While many college students take summer jobs as movers, few saw the work as much more than lugging other people’s furniture on and off trucks. Even fewer look back to the time as informative to their current work. But Michael Parini learned early that every job has the potential to make a serious impact on people’s lives. And if you go about it the right way, any role can make a big difference in solving problems for others—a value he focuses on in his current work at Vertex Pharmaceuticals, no matter the function, department, or task.
“Moving is a seemingly straightforward task, but I learned that work also involves people and emotion,” Parini says. “There’s usually some life change that is attached to a move. Maybe somebody needs more space because of a new baby. Maybe they need to move cities for a new job. Maybe they need to leave a beloved home after a tragedy. I learned how important it is to understand the people you’re working with, and not just as clients.”
In between moving jobs, Parini earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Georgetown. After a stint as an associate at Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP, Parini took on a corporate counsel position at Pfizer—a role that reinforced his focus on problem-solving and compassion.
He joined the Fortune 100 company at a young age, moving up the corporate ladder to eventually become its senior vice president and chief litigation counsel. Although he was often one of the youngest people in the room and lacked the long tenure others had, Parini’s passion for learning from others and embracing their strengths helped overcome most potential problems. “Convincing the experienced, high-quality team that I could add value to them as a collective and as individuals was a problem to solve, but I asked a lot of questions and connected a lot of dots,” he says. Moreover, he helped change the department’s mind-set on litigation as a whole. “We embraced opportunities to treat litigation more like a business problem than a legal problem,” he says.
Parini’s time as a mover isn’t the only experience from his youth that continues to have an effect on his business mind-set. A self-described small child and the third of four boys, Parini grew up with a strong “justice bone,” constantly driving toward solving problems in a thoughtful, fair way. Whether in his relationships with coworkers and clients or in his personal work ethic, Parini continued to embody that quest for solving problems with integrity. “I quickly fell in love with the idea of becoming a lawyer, especially working in life sciences and medicine,” he says.
When Parini joined Vertex Pharmaceuticals in 2016, it was because he had found a company that shares his passion for justice and helping others, as well as a role that allowed him to exercise that problem-solving skill set across the organization rather than merely the legal function. In fact, in his current role as executive vice president and chief legal and administrative officer, Parini’s impact in legal, HR, quality, communications, and compliance is only the beginning.
A common thread among his responsibilities is taking in outside stimuli, anticipating potential issues, and communicating how the organization and its mission responds—both to internal and external stakeholders. “On any given day, I’m putting together statements on the company’s positions, ensuring we’ve got the right people and right resources, and working with the CEO and other senior leaders on big strategic questions,” Parini says. “In all this work, I am representing Vertex and sharing our vision for the kind of company we are and the kind of company we want to be.”
Parini’s adept communication hasn’t gone unnoticed from those with whom he works on a regular basis.
“Michael has mastered the art of productive and respectful straight talk. He uses his open and engaged style to set high expectations for his teams,” says Joshua Levy, litigation & enforcement practice co-chair at Ropes & Gray LLP.
That ability to connect with individuals throughout the organization was particularly helpful when he first joined the organization. Parini describes that time as tumultuous, as the legal and compliance team had gone through a lot of changes and a long search for a leader prior to his arrival. In fact, the department had seen 34 percent attrition in the preceding years. “If you’re turning over a third of your team year after year, that’s a hard way to have a functioning culture that can add value to the organization,” Parini says. This was the first true test of his problem-solving skills at Vertex.
“It was a lot about setting the vision, setting the right expectations, and then walking the talk,” he says. That meant getting a strong leadership team in place, making difficult decisions about talent, and ensuring the people were aligned on the right strategy. And now, three years later, the attrition rate for the department has dropped from 34 percent to only 4 percent. “You see a lot more engagement, a lot more investment, and it’s paying off in better outcomes for the individuals and the company,” he says.
Since that time, Parini has taken that approach to leadership of five different departments, as well as spreading his influence even further. A big part of that influence comes from the fact that he helps show that Vertex leadership wants to contribute across the entire function, to get people to stop thinking of themselves as contributors to a department and rather as contributors to a single, united Vertex. “I want to encourage people to think about why an issue is important and to think about a company objective, not to just rush into a problem,” he says. “Once you have clarity around that, the tasks and deliverables slot in nicely underneath.”
Adding structure and creating shared accountabilities in this way has helped everyone at Vertex think more cross-functionally. It has also given Parini a lot of insight on the many employees of Vertex, to see how they each fulfill the mission and integrity that he has found fuels him as well. Much like his time as a mover, he knows that every person comes into work with their own story, their own emotions and their own reasons; but he has focused on bringing them all together under a common mission.
“Mission is critically important and something that has drawn me to every place I’ve been, and that’s especially true here at Vertex,” Parini says. “An old boss of mine used to say that you can answer most of your problems by determining what a caring company would do in this situation. People need to see the vision in you, but you also need to understand them as complete human beings. Helping individuals solve their own personal problems as well as work toward big-picture company problems is something that I’ve always cared about.”
Global healthcare companies face many challenges: intellectual property disputes, changing regulation and trade challenges, to name a few. Opportunities for growth exist in acquisitions, joint ventures, licensing, distribution, supply agreements and international trade. Global law firm White & Case works with companies to navigate challenges and seize opportunities.