Alissa Hsu Lynch is a senior executive at Google Cloud. She is a former professional dancer who toured with the Limon Dance Company and Ralph Lemon Company before getting her MBA and spending 20 years as an executive at Johnson & Johnson. I talked to Alissa about transitions, how she made the leap from the healthcare industry to the tech sector, and her advice to others who are thinking about making big changes.
Changing jobs is stressful. Changing careers can seem too daunting to try. Alissa Hsu Lynch recently made the leap at the executive level from a healthcare company to a tech company. She says that not only did guidance and planning make the transition easier, but now she’s doing everything she loves.
Tell me where you are right now. How did you get there?
Last spring, my husband and I moved to Seattle, and this fall, I started a job with Google Cloud leading MedTech Strategy and Solutions. Before that, I spent 20 years in various leadership positions at Johnson & Johnson.
People have a hard time understanding how I made this transition, but I’ve had a diverse career, so I am comfortable with change. After graduating from Princeton, I danced professionally for six years and got to travel the world performing in some amazing places. The reality of that “glamorous” dancer’s life was that I was making less than ten thousand dollars a year and always had part-time jobs to make ends meet. I did everything from working as a cashier at Barnes and Noble to acting as a bookkeeper at a chain of French restaurants.
After I retired from dance, I got my MBA at Columbia Business School and went to work at Johnson & Johnson in marketing. Throughout my 20 years there, I took advantage of the opportunities of a large multinational and did some of everything, from marketing to sales to general management and strategy. I also lived abroad in Shanghai, China, and my last position was in Zurich, leading strategy for the medical device business in the Europe, Middle East, and Africa region.
That’s a big switch; how did it happen?
My posting in Switzerland was coming to an end when I had a medical emergency. While I was recovering from surgery in a Zurich hospital, I had an epiphany that it was time to make some changes. Lying there, I started to think through the next phase of my life, personally and professionally. My husband and I had fallen in love with the mountains while we were in Europe, so we wanted to settle in the Pacific Northwest when we came back to the US. There were no opportunities with J&J there, so I had to start considering leaving the company I’d been with and thought of as my second family for two decades.
I was very methodical in my considerations. First and foremost, I realized that after so long with one company, most of my business contacts were within J&J, so I needed to expand my external network. I was introduced to Pioneering Collective, which helped me rewrite my bio and resume and offered a wonderful community of leaders who shared their insights and their connections with me. I also worked with an executive coach to confirm my strengths and identify the type of work I loved to do, the work that really gave me energy. And I invested time to think about the impact I wanted to make in my life—my purpose.
I developed what I like to think of as my personal board of advisors, who were invaluable in helping me to think through different possibilities. I was about to declare I was “semi-retired” and take on Board of Director roles and devote time to working with nonprofits when Google Cloud called. They offered me a position that quite literally checked off the boxes of everything on my criteria list for the ideal job. It felt like a stroke of luck, but it really came out of a lot of work I’d done in planning.
What have you learned changing careers at the executive level?
Well, for me, looking at my career, I’ve had a lot of different jobs and experiences—they all just mostly happened to be at the same company! I’ve always been interested in taking on new challenges, and switching roles, industries and geographies teaches you learning agility. It was a big decision to leave after 20 years, but changing careers wasn’t as daunting as I originally thought it might be.
In fact, I think the career change has been really healthy. I realize now that I was benchmarking my success and progression against other people internally at one company rather than setting big goals for myself and defining the impact I wanted to make. It has been really liberating to lift my head up and forge a new path for myself!
What is your advice for people who want to look into making the leap?
I know that I’m in a fortunate position and that not everybody has the freedom I had to take a season to consider their next move. But I believe that this process is doable while working—with a little commitment. There are three things that I learned through this experience that I recommend to anyone looking for a change.
- Think about what you do well and what gives you energy. You spend so much time and effort on work, you might as well enjoy it. Taking the time to find a role that plays to your strengths will make you more successful and feel more fulfilled. It is an incredible confidence booster. I just started a new career in a new industry, and I feel more confident than I have in years!
- Develop a criteria list. The executive coach I worked with suggested that I create a criteria list defining the perfect role—everything from the industry I wanted to be in, the lifestyle I wanted, the company values, to the amount of time I was willing to spend commuting and traveling, and of course, my preferred salary. Having this defined and prioritized BEFORE you start interviewing enables you to ask the right questions and make faster decisions later.
- Dream big; don’t settle. It sounds trite, but if I learned anything from my medical emergency in Zurich, it’s that life’s too short to do something that doesn’t excite you. That doesn’t mean you should quit your job tomorrow—there are bills to pay—but it means to keep moving in the direction of your dream and to believe in yourself and in what’s possible.
You did all of this during a pandemic—how is it going?
It’s a bit strange not to have met any of my new colleagues in person or to have gone into a physical Google office, but the days go by quickly. I am working harder than ever, but I am really loving it. One of the things that Google Cloud does is bring people in who have deep industry expertise in everything from retail to finance to healthcare—because we’re building our business with retailers and banks and healthcare companies and need to understand the challenges they’re facing in order to help solve them.
My role is serving as a bridge between technology and business. I am still in healthcare, but also in technology. I learn something new every single day, and that gives me energy. And I truly believe that technology has the potential to transform healthcare and to improve people’s lives. That’s the impact I want.