As part of our ‘Female Leaders: Inspiring Together’ series, we interviewed Lusi Chien – Former Global Commercial Leader at Subtle Medical – about her role, what inspired her to join the medtech industry and why you should treat your career like a VC treats its investments.


Thank you for taking part in this campaign, Lusi. Firstly, can you tell us a bit about your last role and the company that you worked for?

In my last role, I was a member of the founding team and Chief Commercial Officer at Subtle Medical, which is a deep learning company that came out of Stanford University applying deep learning in the medical imaging space. So essentially, it’s an AI software solution as a medical device that allows hospitals and image centers to obtain faster and better scans for their patients.

I was part of the founding team, so I worked with the two original co-founders, one of whom is a radiologist and the other is a Ph.D. The two of them had the technology, and I worked with them very early on to take it from the labs to our two FDA clearances and CE marks to commercialize it and bring it to the market. So today, the products are being used in many different image centers and hospitals throughout the world, including some of the largest image center chains in the US and Europe, and even in Brazil.


What inspired you to start your career generally in the medtech industry?

After college, I worked at Bain & Company with a particular focus on healthcare, which gave me some insight into the industry. But I would say what really inspired me was seeing up close and personal the power of technology to change lives. At Tenex Health, we had a minimally invasive product that helped people with tendinitis, a condition that people typically just ‘lived with’ for many years. My mom actually has tennis elbow and I know even friends who are my age that suffer from these conditions. I saw how painful it was for them. I interviewed a friend of mine, she’s a professional cellist in addition to being a world-class marketer, but she mentioned sometimes it hurts to even just pick up a grocery bag, or turn a doorknob, and so I saw in this particular case the power of this technology to really change their day-to-day lives and also the lives of others. The same with other medical device and medtech innovations where I saw how it really directly impacts the lives of patients.


Before you had this insight into the medical device and medtech industry, what did you want to pursue as a career?

When I was in school, I did a dual degree between the Harvard Kennedy School, which focused on international development, and the Stanford Business School. What attracted me to Stanford’s program specifically was the social entrepreneurship, so I have always wanted to be in a field that made an impact on people’s lives. Prior to that, I spent some time in Rwanda, India and China looking at different social enterprise innovations where through for-profit means, you could change the lives of people. There’s obviously a place and a time for nonprofit work – and I admire all the great work that’s going on there – but I was interested in how companies can do good and do well. So that’s been a theme for my life. It wasn’t specifically directed in medical device, per say, so in Rwanda we helped coffee farmers, and in India I was actually figuring out ways to bring more access to health care with a company called the Acumen Fund, which is an impact investing fund. Then in China, I was working for a division of HSBC that was opening banks in rural China to bring about loans to build businesses and to provide jobs. Whatever I did, I wanted it to have a social impact that made people’s lives better, and so working in medical devices and medtech is one way that I’m able to do that.


What barriers, if any, would you say you’ve encountered during your career and success as a female leader?

There are certain industries where there’s just a higher disproportionate lack of female leaders relative to other industries, and healthcare is one. It’s not that women don’t enter the healthcare field, but more how can women be promoted and helped to become the leaders of the healthcare field?

I was fortunate to have this mentor and former investor, the CEO of Tenex, who brought me in, who knew my work and who gave me an opportunity to be at the senior level.

I was fortunate to have this mentor and former investor, the CEO of Tenex, who brought me in, who knew my work and who gave me an opportunity to be at the senior level. That really opened up a lot of opportunities for me to be at the table and to participate in very key decisions for the company. It’s really about finding mentors, whether male or female, that can help.


A slightly different question, for women at a senior level with very busy schedules, how do you manage work-life balance?

First of all, there is a difference between productivity and time, so really focusing on what needs to be done and the important goals that need to be accomplished, as opposed to doing a lot of the ‘worthless many’. Especially in a world with Covid-19 where everything is moving to digital-first and remote first, it is more and more important for companies to define and look at what goals need to be met and the best way to meet them, as opposed to the number of hours or actually which hours people work. When you have people working in different time zones – like East Coast, West Coast and Asia – it all becomes that much more important.

The second is the ability to have flexible hours. I’ve been really blessed – especially in a lot of the startup settings – to be able to define which hours I want to work. Especially these days as the kids are home, if I want to be there for lunch and just check in with them, I can. I typically hop on the computer at night after they go to bed and do an hour or two of work, so it is just having the flexibility to do that. Sometimes it’s nice to have time to work at night when you’re not just in meetings all day to actually get work done.

I would say the third thing is we’ve made a very intentional decision – and I realize we’re in a very fortunate situation to be able to do this – to hire help. It’s also a mindset that my husband and I have decided that we would rather forgo other luxuries (such as buying a Tesla) to really pay for time. So, we’ve hired help around the home; we have a nanny who’s here to help us watch our kids and we have a cleaner come. Essentially, those are the things I consider as an investment in my family so we can have quality time. I think in the hours that I do have, ‘what am I doing with that time?’ and ‘am I spending that quality time with my kids?’ It is also very important to make sure I have time for my spouse and that we’re aligned as well.


