Jennifer Olson, Senior VP, Customer Success, joined Align Technology in 2002. While working for Align, her role and career path evolved and she shares her vision on internal mobility. 

How would you describe your career path at Align?

When I joined Align, I never thought this would be a long-term career move, at the time I thought it was just an exciting sales job! However, as our company has grown, Align has afforded me opportunities that have been so dynamic, fulfilling and challenging at every step during this journey. 

It seems as though I have worked for several different companies in those 15 years, even though I have remained at Align. I started as a sales representative in the Chicago area, bringing on a new channel when we first started to sell the Invisalign system to general dentists. Over the years I’ve held a variety of positions within sales, business development and marketing, and today, I am Senior Vice President, Customer Success.  

I believe in looking for opportunities to work on projects that stretch beyond your current capabilities, that quite honestly might make you uncomfortable. Those opportunities come with a commitment to deliver above and beyond the requirements of your current job. In doing so, you are rewarded with a great learning experience, both in your successes and failures, which are invaluable for future career growth. 

Why is internal mobility important?  

I believe it is my responsibility to retain our top talent and I’m committed to providing employees with opportunities to stretch beyond their current role. In my time here, when a member of my team has had aspirations for upward mobility at Align, I’m there to support by providing them stretch assignments and feedback, and also to help hold them accountable for their aspirations.  However, it is the employee’s responsibility to take advantage and to deliver on those opportunities.  In that manner, it is a shared responsibility.    

What recommendations would you have for ambitious individuals who would like to develop themselves in a fast and dynamic environment like Align?  

Don’t be afraid to speak to your manager about taking on extra projects and/or to ask how else you can contribute beyond the scope of your current role. This is one of the things I love about Align. We move fast, but that speed enables our business to create opportunities for you to take ownership of your career growth. I would recommend you put in the time, get feedback from your peers and your manager, challenge yourself, and be open to new opportunities.    

Any last recommendations for leaders?  

It is so important to continue nurturing the expertise in your organization, and to leverage the experience of new people who join the company as well. There is such strength to be had in diverse teams. 

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Abhishek Ganguly, Vice President GP Channel of Core Europe joined Align Technology in May 2015 and shares his knowledge on the GP business, needs and strategy of the core European market.  

How would you describe your career path at Align?  

The past years at Align have been extremely enriching and rewarding for me. There is never a dull moment at Align; there is always plenty to do and lots to learn. That is what I look for when I choose a role or a company. We should never stop learning and joining Align has helped me fulfil that.  

I’ve never managed a sales organization before. Align gave me the opportunity to lead an entire business unit for EMEA without having prior sales experience because it valued the other abilities that I brought to the table vs just focusing on the relevant experience. This shows the development and career opportunities that are available at Align if you’re up for it; if you have the right skills and abilities to support that and the passion to try new and different things. Align is an exceptionally fast growing business and with this business growth comes many opportunities for personal advancement.   

Why a specific focus on the GP channel in Core Europe?  

In our main European markets, which are similar to many country markets across the world, GP and Ortho customers are different, their needs are different and hence the solutions we need to create for them should be different. Straightening teeth is the daily job for orthodontists while this is not the case for GP’s. In an established channel like Ortho, we have to facilitate the choice of the product between wire and brackets and aligners. In newer channels like the GP channel, we have to introduce a new therapy to the doctors. These require fundamentally different approaches and as a result, it makes sense to split these channels in core European markets to accord due focus to this very important nuance. Moreover, both channels have massive potential, which requires us to dedicate focus so we can maximize realization of the opportunities.    

How do we build our presence in the GP Channel in Europe?  

Laying a strong foundation is critical. Any strategy is built on a strong foundation and to me this means having a dedicated team in place as a first. The next step is to have efficiency in the processes we employ. We have to cover lot more customers, across many countries with different cultures which means we need to be much more efficient. Building efficiency is crucial and you do this successfully by leveraging digital technologies and by having an efficient selling process that the Europe region can leverage.    

How do you lead in a new role?  

“Passion for Results, Compassion for People”. This is what I tell my team regularly. My biggest emphasis with my team is on personal accountability. We are leaders of our own functions, while our scopes might be different, we are still all leaders. We need to be accountable for our deliverables and take ownership every day.   

Furthermore, it’s important to build trust by empowering people to take action. You give them the responsibility, you trust them with this responsibility and then you let them run with it but you hold them accountable. I strongly believe that this creates a culture of accountability, self-motivation and trust.    

