essential as pieces of intellectual property are key assets to all life science companies, she explains. In its February 2023 article on MicroPort, the medical device journal Medical Design & Outsourcing recognized the company’s focus on IP, naming it the No. 1 investor in research and design in the medical device industry.
“A part of the MedTech Big 100, the world’s largest medical device companies, we still operate with the heart of a start-up and the soul of an industry powerhouse,” she says.
According to Chiu, MicroPort Orthopedics’ desire to expand and evolve is why the board wanted her on the executive team. In addition to her career and academic background, she adds value through her multicultural background and multilingualism—she’s fluent in English, Cantonese and Mandarin Chinese, with knowledge of Japanese. She grew up in New York and Hong Kong while frequently visiting relatives throughout North America and the U.K.
“With this cultural acumen, I’m helping MicroPort achieve its vision of becoming a global company offering total health solutions across most major clinical specialties,” she says.
In the past, she also helped One Equity Partners—part of JPMorgan at the time—with its global acquisition of Johnson & Johnson’s worldwide divestiture of its wound care business. During that challenging process, Chiu helped re-brand that divested business across 100 countries.
Her global knowledge and more than two decades of legal and compliance alongside business and medical experience ensured she could reduce risks for the company while skillfully managing disputes and litigation. To accomplish this, she revamped the legal and compliance groups into one harmonious team.
“The decision to combine both global compliance and the legal departments reflects the business’ interest in integrating the risk, legal, compliance and ethics functions in a cohesive and efficient way,” Chiu says.
A career of surgical precision
Watching her parents, Chiu knew she wanted to help others. While she decided on law instead of medicine, the latter remained a key part of her life and career.
In 2004, several years after she graduated from the University of Buffalo School of Law as well as its School of Management, she joined the law firm of Mogan, Lewis and Bockius. With its global footprint, it gave her the chance to focus on life sciences and international M&A. She also counseled life sciences’ clients, ranging from early-stage biotechnology start-ups to global pharmaceuticals and medical device companies.
Now, at MicroPort Orthopedics, she’s handling legal matters that cover everything from M&A, IP, litigation, compliance and regulations to clinical and employment issues.
“I’m like a quarterback, responsible for the final outcome,” she says. “To clinch a win, I create the best, most feasible plays to get my team—and company—into the endzone.”
She credits her unique background, including savviness for litigation, for transforming her into an exceptional leader. For her, resolving a dispute is not about winning a case perfectly but pursuing what’s best for her company.
“The driving force behind everything I do is to make the impossible possible—dream it, believe it and make it happen,” Chiu says.
A heart and soul for female empowerment
MicroPort Orthopedics’ work holds an added special meaning for Chiu because her mother is a recipient of a knee replacement—without which she could be confined to a wheelchair.
“Everything we do is about improving the quality of patients’ lives,” Chiu says. “Medical advancements and medical science gave me my family—my husband is a proud cancer survivor—and I am reminded every day that my job is meaningful and impactful.”
Chiu firmly believes success isn’t about money but giving back to the community to help others succeed, especially future generations. So, she advocates for women and minorities in the orthopedic industry, whether they are surgeons, distributors or corporate representatives. She’s served on the board of trustee for the Princeton Charter School and actively supports the Asian American Bar Associations.
“For years, more than 90 percent of the orthopedic workforce has been male,” she says. “I want to see us shattering social norms of these white male-dominated industries, not just so women can thrive but for the best of patients and others who will benefit from diverse, varied perspectives.”
Chiu recently attended two annual sales meetings for the North America and the Europe, Middle East and African regions—and is typically the only woman and racially diverse executive in attendance at such gatherings. She addressed her appreciation for MicroPort’s dedication to women, diversity, equity and inclusion at its recent 25-year anniversary celebration. For her, the industry, however, has a lot of room for DE&I improvement.
“My mom was a trailblazer and I’ve been following her lead for myself and my two daughters,” Chiu tells Vanguard. “I hope more women continue to shatter expectations and disrupt the orthopedic field. I want to see change—and I will always keep trying to be that change, as my mother was.”
View this feature in the Vanguard Summer I 2023 Edition here.
Showcase your feature on your website with a custom “As Featured in Vanguard” badge that links directly to your article!
Copy and paste this script into your page coding (ideally right before the closing