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IN-HOUSE WITH … Alexandra Glazier of the New England Organ Bank

1_neih1027_GlazierSometimes there’s a surprise waiting after you’ve climbed the mountain and met all those career goals you set for yourself years ago. It’s in the form of an opportunity that pops up and makes you recognize you’re actually prepared to leave your “dream job” and take on a new challenge.

That’s Alexandra Glazier’s story.

Glazier set her sights on becoming general counsel for a nonprofit organization in the public health field after joining Ropes & Gray in 1996 as a health care attorney. She realized her dream in 2003 when she became GC for Waltham-based New England Organ Bank, the oldest independent organ procurement organization in the country.

But now Glazier’s career is taking a turn she hadn’t anticipated.

New England Organ Bank’s board of trustees recently named Glazier as the nonprofit’s next president and CEO, a role she’ll step into in April.

Glazier recently spoke with New England In-House about how her experience as general counsel helped prepare her for the duties of her new position, which include finding someone to replace her as the organization’s top legal advisor.

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Q. What drew you to New England Organ Bank?

A. I like to say going from a billable-hours mission to a mission of saving lives is pretty dramatic and exciting. It sounds pretty stark that way, but really New England Organ Bank’s mission is to save lives through [organ] donation and transplant. I found that very appealing.

From a policy perspective, what’s unique about donation and transplant within the health care world is that it has always been a matter of rationing. With a scarce resource, decisions have to be made on the best use of that resource. So this pulls in the medical issues, a lot of the ethical issues, and the legal issues that I find appealing.


Q. What are the key attributes of a successful general counsel?

A. Being successful is primarily based on your ability to find solutions rather than see barriers. If you are seen as a problem solver, then you are going to be at the table on a project at the right time rather than coming in at the end of a project to perform a review. If the executive team and leadership see general counsel as a problem solver and someone with strategic vision, then I think they will be successful in being able to not only carry out the legal work but in making sure that that legal work adds value in terms of achieving the organization’s mission.


Q. Lawyers are trained to see “barriers” in the sense that they seek to identify and avoid or minimize risk. Isn’t there an inherent tension in that aspect of being general counsel and the problem-solving role you envision?

A. I see risk a little differently. With risk there is opportunity. What you need to evaluate with risk is how severe it is, how likely it is to materialize, and what is the opportunity at the other end of that risk spectrum. If you have a full context of analyzing risk in that way, then the organization’s leadership will listen to you when it is important to say, “This is a risk we need to avoid.”


Q. How would you describe your leadership style?

A. I am very direct and strive to be very clear as to the vision of where we are going. That clarity of vision should cascade to all levels of activity to make sure that the organization is moving in one direction toward achieving the mission.


Q. Did you ever think that you would become president and CEO of your organization?

A. This next step in my career was not on my radar screen until more recently. At the time I took the general counsel position, it really was my dream job. In fact, it has been fantastic. But as I’ve grown professionally, I’ve acquired a leadership perspective about what I enjoy most about my work, the field of donation and transplantation and all of the business, operational, regulatory, legislative and policy issues related to that field.


Q. How did your time as general counsel prepare you for your next role as president and CEO?

A. My role as general counsel has evolved since I started in 2003. When I first came in, I had a traditional general counsel role in that I did not have any operational departments reporting to me. Now, I have several departments that are non-legal that report to me.

In addition, there are real-time issues in our business of coordinating and facilitating organ donation for transplant that need to be resolved in the moment. My availability 24/7 to work with the staff on those operational issues has really prepared me to understand at a ground level what it is we do and how we can perhaps do it more efficiently.


Q. You are leading the process of hiring your replacement. What are you looking for in the next general counsel for New England Organ Bank?

A. Having a background in health policy or an interest in bioethics would be a real asset to the next general counsel. Many of the legal issues that we deal with on a clinical case here have larger policy considerations. It’s important that, when we’re making decisions, we’re mindful of that larger context. Having a strong regulatory background would also be an asset.


Q. What kinds of matters did you handle at Ropes & Gray that, ostensibly, prepared you for your career at New England Organ Bank?

A. I worked primarily with academic medical centers on regulatory and patient care matters. In particular, I had a focus on human subject research. I also worked on mergers and acquisitions within the health care industry.


Those who wish to register as an organ donor can visit www.donatelifenewengland.org.

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