Arivee Vargas is Anti-Corruption, Anti-Can’t

Arivee Vargas channels her personal values to empower her team at Vertex and develop a world-class anti-corruption program.

Arivee Vargas, Head of Global Anti-Corruption and Assurance Programs, Vertex Pharmaceuticals Incorporated Photo: Ryuji Suzuki, BEAUPIX

As a young girl, Arivee Vargas grew up watching Law and Order. She was captivated by the justice system—the life-changing impact lawyers could have—and though she knew little about the field, she knew that was where she was meant to be.

“Growing up, I always said I was going to be a lawyer,” she says. “But it’s extremely challenging to believe you can be something that you can’t really see. And, it’s hard to know what something is unless you’re exposed to it.” Determined and grounded in her father’s education-forward spirit, Vargas paved her path, eventually achieving her childhood dream of becoming a lawyer.

After law school, Vargas took time to develop technical skills through her clerkships—a position she found highly formative—and ensured that the judges she worked with were determined, inspired people. During this time, she even had the opportunity to clerk for the Honorable Ojetta Rogeriee Thompson, the first African-American woman to serve on the First Circuit for the US Court of Appeals, and the Honorable Denise J. Casper, the first African-American woman to serve on the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts.

Arivee Vargas portrait
Photo: Ryuji Suzuki, BEAUPIX

“I enjoyed the academic exercise of my clerkships,” Vargas notes. “I loved the intellectual challenge of figuring out really complex legal problems, reading the briefs on both sides, and talking through the case and decision with the judge. It felt like my writing, research, analytical, and critical-thinking skills skyrocketed.”

After spending more than two years developing her techniques, she decided it was time to go back into practice, joining Jones Day in Boston. During both clerkships, Vargas also taught at the business school at Boston College and continued to teach while at Jones Day. These experiences eventually led her to Vertex Pharmaceuticals Incorporated. Today, she stands as the company’s head of global anti-corruption and assurance programs in the Office of Business Integrity and Ethics.

About her teaching years, Vargas says, “For many of my students, I was the only person of color that taught them. So, for them, it was important to see someone at the front of the classroom who reflected who they were. And I really took that responsibility seriously. My time there provided me with a unique set of experiences and skills, including how to simplify and communicate complex topics and how to read the room to see whether students were grasping the concepts we were discussing. This all helped prepare me for my current role at Vertex.”

Now, inspired by the legal role models she discovered during her journey through and after law school, Vargas continually surrounds herself with extraordinary individuals. At Vertex, Vargas channels her own global experience, as well as her teaching experience, to communicate effectively with her team members and stakeholders around the world. When working in different countries, Vargas takes the time to learn appropriate mannerisms, employ comprehensive communication strategies, and acknowledge any blind spots that may be hindering. Her techniques have allowed her to be a valuable business partner across Vertex’s community base and have aided in her success in building and enhancing the company’s anti-corruption program.

The vision for the program was simple: “Build a best-in-class anti-corruption program to prevent, detect, and mitigate bribery corruption risk.” Vargas and her team tailored the program to fit the needs of Vertex and the risks that it faces every day.

“We spent a lot of time trying to understand the mission and critical business activities, and build consensus. We collaborated with cross-functional teams across the globe to enhance and implement the systems needed to mitigate corruption risk, and raised awareness with our colleagues in different markets about how we can make sure that we’re exercising corporate responsibility—and that we are acting responsibly, ethically, and with the integrity in the way we do business.”

The team even designed a third-party corruption tool to help conduct corruption-risk due diligence and research on vendors, using a risk-based approach. The team aimed to identify and mitigate any risks that  vendors might pose before they were engaged. “It’s primarily about enhancing our employees’ awareness. We’re educating them on important and ethical ways to conduct business in countries across the globe,” she remarks.

“It’s primarily about enhancing our employees’ awareness. We’re educating people on important and ethical ways to conduct business in countries across the globe.”

Vargas’s global mind-set has helped ignite a passion for empowering team members and serving as a role model for Latinx employees in the legal space. She wants to teach aspiring Latinx lawyers to channel their unique selves, rather than feeling like they need to conform to a specific mold. She says it’s imperative for members of her community to realize that “they are capable of doing whatever they set their minds to.”

In her job, however, Vargas also strives to be as much of a student as she is a teacher. She aims to welcome and bolster perspectives, embracing any opportunity to learn something new, or guide others to be successful.

“I am a perpetual student,” she explains. “I thrive on mastering new ideas and skills and working through difficult challenges and problems. I feel energized when I am doing or learning something new and helping my team fulfill their potential. I’m committed to developing them and making sure that they, too, are energized by the important work we all do together.”

Sobre Su Familia:
Like Father, Like Daughter

Though Vargas did not grow up in a family of lawyers, her father taught her skills that she would carry with her to be successful throughout her career. After immigrating to the US from the Dominican Republic, Vargas’s father worked tirelessly to get his college degree, while working full time and raising his two daughters. Through him and her mother, she learned the power of determination and hard work.

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