For Gina Nese, head of compliance and privacy at medical device company Align Technology, it’s always about continuous learning and improvement.

“Where are you today and where do you want to be tomorrow? Just take a step and try,” said Nese, who was awarded Chief Compliance Officer of the Year at the 2024 Excellence in Compliance Awards.

Gina Nese 2x3

Gina Nese

Nese has spent 3 1/2 years at Align Technology. She heads a team of more than 12 compliance, legal, and privacy leaders and doesn’t consider anything that doesn’t work out as a failure. It’s about what you learn from the experience that you can bring forward, she said.

Her hallmark talent is to find “win-wins” that make compliance a source of competitive advantage for the company, said Julie Coletti, executive vice president, chief legal and regulatory officer at Align Technology.

Nese is someone who regularly shares new ideas and ways to innovate, said Matthew Wetzel, partner at law firm Goodwin Procter and a former colleague who has known her professionally for about a decade.

“She likes to be out front; she’s very forward-thinking,” Wetzel said.

It’s easy to understand, then, why Nese was tapped to co-lead Align Technology’s artificial intelligence efforts and help build an in-house AI center of excellence.

The center is a hub for information and engagement, where employees can view AI explanations and updates to regulations and new uses for AI. The center maintains guidelines to help manage the governance and risks of generative AI and to track and implement AI regulations.

The leaders of the team are a cross-functional group from information technology, cybersecurity, and legal, whose goal is to bring value back to the company by increasing efficiency and reducing cost through AI use.

“As a tech company, this is obviously very critical for us,” Coletti said.

The company has cautiously embraced generative AI behind its firewall for internal use cases and to make certain internal processes more efficient, such as creating rough drafts of contracts. Any generative AI drafts must be fully vetted by humans, to make sure they are complete and accurate, Nese said.

While Nese was up to speed on AI and its regulations, she worked with the legal and compliance teams to share that knowledge with other crucial employees, including engineers and members of the C-suite. As always, Nese looked for a solution.

She rolled out a series of “town hall” panels on AI, staffed with members from the regulatory, legal affairs, and compliance departments.

“We put it through the lens of risk” and showed that regulators care how AI does predictive modeling, Nese said.

Nese has a keen ability to make programs run more efficiently through better organization and cutting out clutter, like she did after taking leadership of privacy compliance just over two years ago.

“Our company grew very fast,” including globally, and as it did, people just added new privacy notices to the mix, Coletti said. Before they knew it, they had hundreds of disparate notices—for customers, patients, the website, etc. Nese categorized them and boiled them down into just six comprehensive privacy notices.

“It’s a huge win,” Coletti said.

Path to compliance

Nese’s time in the United States Coast Guard launched her into the legal profession and continues to shape her career to this day, particularly regarding discipline and the belief that after being in the military, “You can do anything because nothing is going to be life and death,” she said.

More Excellence in Compliance Awards

The military challenged her and others “to be the best version of yourself,” she said.

Despite her positive experiences in the military, she said she was also exposed to “what weren’t always the best examples of leadership.” She knew she wanted to drive change and embrace a different style of leadership; after the military, she enrolled in law school.

She came to compliance early in her legal career, when she was still a “baby lawyer” and when it was commonplace for her to be in a majority-male business environment. When she walked into her first compliance team meeting, she was floored by the diversity and the display of teamwork.

“Everyone was open,” she said. “That’s when I found my community, and I’ve never looked back.”

Nese craves learning about developments and “eats up” webinars about compliance and privacy. But what also stands out about her is that she is a generous mentor, Wetzel said.

“She’s somebody who really takes folks under her wing and shares her knowledge,” he said. “She’s a teacher in that way, and people tend to turn to her for guidance and counseling.”

When they do, they find a leader who feels a sense of personal responsibility for the people who work with her and report to her, Wetzel said.

Nese infuses a “sense of fun and humor into what can sometimes be tedious or dry,” he said.

Like many in compliance, Nese is motivated by wanting to help her company by finding solutions to problems. In that quest, her door is always open.

“Sometimes compliance officers can be prosecutorial and people fear them. Gina is genuine and approachable,” Coletti said.

“What I like about compliance is people are coming to you and asking for help with a problem they have,” Nese said. “I listen and really try to understand what they’re trying to do.”

People come to her all day long with problems that need solving, and she thrives on helping to bring about a solution.

A compliance resource for customers

Align Technology’s customers are orthodontists and dentists worldwide, many of whom are small businesspeople who do not have in-house compliance professionals or lawyers who track regulations. Nese’s department fills this need for them by creating direct customer resources and training in compliance, patient privacy, and regulations.

To stay in the loop regarding how the company’s policies are being put into practice, Nese prioritizes customer visits during travel and knowing vendors and their innovations that could add value back to Align Technology.

“It’s important to meet people where they are and put the right resources in their hands,” she said. “Then you let them take those wins and bring them to our customers.”

When reviewing compliance and privacy practices, Nese often considers whether there is a tool available or that could be created to make the process more efficient and enjoyable for the owners, she said. She also leverages data and creates visuals, like pie charts and dashboards, to illustrate compliance and privacy trends at Align Technology, whether she’s presenting to executives or her team.