As a part of our interview series called “Women Of The C-Suite,” we had the pleasure of interviewing Jamie Reynoso.
Jamie Reynoso is the Chief Operating Officer at Clover Health, where she is responsible for plan operations including service, network, clinical and IT. With over 30 years experience in the healthcare industry, Jamie has a strong background in health plan operations with a focus on Medicare and Medicare Advantage. Prior to joining Clover Health, she spent over 16 years at UnitedHealth Group where she held various roles including Vice President of Emerging Business. She’s also been responsible for payer strategy and operations at a large national hospital system and most recently served as CEO of a provider-sponsored health plan in Texas. Jamie lives with her husband and daughter in Texas, where she enjoys spending time with her family and friends, reading, traveling, watching sports, and spending time outside.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?
My entire family works in healthcare, so I was drawn to it at a young age. I actually wanted to be a physician, but realized (thankfully, pretty early on) that I didn’t like the sight of blood. I would spend time at the hospitals where my Dad worked, began working as early as high school, then worked my way through college working for an independent insurance agent that provided group health and life insurance.
My first foray into healthcare was at a durable medical equipment business that had a joint venture with the Visiting Nurse Association and a hospital system when I was in my twenties. I joined the payor side of healthcare when I was recruited by UnitedHealth Group on their network team. I spent over 16 years there, learned every aspect of healthcare, then made the move back to the provider side before relocating to Texas to serve as COO (and eventually CEO) of a local provider-sponsored health plan in Texas. I came across Clover Health shortly thereafter — a Medicare Advantage provider serving seniors who have historically lacked access to affordable high quality healthcare — and, having been on both the payor and provider sides of healthcare, I was attracted to the way Clover used technology to drive innovation and redefine care delivery for this population. No other place I’d been had figured out how to do this. I’ve been here as COO ever since!
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began serving as COO of your company?
The first time I saw a demo of the Clover Assistant, Clover’s proprietary technology platform that Clover provides to the primary care providers (PCPs) who treat our patients, I was blown away. I couldn’t believe the amount of work and talent that had been poured into it. The Clover Assistant aggregates data from across the health ecosystem and gives PCPs real-time, personalized, evidence-based recommendations at the point of care in order to aid in clinical decision-making and ultimately improve health outcomes and drive down avoidable healthcare spending for Clover’s members. It’s a totally different way of thinking vs. a traditional payor. Clover combines the power of artificial intelligence, machine learning, data science, clinical informatics, and so much more to work hand-in-hand with patients’ trusted physicians and help them support better clinical decisions.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Fairly early on in my career, I inherited a large team and had to put together a (therefore) large budget. I submitted it in an (again, very large) Excel sheet and that night, my boss called and asked if I was sure about the budget I’d sent him. I said I was sure. Again he asked, are you sure? I was confused about the line of questioning until he asked me to open up the document — I’d multiplied the sum by 12. It was a quick fix and no harm was done, but it was definitely a lesson learned — always double check your work, because even the smallest mistake can have big consequences.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
My parents. They were high school sweethearts, got married and had kids at a very young age. They didn’t stay together, but always taught my siblings and me to maintain a strong work ethic, no matter where our lives took us. Both of my parents actually went back to school later in life to earn their undergraduate and graduate degrees, which instilled in me another life lesson: education is important no matter where you are in your life. You should always strive to continue to educate yourself.
I also have to give a shoutout to my husband. He was so supportive of me accelerating my career. After he retired as a firefighter/paramedic, he took on a large portion of day-to-day care of our daughter. I’m forever grateful to him for that.
In my work, I often talk about how to release and relieve stress. As a busy leader, what do you do to prepare your mind and body before a stressful or high stakes meeting, talk, or decision? Can you share a story or some examples?
I always over prepare and never wing it. Every Sunday afternoon, I look at my schedule to see what’s ahead for the week and mentally prepare for what’s to come. I do the same thing every day of the week — look at my calendar for the next day. I also take notes on everything and do practice runs before important meetings. The more prepared I feel, the less stressed I am.
