Throughout her career, Maureen Ruane has never been afraid to take on a challenge. Whether it’s litigating complex federal criminal trials for the US Attorney’s Office for the District of New Jersey—even delivering the government’s closing argument to a jury three days before her first child was born—or spearheading an internal investigation for an Ivy League university, Ruane has honed her legal skills over the years by taking on a wide variety of legal matters. This vast array of experience is serving her well now in her current role as vice president and head of US litigation at pharmaceutical company Novartis.
In her role, Ruane strives to serve as a legal “bridge” for the company’s different divisions by keeping critical stakeholders informed on important matters, and handling and supervising all of the company’s material litigations and investigations, while also making sure not to burden people with unnecessary information.
Ruane sat down with American Healthcare Leader to discuss how her family influenced her career path, the exciting challenges of working at Novartis, and how she maintains her work/life balance.
What does a typical day look like for you?
On a daily basis, I partner with the other Novartis Group lawyers who work alongside me to handle the investigations and litigations that are ongoing at Novartis and its several businesses. As the Novartis head of US litigation, I work for the Novartis corporate organization, which serves as an umbrella organization over the various divisions. We handle all significant Group litigation and investigation matters, which include matters that could pose a material risk of reputational or financial harm to Novartis. I’m also responsible for working with the general counsel of the various divisions, as well as other litigation and compliance colleagues throughout the organization to ensure that we are identifying and addressing any issues that require attention.
What is your strategy for acting as that bridge for the different businesses at Novartis?
I have found the best way to serve as a bridge is to provide helpful assistance where needed, and to avoid interfering in matters and issues that the divisions are well suited to handle on their own. There are various ways to be helpful, including offering to handle difficult matters or supporting others who are already handling them, providing financial support for projects that benefit the greater Novartis organization, and escalating matters that require additional oversight or support from others at the company.
What unique challenges has stepping into that role presented you?
Novartis is a complicated matrix organization, so there are often many individuals and groups who have an interest in decisions or have taken positions in litigations or investigations. Obtaining consensus or even keeping all of the interested parties informed can be challenging. Additionally, we need to remain close to the business at all times to keep them updated on any developments that are material to the operations of the organization; to confer with them about proposed changes to the business model that might be recommended from a legal or compliance perspective; and to ensure that everyone remains focused on the critical mission of Novartis: reimagining medicine to discover new ways to improve and extend people’s lives. Novartis sells products in more than 150 countries, working to provide lifesaving medicines to people who are desperately in need of them. In the process, Novartis must work with and through complicated legal, regulatory, cultural, and other frameworks, and of course is subject to a great deal of scrutiny by various governing enforcement and regulatory authorities. It can be challenging to navigate through these issues in conducting business, but we must succeed in doing so to ensure that patients receive the medicine they need.
Are there any projects you’re working on right now that excite you?
I’m working on establishing a Litigation Center of Excellence to bring even greater structure and organization to my interactions with the general counsel of the divisions and various litigators throughout the company. The Litigation Center of Excellence will focus on ensuring that we have deep knowledge of the various areas of experience and expertise throughout Novartis. That will ensure that we can quickly and efficiently connect the right individuals at the correct times to maximize the use of our resources and to achieve the best possible outcomes. Ultimately, the Litigation Center of Excellence will focus on transparency and information sharing, which are keys to success in any organization.
Switching gears, I was wondering what influenced you to go down your career path?
My career path was strongly influenced by my parents. My mother, unfortunately, was crippled with rheumatoid arthritis for almost all of my life. In spite of her diagnosis, she was a proud and strong woman who always wanted the best for her children, and pushed us hard to be the best people, students, and workers that we could be.
As a young child, I took on the role of her primary caregiver and helped her navigate the complicated issues involving access to medicines and innovative surgeries, managing insurance reimbursements, and keeping up with the latest breakthroughs. And my father died suddenly while I was taking the bar exam—which was a tragic, life-altering event for me—and was the result of medical malpractice. He visited his doctor one day with pain in his left shoulder and arm, where he was diagnosed with tendinitis, and died of a massive heart attack the next. My mother later was diagnosed with, and ultimately died from, complications of Parkinson’s disease. All of these experiences guided me toward the healthcare field and, ultimately, healthcare law.
You mentioned that working at Novartis is your dream job. What are your favorite parts about working at the company?
Novartis has all the best parts of practicing law. I am working on sophisticated litigation and investigations with extremely smart colleagues and business partners to ensure that the business continues to operate and deliver lifesaving medicines to as many people as possible.
And I’m not involved in the “business of law”—finding clients, billing hours, and collecting receivables—which is very stressful and something that I did not enjoy.
Throughout your career, you have emphasized having work/life balance. How have you maintained that?
Every single day, I aim to set priorities, constantly reevaluate them, and then keep going—no matter what. I believe it’s critically important to be grateful each day for the gift of life. We fill our lives with many important things, including family, friends, work, and service to others. We all decide what to prioritize, and it’s not possible to prioritize everything at once. And when thinking of work, flexibility is the key to success. It’s wonderful that so many employers now offer flexible work arrangements, but I believe it’s also incumbent on employees to be flexible, too. By being flexible in all aspects of life, at both work and home, which often requires changing plans and making alternative arrangements sometimes with virtually no notice, I have been blessed with a loving family who means the world to me and a professional career that has been incredibly challenging and rewarding.
Photo by Larry Bercow
DLA Piper LLP (US): “Maureen Ruane is an uncommonly talented lawyer. Her experience in prosecuting healthcare fraud as a federal prosecutor and defending life science companies as outside counsel, combined with her sound, practical judgment, make her an indispensable and trusted advisor. We are very fortunate to continue our collaboration with such a skilled attorney.” -Karl Buch, Partner
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Morrison & Foerster is proud to work with Novartis. Maureen’s commitment to excellence is apparent in everything she does. Her keen business sense and legal acumen set a high standard and drive successful, team-oriented results.