Can you share lessons learned from leadership approaches you used in the past?  From what I’ve seen and learned in the past, it doesn’t work when leaders don’t make the distinction between delegation and simply offloading work. Delegation is about development, about giving your team something that they can learn from. Leaders can go wrong when they confuse delegation with offloading.  

Another lesson learned is the importance of empathy and compassion. If you treat people with respect, things become easier, and difficult conversations occur less often. No matter what the situation is, never lose sight of the fact that you need to treat people with empathy, compassion and respect.    

Any last recommendations for other leaders?  

Firstly, stay honest and humble and be there for your team when they need your guidance and support. You should make an effort to listen to your team’s genuine concerns and strive hard to have them addressed. 

Secondly, I’d like to share one of my favorite quotes of Stephen Covey: “Management is efficiency in climbing the ladder of success; leadership determines whether the ladder is leaning against the right wall”. I think this is very relevant for all leaders. Leadership is about empowering people and giving them the support to achieve bigger and greater things.  

From an Align perspective, we are demonstrating exceptional performance. If you’d like to think differently, if you are willing to push yourself and you’re not afraid of stretching above and beyond then Align may be the right place for you. 

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Stuart Hockridge, Senior Vice President Global Human Resources, joined Align Technology in May 2016 and shares his experience with the people and environment of Align today.  

What is your HR philosophy?  

I truly believe people can be great at what they do. Our role as HR is to create an environment that allows people to be as great as they want to be. If we do this successfully, then the business will achieve what they want to achieve from a strategic and performance perspective.    

How do you create such environment?  

There are a few key elements   

1. Start with hiring and onboarding effectively. That’s especially true in our business which is focused on growth.

2. Understand the capabilities you need at all times in order to be successful in the market.

3. Ensure you have the right leaders and managers by focusing on great hiring and great development…when businesses change and when the external market changes then the capabilities that the leaders and managers need will also change.  

4. Finally, have a keen focus on organization design. Always look for ways in which work can flow more seamlessly and where things can be simplified and focused.  

Everyone in Human Resources, no matter what they do, is involved and instrumental in one or more of these components. It’s impossible to optimize the environment when one of these pieces is missing.    

What does this mean for an employee or a candidate?  

It depends on what motivates them and in what stage of life they are. In my opinion, there are a few key things that make us unique in the medical device industry. To begin with, we are growing extensively in all areas – and that will be new for many employees who join our business. Given our rate of growth, new experiences are being constantly created. It would be difficult to find another company that gives you the opportunity to experience that in the way that Align does. 

In addition, in a sense every job grows with the company. As long as you perform well in your current position and engage with your manager on what you would like to achieve, there will likely be opportunities for you. If you are interested in learning new things and getting new experiences and you take the time to invest in that discussion and dialogue with your manager, then you are likely going to be able to do those things.    

How would you describe Align’s culture?  

There are a couple of things that make Align what it is today. It is a welcoming company. People are genuinely nice. They are passionate about the product and services that we provide because they know it makes a different in people’s lives. With that comes an overall family feel about the business. There is genuine recognition of the idea that we are all in this together and we want to win together. It’s been a legacy, this environment in Align, that I think will continue as the company grows.  

Every company envisions a certain culture that you need to have in order to be and remain successful. In our culture this means you are agile, quick to respond, quick thinkers, focused on customer, and accountable for very high standards in performance. I think we’re in a very good place regarding the culture that we need to have and sustain.    

What recommendations would you have for ambitious individuals who would like to develop themselves in a fast and dynamic environment like Align? 

It’s important to sustain a high level of performance and contribution within your existing job. Besides this I’d emphasize the importance of networking. Make sure you are known by key stakeholders as someone that is good at their job, has a good attitude and is good to work with. What will happen is that managers will think of you when they look for a team member. This doesn’t mean that you will get the job right away, because of course there are internal processes, but it does put you at an advantage. No doubt about it. 

There is also a group of people who are happy to do their job and are less interested in hierarchical promotions. Even in this scenario, you’ve always got to consider what more can you do next year than the year before. If you hold true to the principle that the contributions of all individuals in the company, comprise the overall company performance, we all have to ask ourselves: What can I do to be more effective? How do I do to continue to grow? If you don’t keep growing then the company may grow past you and that’s not in anyone’s best interest.

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Yuval Shaked, Sr. Vice President & Managing Director iTero Scanner & Services, joined Align Technology in June 2017 and shares his personal story of adapting to a new leadership role in a new company.  

Why did you choose to work for Align? 