As you know, the United States is currently facing a very important self-reckoning about race, diversity, equality and inclusion. This may be obvious to you, but it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you articulate to our readers a few reasons why it is so important for a business or organization to have a diverse executive team?
Diversity isn’t just important at the leadership level, but across every level of the organization. It needs to be part of every company’s DNA. It’s nice to converse with people you have a lot in common with, but, in my opinion, it’s even more important to hear the perspectives of those you have differences with. That’s what builds a strong team, and if you look at some of the most successful companies, nonprofits, etc. out there, you’ll find that they have diverse teams that come together to share unique viewpoints. You’re not going to get anywhere or make real change if everyone you work with thinks the same way.
As a business leader, can you please share a few steps we must take to truly create an inclusive, representative, and equitable society? Kindly share a story or example for each.
The mission to create an inclusive, representative and equitable society is something that has to be embedded in who we are. No organization should treat diversity like a checklist. This mindset must be, and at Clover is, ingrained in the work we do everyday — whether it’s serving members who are low-income, identify as a minority, and/or who’ve historically lacked access to high quality healthcare, partnering with clinicians in rural areas or at small, independently-run clinics, and hiring a distributed and diverse workforce. This is a huge focus area for Clover and has been since our inception in 2014.
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. Most of our readers — in fact, most people — think they have a pretty good idea of what a CEO or executive does. But in just a few words can you explain what an executive does that is different from the responsibilities of the other leaders?
Executives think not just about what needs to be done today or in the immediate near future, but also are always looking five, 10, 20 years down the road, and at the bigger picture no less. We also have to make really difficult calls, and have the weight of that responsibility fall on our shoulders — for example, whether or not to enter a new market, or whether it makes sense for the company to move forward with a merger. There are so many tough decisions that wouldn’t necessarily fall on those in other management type positions.
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a CEO or executive? Can you explain what you mean?
That executives can’t get where they are and still have integrity. A lot of people think you have to step on people to get to the top. I believe it’s possible to get to the top by working hard, developing strong relationships and never losing sight of who you are or what you want. That’s been my experience and I would never change who I am or sacrifice my integrity to advance my career.
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women executives that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?
Women so often feel guilty about wanting professional success and becoming a mom. So many women I know have at one point or another felt that if they decided to have a baby and take maternity leave or be a stay-at-home mom for a few years, that they wouldn’t be taken seriously or ever achieve professional success. This mindset was especially common amongst women in my age group, and I think many of us still feel a lot of guilt around our decision to work while being a parent. My hope is to encourage the next generation of female leaders that although there will be tradeoffs and it won’t be easy, you can (and should, if you want) have it all.
What is the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?
Clover isn’t just a Medicare Advantage health plan, it’s a technology company. The pace, iteration, and sheer amount of innovation that happens here every day is incredibly different from what I’ve experienced at health plans in the past. That’s what makes it intriguing and exciting to come into work every day.
Certainly, not everyone is cut out to be an executive. In your opinion, which specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful executive and what type of person should avoid aspiring to be an executive? Can you explain what you mean?
You have to have thick skin, and can’t take every conversation or decision personally. Often, if you’re a subject matter expert, you take a personal interest in your team and the work you’re doing. But executives have to take the personal piece out of it because, like I said, they are the ones who have to make the tough calls based on what’s best for the long-term viability of the company. I’ll admit that I was not always like this; it took me years to finally understand and accept this.
What advice would you give to other women leaders to help their team to thrive?
I think women tend to be more inspirational leaders because we can be strong and influential while still being authentic and empathetic. Not to say that men can’t be inspirational leaders — many certainly are — but women come from a different perspective and are born with maternal instincts that I believe prime them to be effective leaders. I want to instill this notion in the future of women leaders.
Use your compassion and empathy to ensure your teams know that their voices are heard, and realize that you are in the position you’re in because of your leadership, intelligence, and strength. Have confidence in your decisions and problem-solving abilities, rather than looking to others for the right answer.
