Earlier this month we introduced a new HealthEquity blog series—Remarkable Leadership—and you met Fran Scott, Director of Product Compliance Services. Talented people are at the core of how we’re able to deliver on our mission of helping Americans save more, spend smarter, and invest in their healthcare.
We’re back with a look at another leader, Gary Robinson, SVP Consultant Relations. Read about his career journey, how he stacks small moments of progress to create lasting success, and what causes he champions.
10 questions with Gary Robinson
HealthEquity: Gary, it's wonderful to meet you. Thank you for joining from your home in the San Francisco Bay Area and taking the time to answer the 10 questions.
Gary Robinson: This will be fun. Thanks for reaching out to me.
HealthEquity: Have you always lived in the Bay Area?
Gary Robinson: It's funny. I won a radio trivia contest in high school where the prize was a flight anywhere that the old PSA airline flew. I traveled to the Bay Area, visited Stanford, and essentially never left. I love the sweet weather, live-and-let-live vibe, and the physical beauty.
HealthEquity: It's certainly a beautiful part of the country. Let's get started with the questions.
1. What was your first job and what is your role now?
My first job was working in a men’s clothing store on the Las Vegas Strip. I was 16. Performers from the casinos would come in to shop and they would teach me about pairing colors, patterns, collar types, and suit styles. I’ll be honest. Their fashion was flamboyant, and it certainly wasn’t my style, but I loved their stories and the patient education they gave me all the same.
When I joined HealthEquity in 2016 I initially ran Enterprise Sales and got to work closely with Cheryl Turner, who helped bring in many of the premium brand HSA clients that put HealthEquity on the map. In my role now as SVP Consultant Relations, I manage our strategic engagement with brokers and consultants. My team also helps sell and activate new strategic partnerships when it makes sense.
2. What is your guiding principle or North Star?
Do what’s right and honorable by everybody you work with and don’t ever make it about yourself. When colleagues and clients know you care about them—and that you’ll do the hard and right thing by them every time—they’ll trust and respect you. Once they trust and respect you, it’s like they open a secret door that lets you enter a world that makes life sweeter and more interesting. Even when you have to deliver tough news, if the recipient knows you’ll do what’s right, they’ll want to continue to work with you.
It’s important to know that I was raised in a military family where nobody in my extended family had ever gone to college. My father was a sergeant in the Air Force and then a pastor after he retired. My mother was orphaned at age 5. Both experienced violence and family disfunction as children raised in the South. My parents taught me that, as a Black man in America, everything you are associated with needs to feel right, look right, and be right every time—even if this means you need to work twice as hard and twice as long as those beside you. I strive to make this happen every day, albeit with more balance than I did earlier in my career.
3. HealthEquity has a strong commitment to deliver a remarkable experience. How are we continuing to improve in this area?
One area where we’re continuing to improve is finally understanding that brokers and consultants are the essential atomic elements of our business. All our partnerships with health plans and relationships with employers are influenced by brokers and consultants. They feed and drive everything that can help us grow, retain, and delight. Given their importance, we’re launching an enhanced broker partnership program to better support them and drive business with them. It’s the right thing to do and HealthEquity is aligned with doing the right and honorable thing. So now we’re back to my guiding principle (laughs).
It might help to know that our core business was and is health savings accounts (HSAs), which are streamlined. Over the years, and with successive acquisitions, we’ve expanded our product line to add other account types. Many of these non-HSA services intrinsically have more “noise” because they have more moving parts. We’re adapting to that change and learning as we go with the goal of delivering on our Purple Standard. Employers and brokers want to go to ONE trusted partner to streamline and optimize all their benefits and we intend to be that “Column A” partner.
4. What advice do you have for people just starting out in their career?
My advice relates to something I wish I had learned earlier in my career—find and cultivate a lasting relationship with a good mentor. Neither of my parents worked in a traditional white collar professional environment. As a result, I was under the mistaken impression that if I worked hard people would see my hard work, solid results, and then take notice. I wish I had someone who would have coached me for the first 15 years of my career. It would have saved me a ton of wear and tear. For young people starting out, look for leaders who treat people well and get advice from them on what it means to be a professional.
Here’s a story. Early in my career, I would get up from my desk at 5 p.m. sharp and just walk out the door. My colleagues would look at me just amazed as I walked out while they were glued to their desks, deep into projects. A merciful leader finally came up to me and said, “Hey, it’s important for you to know that our work is project based and we work until the work is done.” I didn’t know that before, but with the new advice I was able to adjust my style. A mentor can do that for you—teach you the ropes and help you understand how to grow to be your true and authentic self. Now, in my role I look out for younger team members to see if I can help and encourage them. I have four unofficial mentees on my list that I call regularly to check in. I let them know about job opportunities and coach them if they run into issues.
5. What would surprise people to know about you?
Many people may not know that I’m a dedicated jazz musician and aficionado. I played alto sax in a jazz quartet all through college and graduate school. I may not play the way I used to, but my musical training differentiates me. I innately look at the world and information with an orientation toward rapid learning and pattern detection. This helps me look at data in new, different, and very nerdly ways. My favorite jazz artists are Cannonball Adderley and Phil Woods.
6. What is a defining moment in your life?
Meeting my wife, Brenda, and marrying her changed me for the better. Before I met her, I thought I would never get married. I imagined moving to New York to work like a remorseless warrior in investment banking. Brenda taught me about unconditional love and I’m very thankful for her. She’s my intellectual equal and a great partner because she can tell me the hard truth and help me find balance. We’ve been married 33 years and we face everything in life together.
7. What book influenced you in your professional life?
"Atomic Habits" by James Clear. I love that book because it’s all about making small amounts of progress every day by stacking and refining good habits into powerful routines. To be reliable in business, it’s important to establish and build on those good habits. Every year I re-read the book slowly because it’s a good way to refresh core principles.
8. What cause is closest to your heart?
I have several causes that I’m passionate about and they all come down to defending the defenseless given the stories I have heard from my parents about their traumatic childhoods. I’m especially passionate about both animal rescue and helping young people caught in the grips of abuse. This is where I channel the remorseless warrior still inside me these days.
I’ve been fortunate in life and my career. In fact, one of the best things that’s happened in my career was meeting Jon Kessler at WageWorks way back in 2003. I built a relationship with him and have learned that I can trust him—not just as an intellect, but also as a business leader who is always trying to do the right thing. I’m not just saying that because he’s the CEO. At the end of the day, I trust the people I work with here at HealthEquity because I know in my heart that we always want to do things the right and Purple way.
9. What's your favorite part of helping clients and members reach their goals?
The best part of my job is seeing people who didn’t initially understand the benefit of an HSA realize how it can change their life. I’ve met families like mine who didn’t have a financial reservoir of generational wealth. They would have to borrow against their 401k when they had unexpected health expenses. To see those people benefit is incredible and shows me that HSAs aren’t just for wealthy people. They’re for average people like the family I came from. I’ve loved hearing and sharing stories about people who now have a financial reserve and can sleep better now. It makes me smile!
10. What absolutely excites you right now about HealthEquity?
It’s exciting to know that we have the opportunity to be the dominant player in this space and change the lives of all families in this country. I love the challenge of making things easier for overstressed, understaffed benefits teams—and then helping create better outcomes for their people.
HealthEquity: Thank you, Gary, for sharing more about your background and life. It was great to learn about what fuels your business philosophy.