There are a several reasons. The first being the company’s growth potential. Throughout my career in leadership, this is the first time in which I feel we are still just scratching the surface in terms of our market penetration and customer adoption of our products. 

The second is the culture. When I met the team for the first time, it felt open, enabling and inspiring. After being here for some time, it has further reinforced my assessment.   

The third is the size of the company. In larger companies, there is often too much complexity and too many layers. With smaller companies, you don’t always have the resources to do things. At Align, we are right at a point where we have the resources to execute better and more broadly.   

How would you describe your leadership style?  

My leadership style is to adapt to the situation. In areas where I feel like we have the right capabilities in place, I’ll be an enabler and a coach, helping the team process situations and remove roadblocks. In areas where we don’t yet have the right capabilities, I would focus more on the details, acting more as the driver while helping to build the needed capabilities.  

In terms of inspiring a team, I like to encourage people to think big. I ask my team: ‘What would it look like if there were no limitations? If we have a vision, and we take out the limitations, it gets much easier to see the bigger picture. Thinking and dreaming big is part of the culture at Align. 

Being new to the business gives you a fresh perspective. Can you share some of the challenges you face?  

Trying to learn a new culture, processes, team dynamics and people is always a challenge when joining a new business. Specifically, the iTero business has grown significantly in the last few years, which is amazing. At the same time, the challenge is scaling. How do we keep the good things in our DNA that brought us here? But at the same time, how do we make the changes that are necessary to get to the next level?    

Can you share lessons learned from leadership approaches you used in the past?  

I think it is very important to tailor the solution to the situation. There is such a high risk if you try to copy and paste a previous approach which was made for a different organization with a different culture and environment.  

I also want to make sure that we have the right capabilities and the right culture. My leadership approach when coming into a business is setting the strategy and clarifying priorities and then building the right capabilities and team around it.     

Could you share any tips or cautions for other new leaders or experienced leaders who are new to an organization? 

It is important to watch and listen in the beginning. Try to absorb and learn before you draw conclusions. Specifically, at Align, know that everyone is willing to support you in getting to know the business. People want to help and make you successful, so I would recommend to take advantage of this and enjoy the ride.

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Kamal Bhandal, VP, Global Brand & Consumer Experience, joined Align Technology in 2013 and shares her vision on the importance of nurturing talent in today’s competitive professional world.      

Why is nurturing talent important?  

I believe this is the most important thing we need to do as leaders. At the end of the day, employees are the ones that set a company up for future success – our company. As leaders, we need to help people discover their potential, listen to their ideas on what’s working and how we can improve. We need to ask ourselves: how do we unleash the talent that we have and provide a culture for them that allows them to learn and grow? How do you maximize their strengths?  

The other important piece for leaders is not only to look at people as individuals, but to nurture your team as a whole. Leaders often think about talent on an individual basis, but it is more expansive than that.     

Is there a particular skill set or approach you see as critical to being successful in nurturing talent?  

I would say the most important thing is that each leader needs to understand how important team success is and the positive results it will bring to a team, to the department and in the end, the entire organization. To me, it’s a belief. It’s how I personally try to operate every day.  Often times, as leaders we can underestimate the power of team success. Everyone is busy with competing priorities, and focus on the team can slip. I’m guilty of this myself sometimes. Though allowing this to happen as a leader will be detrimental to the team as well as to each individual. 

A second critical skill would be to identify when chemistry within a team is not quite right. Leaders should diagnose what the personal differences or possible issues are and act immediately. If you don’t recognize how your team interacts…if there is a chemistry problem, in time, it could harm your talent and team. It is so important to diagnose and remedy this.    

What change have you seen over the last few years regarding nurturing talent?  

Over the last 4 years, Align Technology has grown significantly. It has become clearer that our focus on our people is critical. We have continued to mature in how we operate, and we are maturing spotlighting our people better. As a company, we have very ambitious goals. We have seen that the success that enables our future growth, the key to our success, will lie in the talent, efforts and ambition of our employees and how strong and successful those people are.     

What would your recommendation be to other leaders?  

People, and especially talented individuals, can choose to work anywhere. For us as leaders, the most important thing that we can realize is that we all have the power to create an environment where work can become more than just work...we have the power to create an environment that talented individuals want to be a part of. I think that happens when you are focused on nurturing the talent you have, both at an individual and at a team level. We have the power to create an environment that, if done right, can have a greater purpose. We may not be able to achieve it every single day, though we should try. People can choose to work anywhere and it’s our job as leaders to ensure that we create a culture where the most talented people want to work.    

