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If there’s one theme that’s consistent throughout the career of Leslie Yuan, it’s the power of connection—both her interest in connecting with others, and her talent for connecting other people. It’s not a coincidence that she majored in sociology as an undergrad at UC Berkeley and originally planned to become a psychologist after graduating. “I’ve always had an acute interest in people—getting to know them, understanding their unique circumstances, and creating relationships,” she says.
Yuan didn’t end up going into psychology, instead finding her place at Varian Medical Systems as senior director, assistant general counsel, and head of global litigation and employment law. Her transition to a career in law was inspired by working as a paralegal for a medical malpractice firm and at the district attorney’s office, and observing first-hand how the power of a lawyer’s advocacy could make a material difference to a person’s life.
At UCLA School of Law, she found herself intrigued by a presentation where an employment lawyer informed the audience that her next stop was to interview individuals in an industry she knew nothing about (in this case, animal trainers at a theme park) to get to the bottom of a harassment claim.
“I was fascinated that she was able to turn talking to different people about their unique experiences into a career,” Yuan recalls. “What I love about employment law is that I am always talking to new people from various walks of life and hearing their perspectives.”
Employment law was a natural fit for Yuan, and she spent nearly two decades making it the primary focus of her career, gaining international employment law, litigation, compliance, and M&A experience along the way before landing at Varian Medical Systems in 2019. She’d wanted to work in the medical field since high school when she volunteered at a hospital, which made the position at Varian especially enticing. At Varian she has also expanded her role into corporate governance with board committee duties.
Yuan attributes some of her success to the connections that she made in law school, at law firms where she has worked, and through local and national Asian American bar associations, where she found mentors. In fact, one of her mentors later offered Yuan her first in-house counsel role.
“I may not always know the answer to something or be able to personally help, but I know who to contact to get things done either for myself, my team, or for my network.”
“I strongly believe in creating intentional luck, that what you put forth in the world has a way of finding its way back to you,” Yuan says. “That’s why getting to know people, helping others, and staying connected is important.”
At her last job, in fact, Yuan won a ‘connector award.’ “I may not always know the answer to something or be able to personally help, but I know who to contact to get things done either for myself, my team, or my network,” she explains.
That quality is not only useful in her usual day-to-day work life, but also turned out to be essential during the COVID-19 pandemic. “This was an unprecedented situation, where laws and regulations were being made in real time to address health issues,” she explains.
Varian, as a medical device company, delivers technology and services critical to the daily care of cancer patients worldwide. Because it’s an essential business with manufacturing operations, not all of its employees could work from home. Sending people to work required instituting safety processes like temperature checks and health questionnaires, which involved around-the-clock collaboration with global groups across the organization. She further spearheaded drafting policy and advising senior leaders on the proper protocol in the event of employee exposure to COVID.
In the face of the ongoing uncertainty of the pandemic, Yuan strives to make sure team members feel valued and included. For example, she recently designed an exercise among the legal leadership team in which she asked everyone to come prepared to highlight noteworthy accomplishments of individuals within the broader legal team.
She then asked legal leadership to reach out to the individuals identified to let them know that they’d been recognized, which led to a positivity boost all around. “Sometimes it’s the little things like a meaningful ‘thank you’ and gratitude that go a long way,” she says.
“I strongly believe in intentional luck, that what you put forth in the world has a way of finding its way back to you. That’s why getting to know people and staying connected is important.”
Yuan was hired in part to help with Varian’s transformation as a global radiotherapy leader, a process that began not long before her arrival and is now culminating in Varian being acquired by Siemens Healthineers. Yuan is looking to build connections to help the two companies combine as seamlessly as possible and grow in the same direction. “I think that synergy will be important as we further our vision of a world without fear of cancer,” she says.
She points out that the merger will create a multidisciplinary global healthcare leader that is even better equipped to serve customers and define cancer care for millions of patients annually. Together with Siemens Healthineers, Varian will offer an integrated platform of end-to-end oncology solutions to address the entire continuum of cancer care, from screening and diagnosis to care delivery and post-treatment survivorship.
“The more we can collaborate and bring synergies together to the combined company, the better we can empower our customers and their patients in their fight against cancer, so that patients can achieve a higher quality of life,” she explains.
As an Asian American, Yuan also believes strongly in supporting diversity and inclusion, and makes an active effort to connect with and mentor others. She joined the board of directors for the Asian Pacific American Bar Association of Silicon Valley, where she cochaired the Diversity and Inclusion Committee.
One event she cocreated was a career development and mentoring conference for high school students. One student who she met during the conference was so inspired by Yuan’s guidance and mentorship that she decided to pursue law as a career. The student later wrote a meaningful letter to Yuan, thanking her for her kindness and for showing that a successful lawyer could look like her.
The two keep in touch to this day. “If my outreach and mentorship can help even one person,” Yuan says, “it will have been worth it.”
Duane Morris LLP:
“Leslie Yuan is a thoughtful, creative, and strategic leader in risk management, cost mitigation, and company mission. She collaborates with her counsel driving results and balancing business and legal concerns. D&I is woven into her DNA as she makes impactful decisions on behalf of a public company.”
—Cyndie Chang, Managing Partner, Los Angeles
King & Spalding LLP:
“Leslie Yuan is a dedicated and talented lawyer who makes strong contributions to Varian Medical Systems, and who also meaningfully promotes diversity and inclusion. We are proud to work with Leslie and Varian.”
–Quyen Ta, Vanessa Yen, and Sarah Borders, Partners