Michelle Oliver first came to New York at age twelve as part of a family trip. Looking around Manhattan as the plane landed, Oliver knew she was destined to leave her native Ireland and make a life in the Big Apple. “It was the most fascinating place that I had ever seen—the hustle and bustle, the diversity, everyone walking around with such a sense of purpose,” she says. “The odds seemed against me, but I was determined to make the dream a reality. Later in life, I started to embark on the path to become a lawyer in New York.” After years of hard work, study, and determination, Oliver not only achieved that dream, she’s done so at the upper echelons of her field, currently serving as general counsel for the Point of Care business at Siemens Healthineers.
Early on, to fulfill that promise herself, Oliver went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in both business and law at University College Dublin. “I got to see how the law was built through case law, and then I also got to see the practical aspect of that work in business,” she says.
After excelling there, Oliver felt ready to finally make the leap to the States; when it came time for postgraduate study, she attended New York University School of Law (NYU) to earn her master’s of law in international law. She didn’t yet have the confidence of those powerful lawyers she had seen walking in Manhattan, but Oliver worked to overcome any obstacle that arose.
“With only 3 percent of commercial cases going to trial, clients are far more focused on transactional work,” Oliver says. To be effective in a legal role requires people who aren’t only great lawyers, but who can be great on their feet as well, and are skilled at persuading their audience that their position is the strongest. “US law firms still think and operate very traditionally, meaning these jobs are too often reserved for Americans, and it’s extremely challenging for an ‘outlier’ to gain entry.”
But Oliver craved that opportunity—to interact with others, to think on her feet, to be involved in important commercial cases. She fought for that opportunity by writing numerous letters to law firms that she’d be honored to work for, while taking on small contracts here and there to pay the bills. Eventually, she got the call from Thelen Reid Brown Raysman & Steiner LLP, accepting a job as a commercial litigation associate. “That was my first big step in terms of beginning a fully-fledged career as a lawyer in New York,” she says.
From there, Oliver moved to Steptoe and Johnson, acting as a commercial litigation associate. But not long later, Oliver felt that it was time to move in-house and broaden her horizons. “I had forgotten how intriguing business was,” she says. “When you’re in a law firm, at times you can have the myopic view that the world revolves around the law. But when you step into a business, you realize how naive that is.” The opportunity to learn more about that juncture came in the form of a corporate counsel role at Breckenridge Pharmaceutical, Inc. Not only did she thrive as an in-house lawyer, but she found herself enraptured by the inner workings of the healthcare industry.
Breckenridge dealt in generic pharmaceuticals, which meant Oliver had to deal with compliance, complex commercial contracts, and all the regulations that come along with the healthcare world. There was the opportunity to help shape business strategy from the legal office. And when Siemens came calling in 2013 with an opening for an in-house counsel role, Oliver leapt at the opportunity to contribute to a global healthcare organization.
At the beginning of her tenure, Oliver worked closely with the general counsel and worked as hard as she could, learned as much as she could, and added as much value as she could. Even when business partners would only expect her to call into a meeting, Oliver would hop on a plane to make a personal connection and ensure she could provide the best legal guidance possible. After five years of growth and rising leadership roles, she attained a general counsel position in 2018.
Oliver sits within two businesses within Siemens Healthineers: she works as general counsel for the point of care business, and as head of operations for legal for the lab diagnostic business. “I get to keep my feet in two very different markets from a healthcare perspective, but as it’s all centered around diagnostics, they’re also complementary,” she says. In both roles, Oliver primarily focuses on how on legal guidance can help shape the strategy of the business itself.
While Siemens Healthineers continues to strive toward being an enabler of healthcare providers worldwide, Oliver supports the lab automation business in its efforts to pioneer radical change in clinical laboratories, including enhanced lab efficiencies and workflow excellence.
And after childhood dreams of becoming a lawyer in New York, Oliver is acting as an integral part of one of the largest global organizations in the world. As a global general counsel, Oliver is responsible for some of the most complex global deals within her business areas. “The fact that what I do ultimately enables the business to improve healthcare for patients gives me the passion to strive for my best every day. I’m proud to have achieved this stature career-wise, and also to work for Siemens Healthineers.”
Lessons from New York Real Estate
Before she had risen to her first prominent legal role, Michelle Oliver moved at least ten times in her first four years in New York. At one point, Oliver shared a Brooklyn apartment with nine other people—but that’s not even her most unique story of her early Big Apple housing experiences. “There was even a time when I rented a psychiatrist’s office and slept on the couch,” she jokes. “One night I was so exhausted after working on a case that I slept through all of my alarms and woke up to find the psychiatrist walking in with a patient the next morning. Those experiences really shaped my ability to be flexible, resourceful, and work well with a variety of personalities.”