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Emory Wright, Senior Vice President Global Operations, joined Align Technology in 2000 and has been at the forefront of our manufacturing expansion.  

Can you share some of the milestones we had over the last two years regarding manufacturing expansion?  

In addition to our facility continuing to expand to support greater capacity and manufacturing close to 300,000 custom aligners each day, we also opened a new order acquisition (OA) and two treatment planning operations, one in China and one in Germany – all of which were big milestones for us and “firsts” in over 15 years. Moving resources, technology, and processes closer to our customers and improving their experience is at the center of our expansion efforts.  

Our first Order Acquisition operation, located in Mexico, receives incoming physical PVS or “putty” impressions that get scanned and form the basis of our Invisalign digital treatment plans. In 2016, we opened a second Order Acquisition operation in Amsterdam. Adding a central European location is designed to provide a better customer experience, eliminating the long transit time in shipping a physical PVS impression from an EMEA-based Invisalign provider to Mexico and shortening the cycle time for our customers.  

An even bigger milestone was accomplished this past June (2017), when we opened a Treatment Planning and Training Center in Chengdu, China, the second location outside our initial Costa Rica treatment planning operation. The new operation in Chengdu provides treatment planning and digital case setups for orthodontists and dentists in China who prescribe Invisalign clear aligners, clinical and customer support, as well as training and education. Later in September, we opened our third Treatment Planning facility in Cologne, Germany to support our EMEA customers.  

Our operational expansion initiative is enabling us to better support our growing global customer base by providing a better customer experience, more localized support and overall service. We are still working towards completing the expansion and fully transitioning processes at the China and Germany locations, but we have received positive feedback from our customers to date. It is tremendous to see our global vision being realized.   

Is there a particular skill set or approach you see as critical to being successful in our aggressive global expansion?  

In my view, the most critical skill sets are knowledge and experience within a region. It is critical for us to hire people that have a deep understanding of their region. It is also critical that we pair new leaders with internal people who have a deep understanding of our technology, products, and process. During the expansion efforts, we ensure our new leaders spend sufficient time learning our operations and business, and we connect them with teams of experts to ensure we can be successful in the technology transfer to a new team. Given that we will naturally run into unplanned obstacles, these efforts require our new and existing teams to be flexible and agile.     

Can you share your vision on the transition to a global company? 

In the past, most of what we did from an operations perspective was viewed through a North American lens, where we are headquartered and started our business. Even though we support a growing global customer base, much of our thinking has historically centered around a North American perspective. Over the last few years, our efforts to get closer to our customers and move our processes closer to our global customers has broadened the team’s perspective. Moreover, it has enabled a significant amount of learning and change which has led to an appreciation for the differences in the regions, countries, and markets. This education has enabled us to think differently about what we do and how we support the different customer needs, and has driven significant change in how we approach our different customers.    

What change have you seen in the leadership team over these last years?  

In my ten years since joining the executive team, we have placed a much greater emphasis on the global nature of our business. The executive team routinely travels to different regions to talk to customers and meet with local teams to see and learn what has worked, and what challenges and opportunities for improvements are present. By visiting the regions often, we know better how we can direct investments and resources to better support and enable our global business. In addition, we have a diverse team with different international perspectives. I believe that the global mix of the executive team helps drive the acceleration of change in our business.    

Can you share lessons learned from these manufacturing expansion experiences?  

In retrospect, I would have hired the leaders in local sites much sooner. When we started planning and executing our expansion efforts, we were organizing our local leaders simultaneously which, in hindsight, may have started us out at a slight disadvantage. It would have been great to have them come in and be trained earlier and be more involved in the initial planning stages. 

Another lesson we learned was to have more extensive contingency plans. Planning the transition of our processes and workflows and that of our doctors from one place to another and how to ramp up in one site and ramp down in another was a known challenge. Yet, even with all the planning that took place, it was difficult to fully anticipate all possible scenarios. We learned from our first transition with the China based operation and made improvements with our Germany operation. Overall, what is key to success is improving with each step. Knowing there is always room for improvement, especially with our customers. 

I am glad to share that we are seeing the benefits of our expansion efforts. We are seeing faster lead times and better customer interactions with the local operational teams. And we will continue to improve and better connect with our customers to provide the highest level of service.     

What would your recommendation be to other leaders?  

Be open to opportunities that aren’t comfortable. Be willing to take career risks that might be uncomfortable. Make it a priority to work hard for the company.     

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