open menu

In the Field

As Luck Would Have It

How Sandy Leung ’84 parlayed a stroke of fortune into a twenty-five-year career in the pharma industry.

Photograph by Conor Doherty

Pocket Résumé

Sandy Leung ’84: Executive Vice President and General Counsel at Bristol-Myers Squibb. Pathbreaker: First woman general counsel at the company. Retirement Plan: To become a fitness instructor: “Yoga, kickboxing, Zumba, weight lifting … that’s how I keep my insanity.”

Not until Sandy Leung ’84 had left her job as an assistant DA in New York County in 1992 and begun work as a staff attorney at Bristol-Myers Squibb (BMS) did she learn how serendipitous her hiring had been. “I submitted my résumé on a bit of a whim,” she says, looking back on her decision to apply. Once there, she found out that scores of people had applied for the spot, and that the recruiter picked her résumé for an interview from a pile that had accidentally dropped on the floor. Why Leung? Hers stood out because it was on blue paper.

Today, as executive vice president and general counsel, she serves as the primary legal advisor to the company’s board of directors and senior leadership and is responsible for shaping the company’s legal strategy. She also oversees the areas of Environment, Health, Safety & Sustainability, Corporate Security, and Philanthropy. “As a member of the leadership team, much of my time is devoted to helping shape our strategy in a highly regulated, increasingly complex and dynamic global environment,” says Leung, who splits her time between offices in Manhattan and Princeton, New Jersey. “And, I appreciate more than ever that to provide sound legal advice, in-house lawyers must have a deep understanding of the business. Good legal advice is good business advice.”

More than 300 people report into Leung’s sections of the organization, and her days are spent charting a course that supports the more than $90 billion company in fulfilling its mission to “discover, develop, and deliver innovative medicines that help patients prevail over serious diseases.” Her responsibilities cover the gamut of corporate legal work, including mergers and acquisitions, intellectual property, litigation, and compliance, which she finds is often misunderstood. “Some people view compliance as the police,” she explains. “But compliance professionals, like lawyers, are here to enable the business. There is an old analogy: Why do cars have brakes? So they can go fast. If you hit a compliance speed bump, it can set the business back in significant ways. Compliance professionals need to work closely with the business in an integrated way, to enable the business to navigate speed bumps so they can continue to go fast.”

The company’s commitment to helping patients is always at the top of her mind. “We make medicines that improve and save lives,” says Leung, who notes that BMS is focused on helping millions of patients around the world in disease areas such as oncology, cardiovascular, immunoscience, and fibrosis.

Leung is also deeply committed to increasing diversity in the legal department at BMS as well as in the profession. “I think it is important that in-house law departments make their law firms accountable for diversity and inclusion, to demand that we have diverse attorneys working on our matters,” says Leung, who gave a TED-style talk on diversity and inclusion in May at the DRI Drug and Medical Device Seminar in New Orleans. An innovation Leung is proud of is a BMS program in which the company and some of its law firms mutually invest in diverse attorneys.

The daughter of immigrant parents from Hong Kong and China—her father was undocumented—Leung sits on the boards of the Asian Legal Defense and Education Fund, the Minority Corporate Counsel Association, and the foundation board of NALP. At BC Law, she was president of the Asian American Law Students Association.

Given her own lucky start in the corporate world, Leung now spends a significant amount of time mentoring junior attorneys. “It’s important to give them feedback early in their careers. I like being in the position where I can provide good advice,” she says.