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Alissa Hsu Lynch: Full Circle—Ballet to Business and Back to Ballet

Alissa Hsu Lynch is a senior healthcare executive and Henry Crown Fellow of the Aspen Institute. She left Johnson & Johnson in August after 20 years with the company and now works for Google leading MedTech Solutions for Google Cloud. She is a former professional dancer who toured with the Limón Dance Company and Ralph […]

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Alissa Hsu Lynch is a senior healthcare executive and Henry Crown Fellow of the Aspen Institute. She left Johnson & Johnson in August after 20 years with the company and now works for Google leading MedTech Solutions for Google Cloud. She is a former professional dancer who toured with the Limón Dance Company and Ralph Lemon Company before earning her MBA and entering the corporate world. I had the pleasure of speaking to Alissa as she was getting ready to join the Board of Trustees of American Ballet Theater (ABT), a career move that she calls a full-circle, dream-come-true moment.  

Can you tell me about your background?

I am a business executive, the mom of two boys, and a former dancer. I spent most of my business career at Johnson & Johnson, working in MedTech and Consumer Goods, managing multibillion-dollar brands both in and outside the US.  

Before I went into business, I spent six years as a professional dancer. My love for dance started when I was three and my parents took me to my first ballet. I’m told I was dancing in the aisle during the whole performance. From that moment, I was hooked. All the way through high school, I studied ballet and performed with a local company, but sadly, I was considered too short to dance ballet professionally. 

I went to Princeton University and danced with a student dance company there, expanding beyond ballet into other dance styles, and as I was about to graduate, my dance professor asked whether I’d consider pursuing modern dance professionally. Modern dance tends to be more inclusive of people of different backgrounds, shapes, and colors. I auditioned for and was accepted to the Limón Dance Company for a year-long world tour. I had planned to go to law school and told myself I would defer that for a year or two to follow my dream of dancing professionally. One year turned into six, and I really lived that childhood dream of dancing for huge audiences around the world, first with Limón and then with the choreographer Ralph Lemon, who just received a MacArthur “Genius” Grant.  

When I retired from dance, I went to business school and got my MBA and transitioned into the corporate world. And by the way, one of my sons also loves to dance; he’s been studying hip-hop and it is a joy to be able to share my dance experience with him.  

How has your experience in dance helped you in business? 

I believe that being a dancer has made me a better leader. When I started my first job after business school, I didn’t want people to know that I was a dancer; I thought it would make people think I was unqualified. But ultimately, I leaned on the most important lesson I learned as a dancer—to trust in myself, and that carried me.

There are so many other skills that I brought from dance to business. Some of those are discipline, collaboration, agility, and the ability to perform under pressure. Take collaboration, for example, which is critical in both dance and in business. In a dance company, you’re bringing diverse individuals together to create art that’s greater than any one dancer alone. You need to figure out how to work well together in the studio and on the stage, bringing out the best of what everyone has to offer to achieve a bigger collective vision. It’s the same principle in business when developing and leading high-performing teams.  

On performing under pressure, I danced in front of hundreds of people knowing that all eyes were on me and that there’s nowhere to hide when you’re under the lights. But I actually loved that feeling of butterflies in my stomach right before going on stage, knowing that I had the preparation of hours of rehearsals and years of training, and I learned to trust myself and just enjoy being in the moment. In business, there are always pressures as well. I’ve been able to channel the preparation I put in and my experience performing to everything from speaking at sales meetings and large conferences to presenting to the Board of Directors. I don’t really get nervous, because I learned through dance how to channel that energy for success. In fact, I like it—it reminds me of those great dancing days. 

You’re joining the board of ABT. What does that mean to you? 

I am thrilled to be joining the Board of Trustees of American Ballet Theater to give back to my first love, ballet. It really feels like I am coming full circle.  

ABT was designated America’s National Ballet Company® by Congress in 2006—it is one of the leading cultural institutions in the world! This year marks the 80th anniversary of the company and I am excited to get involved, to be part of the celebration of its past, and to help shape the next 80 years. 

This is a pivotal moment; the pandemic has caused a crisis for the performing arts. I feel lucky to bring the skills learned during two careers—dance and business—and to apply them during such challenging times to help one of the world’s leading ballet companies. 

I never imagined when I was dancing that I would be able to serve in this capacity.  

How does your experience in both dance and business serve the board?  

ABT Executive Director Kara Medoff Barnett—whom I met through the Aspen Institute’s Henry Crown Fellowship—has worked to evolve the board to bring in more people with diverse business experience, to help shepherd it through this difficult time and into the future. Each member of the board has their own “superpowers.” I would say that mine are global marketing and strategy as well as championing DEI (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion).  

I started my career in marketing with wonderful brands—Johnson’s Baby, Aveeno, and Neutrogena, to name a few—and I have experience in general management, sales, and strategy roles in the healthcare industry. I’ve managed businesses through their life cycles, from growth to tough times. I bring that perspective to ABT, so I can help them think through new business models as well as their branding and ways to reach new audiences.  

I am also looking forward to partnering with ABT on their diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives. American Ballet Theatre has the opportunity in this moment to demonstrate that ballet can be far more inclusive, accessible, and welcoming. As the national ballet company, I think it is our responsibility to lead the way.  

Finally, having been a professional dancer, I believe I understand the organization in a way others might not. And while I no longer dance, I am passionate about supporting dance and dancers, and I hope that I can share my experience and advice with any dancers who are interested—especially as they transition to life after dance. 

Obviously, the performing arts have been hit hard by COVID-19. How does ABT recover? 

The events of 2020 have been devastating to the performing arts. There have been no ticket sales and no tours, but ABT is keeping their educational programs going, creating new work in isolated “ballet bubbles,” and ensuring that the artists and the staff are connected and supported.  

ABT has done amazing work during the pandemic to identify new revenue streams and partnerships on their mission to bring ballet to the widest possible audience. Right now, they can’t present their art live on the stage of the Metropolitan Opera House, but I have been incredibly impressed with the innovation and the creativity they’ve demonstrated to pivot beautifully and to create more ways to engage with audiences through digital channels.  

Also, as we move to the next phase of the pandemic and begin the next 80 years of ABT, we will have to evolve to survive. I think the company is doing just that. 

So, what’s next for you?  

Well, 2020 has been a year of transition. In March, my family and I moved back to the US after living in Switzerland for a few years. I also left J&J after 20 years to open myself up to new opportunities. I recently joined Google to lead MedTech Solutions for Google Cloud. I am excited to be able to continue to make an impact at scale in healthcare, which is another passion of mine, and to improve lives through technology. I feel grateful to have meaningful work as well as the opportunity with ABT to be able to give back to my first love, ballet.  

Alissa Hsu Lynch officially joined the ABT Board of Trustees on October 23rd. I connected with Executive Director Kara Medoff Barnett about the Board in general and Alissa specifically, and she said, “We at ABT are so fortunate to welcome Alissa to our Board. With her breadth of experience, her passion for dance, and her understanding of the artist’s perspective, she will offer invaluable guidance at a crucial time for our company and for the performing arts.” 

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