An Evolution, Seventy Years in the Making

Varian’s new focus keeps Terilyn Juarez Monroe on her toes—and she couldn’t be happier about it

Photo by Bill Zemanek

There’s an easy way to see how Varian differs from other organizations, and that’s by noting the official job title of Terilyn Juarez Monroe: chief people officer and senior vice president of people, places, and communications. Her title might be long, but it brings context to the term “human resources” in a way that the mere words cannot. Her organization uniquely combines three organizations under one umbrella to align and coordinate the company’s business strategy with its people, workplace, and communications strategies.

In a similar vein, Varian’s vision of a world without fear of cancer is far more to the point than the actual name of the cancer care company. And given that Monroe’s mother was so frightened by her own cancer diagnosis that she did not tell a single family member about it for two months, Varian’s vision fiercely resonates with Monroe.

Terilyn Juarez Monroe Varian Medical Systems
Terilyn Juarez Monroe, Chief People Officer & SVP of People, Places, and Communications, Varian Medical Systems (Photo Courtesy of Bill Zemanek)

And if that wasn’t enough to entice Monroe to come on board with Varian in 2017, the company’s plans for the future were focused on extending beyond the radiation therapy machines for which Varian is best known. “To do this, Dow Wilson [CEO of Varian] and the leadership team became laser focused on putting our customers and their patients at the center of our thinking,” Monroe says. “This had us thinking more about the entire cancer treatment journey, the patient’s care team, and how software, data, and analytics could be used in new ways to improve patient outcomes.”

“This is a pretty special place,” she says. “We are proud of our seventy-year history. At the same time, I—along with our approximately seven thousand employees around the world—are continuing to evolve both strategically and culturally to find new ways to beat cancer. It’s really exciting and a rare opportunity.”

Fortunately for Varian, Monroe brings an impressive amount of depth to this arena. Born and raised in California’s Bay Area with a Central American-born father and a mother whose roots stretch back to Italy, she was the first in her family to graduate college. She came to the corporate world by way of a college internship when she was pursuing a degree in journalism/mass communications. During a thirteen-year run at computer software giant Intuit, Monroe met a mentor that challenged her to move out of her communications comfort zone into bigger roles outside her area of expertise, such as employee engagement and HR business partnering. She eventually took over the role of chief diversity officer at Intuit, and her efforts led to her being named one of the “Top 50 Diversity Professionals” by The Economist in 2015. “One of the key things I’ve learned over the years is that we need to balance two things: getting the right business outcomes while creating the best possible experience for people,” she says. “Our team is in the people business. The experiences people have and the way they feel as a result are what attracts them to a company, and that’s what makes them stay.”

Varian had established four core values—Customers First, Inspired Innovation, Partner for Life, and Doing Well by Doing the Right Thing—long before Monroe arrived, and as the company continued to evolve, it became clear that the company’s values were enduring and stood the test of time. To complement the company’s values and to reinforce some new mind-sets and behaviors, Varian created a new set of cultural beliefs. The crisp statements, their descriptions, and their associated competencies are designed to accelerate its strategy with new expectations. They are: Beat Cancer, Engage Now, Inspire People, Act as One, and Count on Me.

Monroe says these beliefs have been rolled out through a series of culture workshops at Varian offices worldwide. And rather than the workshops being led by consultants or HR teams, Varian’s leaders serve as the teachers, role-modeling and describing the beliefs in a way that she hopes will prove much more meaningful and relatable. In due time, she thinks the beliefs will inform the end-to-end experience people have with Varian, whether they are hearing about what makes Varian special for the first time, interviewing for a job, collaborating within or across one of its campuses, receiving performance feedback, or volunteering in the community. “We are a purpose-driven company, and our cultural beliefs reinforce who we are, what we do, and what makes us special,” Monroe says. “Our team is continually looking at ways to infuse the culture into those internal and external experiences and the moments that matter most.”

Leadership development is another key step in Varian’s transformation. Monroe and her team, along with management, are focused on building leadership capabilities to drive business growth. “During times of change, every day brings a new opportunity for growth for our company and for those of us leading teams,” she says. “Ensuring leaders can confidently lead in change—while creating an inclusive environment and appreciating and applying the learnings along the way—is critical for our success.”

To that end, this year, Varian will hold its first-ever CEO leadership conference for Varian’s senior leaders from around the world. Since Monroe came to Varian, it’s been a “first-ever” kind of time for the company in many regards. With the kind of growth it’s experiencing—four acquisitions in the past year, for instance—she believes there’s no time like the present to keep the “why” (its vision) and the “how” (its newly-stated cultural beliefs) front and center.

From the feedback she’s receiving from employees, it appears their efforts are already making a positive impact. “People are saying, ‘Yes, we want to be part of this evolution, and we’re ready for it,’” she says. “We’re a seventy-year-old company with a rich history, an amazing purpose, talented and engaged employees, and a very exciting go-forward strategy. There’s something very special about that.”