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
One thing I absolutely love at Clover is participating in our mentorship program as both a mentor and a mentee to more junior employees. Being a mentee to our staff on the frontlines allows me to put myself in their shoes and better understand what everybody is going through. As a leader, I then make sure to incorporate my learnings into the work I do every single day.
Outside of Clover, I like to work with young professionals who are just getting started, whether that’s by helping them make a professional connection or prepare for an interview, or making sure they have access to transportation or appropriate attire once they land a job. I also lend my experience to my church — for example, if they’re organizing a fundraiser to support a local homeless shelter or food bank, I help them build a campaign to make the greatest impact possible. As leaders, it’s so important to use our success to give back to others, and not for recognition, but to help open doors and put forth opportunities that might not otherwise have been attainable.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
- Don’t forget to take breaks. It’s such a common misconception that you can’t take breaks, vacations, or time off to have a baby if you want to be successful. I wish someone had told me sooner that everyone needs a mental health break from time to time, and that taking time for yourself actually makes you a better person and leader.
- Don’t rethink things. I used to beat myself up when I made mistakes, which would send me into a downward spiral about even the smallest of errors. If you make a mistake, or wish you said (or didn’t say) something during a meeting, try not to rethink it. Once something has happened, it’s happened, and you have to move on.
- Go with your gut. If something feels wrong, it probably is. Earlier in my career, I had a gut feeling about an important decision, but was too unsure of myself to go through with it. Of course, my gut feeling was right, but by the time I realized it, it was too late. Your gut is the best indicator of whether something is right or wrong, so listen to it.
- Listen more, talk less. Someone told me this 10 years ago, but I wish they’d done it way sooner. When you’re in a big meeting, just because you’re talking the most doesn’t mean that what you’re saying is the most important. Especially if you’re thinking about how you’re going to respond before someone else is done speaking. Really listen to what each and every person has to say.
- You’re 100% responsible for your own destiny. Don’t put your future into someone else’s hands or wait for anyone else to create your path for you. Pave your own way, set your own goals and work hard to achieve them.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
It comes down to being more intentional about what you do, and always looking for ways to serve the greater good or the greatest number of people. Don’t do something only because you know it will be successful. It’s common to want to pursue “the big idea” because it’s flashy and grandiose and has the potential to revolutionize the world. But all of the “small things” you can do across many different verticals in totality can mean a whole lot more and tangibly impact so many more people than that big idea. This is how you invoke change.
This is our mentality at Clover. We’re focused on bringing great, affordable healthcare to everyone in Medicare, which requires a focus on underserved communities. That’s why we aim to offer our members affordable Medicare Advantage plans with great benefits, along with the freedom to keep their existing doctor. Other Medicare Advantage plans narrow the network of providers their members can see, which disproportiantly excludes doctors in non-white and low-income communities. With their doctors out of network, the members of these communities are required to choose between the benefits they want and need, and the doctor they trust.
Instead of excluding doctors, we support existing patient-doctor relationships, and provide doctors with the Clover Assistant to enable them to deliver personalized, data-driven care. While our approach is not the easy path, we believe that by casting a wide net and reaching many Medicare eligibles where they already are we’ll be able to deeply impact that way care is delivered in America.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I actually have no idea who said this quote, but I heard it at a leadership event and it stuck with me. “There’s a purpose for everyone you meet. Some people come into your life to test you, some to teach you, some to use you, and some to bring out the very best in you.”
The bottom line is that you won’t work with the same people throughout your entire career — people will always come and go, and it’s up to you to figure out what role each and every person will play in your life. I’ve had some very inspirational managers who taught me a lot and brought out the best in me. I’ve also had difficult managers who’ve tested and used me. This quote always comes to mind when I meet new people; it helps me anchor myself to every meaningful conversation and interaction I have.
We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them
I’m a huge sports fan. I love college football, the MLB (go Yankees!), everything — but I especially love golf. I’d like to meet Tiger Woods, but not for the reason you might think. He’s made mistakes, and public ones at that, but has demonstrated the resiliency to come back full force time and time again. I wish I had that kind of resiliency and would love to understand what it is that drives him to always try again, no matter how bad things get.