Some really good advice there. What’s the biggest accomplishment that you’re most proud of career-wise?

I’m really proud of what we have accomplished at Subtle Medical for the past three years. I think three years is pretty quick for a medical device in terms of getting to a cleared product, getting them out to the hands of customers and having it be clinically used worldwide in some of the largest image centers and hospitals in the world. So that’s been a great ride for the past three years.


Do you ever suffer from self-doubt? And if so, how do you manage that?

I think self-doubt is related to humility, but humility is knowing what you don’t know and getting help, whereas ‘self-doubt’ is what happens when you’re on your own and you’re just trapped in that ‘I don’t know what I am doing and I’m going to sulk about it’. For me, it’s really about connecting with peers, with other professionals, and getting help with areas I don’t know and just even trading notes. I schedule in regular times with peers, I have several different networks I’m a part of. Firstly, I have a monthly women’s group with the Stanford Business School. That one actually is women from different walks of life, different industries, different years of graduation, but it’s been a really good support group for me to just bounce off higher-level ideas with them. The second is a more specific professional network that I’ve gathered, especially in the healthcare industry, a lot of them from peers at Stanford. The third is I proactively reach out to peers in the industry, so I know most of the companies, for example, in the medical imaging space and I speak with their Heads of Sales and their CEOs on a quarterly basis, and we just trade notes and help each other out. The last one is one of our investors, Bessemer Venture Partners, actually have these roundtables that they’ve set up, which has been also very helpful, just closed-room discussions where you’re not trying to flaunt your accomplishments, but really just help each other. You can bring what you’re facing, any questions you’re facing to the group and others help you. So those for me, to change from self-doubt to humility is to know what you don’t know but get help and move forward with this.

I also try every morning to ground myself in terms of you can’t change what’s in the past. Obviously, it’s important to reflect, do postmortem, figure out ‘why did I lose this deal?’ or ‘why did this happen?’, but really, for the most part, relentlessly focusing on ‘what are my goals?’, ‘moving forward what do I want to accomplish and achieve?’ and focusing on the future and what I can do about it as opposed to focusing on the past.


It must really help to have these networks of successful women from different walks of life and different industries. I think that’s probably something that would be useful to a lot of people in this industry as they grow their careers.

Yeah definitely, one of the key things about the Stanford Business School is people from all walks of life attend Stanford and they think they’re going to learn about operations and accounting – and, of course, you do – but if you read some of the alumni interviews, their favorite class is called Interpersonal Dynamics, but everyone calls it ‘Touchy Feely’. The GSB women’s groups have come out partly from that and partly from these women’s groups that are present at school as well and the goal is less professional. We have people in the consulting industry, in the finance industry and people who have moved out of business and gone to be a therapist, but it’s this group of women who really come together and support one another and give each other advice and perspective. I’ve just really valued that. I’ve been part of this group for almost five years now, and I make it a priority to try not to miss any one of them.


What’s the best advice that you’ve received that you could pass on to other women in the industry?

People have told me to treat my career decisions with the same rigor, if not more rigor, as a VC would treat its investments… I think we should have even more rigor in identifying the role, the opportunities, the team and really understanding the business before getting in.

People have told me to treat my career decisions with the same rigor, if not more rigor, as a VC would treat its investments. So being in the startup world, I understand as we’re going out for funding, you have to give the VCs these presentations. They do a lot of due diligence on you. They talk to your customers, they talk to your partners, they talk to experts in your field, they dig into your financials and they know everything about you before they make an investment. When I decide to join a company, it’s the next three to five years of my life and it’s an investment. So if the VCs are having this amount of rigor in figuring out what companies they want to invest in, I think we should have even more rigor in identifying the role, the opportunities, the team and really understanding the business before getting in. Sometimes that’s not as practical because companies won’t wait for two to three months for you to do all this due diligence to fill their role, so it’s a little bit of a balance, but really doing a lot of due diligence on what you invest in, because your time is your most precious investment.


Last question, who are the women who have inspired you the most?

One particular friend of mine is on the healthcare worker side, and obviously, Covid-19 has highlighted the courageous heroes on the front lines. She’s an OBGYN, she’s graduated from the top of her class from key programs like Stanford, and she’s chosen to work at a county hospital to really serve populations and people that may not be able to afford the best care. She wanted to bring her ‘A’ game, all of her knowledge and experience to serve this particular population. She is really invested in her patients and she takes a personal interest in them. She’ll actually personally pray for them in her own time. But she also mentors others at work and outside of work and takes an active role in that. Finally, what also inspires me is she has a great relationship with her husband and her three boys. I find so much wisdom from her in terms of how she spends real quality time with them while balancing her career and her work, giving her all while she is there, and being focused on what matters most to her.


Our ‘Female Leaders: Inspiring Together’ series is running throughout March with the aim of inspiring and supporting women to become future leaders in their respective industries. Follow us on LinkedIn to join the conversation and hear the insightful stories of our featured female leaders.