A little more than two decades ago, Dr. Steve Neeleman founded HealthEquity on the principal of helping American workers take control of their healthcare choices and grow funds for the long-term. The foundation of the firm has always been health, of course, but it can’t be separated from finance. That’s why the role of Chief Financial Officer (CFO) plays an essential role to boost value and lead financial strategy. James (Jim) Lucania just stepped into the leadership role as EVP and CFO. Let’s get to know him and welcome him to the team.
HealthEquity: Jim, you describe yourself as a city-guy. Can you talk more about where you’re from and where you live now?
Jim Lucania: Absolutely. I grew up in urban New Jersey and New York. I’ve been a city person for my entire life. From New York and Philadelphia to L.A., I’ve always lived and worked in big cities. But recently that’s all changed. I live outside of Philadelphia now and am enjoying suburban life. We have flower gardens with stuff blooming all the time, and we even have neighbors with horses.
HealthEquity: That’s quite a change! Will you be adding a horse to your family?
Jim Lucania: (Laughs) No. We have an empty horse stable on our property, and it will stay empty. But we do have a scrappy little dog named Burt, and he likes the freedom of romping in the woods.
HealthEquity: That’s great to know. Let’s get into the 10 questions then. From your musical background to flying single-engine planes, we have a lot of ground to cover.
10 questions with James Lucania, EVP and CFO
1. What was your first job and what is your role now?
My very first job was as a youth soccer referee in Bayonne, NJ. It was good money for a 13-year-old, but it also taught me strength, the importance of confidence, and how to communicate with grown ups.
My first professional job post-college graduation was as an analyst at an investment banking boutique firm. I worked on mergers and acquisitions (M&A) and corporate finance deals in the technology, media, and telecom industries. I ended up staying at that firm (and its predecessors) for four years and came back for another three years after graduate school. Today, I’m the HealthEquity CFO leading all things finance and investor communications.
2. What is your guiding principle or North Star?
Early in my career, I had wonderful mentors who were truly generous to me with their most precious gift—their time. I didn’t realize just how generous they were until I had children of my own. It would have been so easy for them to run home and be with their families rather than sit another half hour with me to talk through a complicated analysis or presentation to make sure I understood the big picture. I have no doubt they helped me get to where I am today, and it’s been my objective ever since to pay it forward. So that’s what guides me—being generous with my time.
3. HealthEquity has a strong commitment to deliver a remarkable experience—how are we continuing to improve in this area?
I think this is the special sauce that makes HealthEquity great. When you work in a mission-driven organization, it’s easy to get up in the morning to put in that extra effort for your business partners. And I mean that across-the-board. From member services dealing directly on the phone with a member trying to process a claim, down to the finance team reconciling our internal financial accounts at the end of the month, everyone strives to be remarkable. When I log on in the morning, I feel proud that I’m doing my part to support a mission to save and improve lives by empowering healthcare consumers!
4. What advice do you have for people just starting out in their career?
It’s hard to provide general advice as everyone has different hopes, dreams, and home lives. My goal was to go 100 miles per hour at the start of my career to see and absorb as much as possible as quickly as possible – and that’s what I did. I never turned down an assignment and asked for more responsibility. I volunteered to help out on lots of projects. I worked very hard and for very long hours. I studied hard. I made sure I was always incredibly prepared for every meeting.
With all that effort, I became both competent and efficient. So that’s my advice. Markets will go up and down, but if you become really good at what you do, no one can ever take that experience away from you. You will always land on your feet.
As for where you find the drive and energy to do that? Look within. For me, it was a personal drive to do more with my life.
5. What would surprise people to know about you?
First, I have a music degree from the University of Pennsylvania. I came from a pretty musical family, so it was just always part of our lives growing up. My parents met each other through music. They were in a competitive drum corps together in the late 60s and early 70s.
It was an easy decision to add on a music major in college. After the grueling and competitive finance courses, it was relaxing to end my day immersed in the calmer energy in the fine arts buildings. I grew up playing the trumpet, but my main solo performance instrument in college was classical guitar. My office at home is also the family music room with a piano and lots of guitars and ukuleles.
The second thing that might surprise people is that I like to fly a single-engine airplane when I have some alone time (which is not often these days). I’m currently studying for my instrument rating exam. The best thing about flying is the peace. From a height of 4,000 feet, the world looks very small. It’s very peaceful up there and the flying is the easy part. It’s the landing that’s hard. The ground doesn’t move, so you better get it right.
6. What is a defining moment in your life?
Without a doubt becoming a father changed my life forever. I know so many of you will be able to relate to that kind of life change, so instead I’ll share a bold career-defining move that eventually led me to HealthEquity. In 2012, I was working in investment banking and faced a critical decision—would I stay and become a partner of the firm, or would I try to do something different?
I realized if I stayed in my job I might always wonder, what if. I needed to devote time to find the right opportunity. So, on my birthday, I resigned. I had zero job prospects. And, to boot, I had a third date planned with a nice girl I had recently met. That nice girl is now my wife, Megan, and I like to remind her that while she started dating me as a big shot Wall Street banker, she fell in love with me when I was unemployed! (Laughs)
I finally found the right opportunity a few months later. The rest is history. Inertia is hard to break sometimes, not just in physics and business processes, but just in life. Sometimes you have to do something bold to change your path. In investment banking, I was in the room where the big decisions were made, but they weren’t my decisions to make, at the end of the day. And now they are. I promise that I will never take this responsibility lightly and will do all I can to earn your trust and confidence.
7. What book influenced you in your professional life?
This is an easy one — True North: Discover Your Authentic Leadership, by Bill George. Bill was the CEO of Medtronic for many years — taking it from a small company to a mega global medical device powerhouse.
I had the privilege of taking Bill’s weeklong executive education course at Harvard Business School, which was a curriculum built around this book. It’s essentially a series of case studies and interviews of 100+ remarkable leaders around the world and what makes them tick. The course was called Authentic Leadership Development and the gist is that we all have potential to be great leaders.
To truly lead and inspire people, you first have to look inside yourself and find what makes YOU tick. What is your authentic self? What is YOUR True North? You can’t lead by someone else’s formula. You have to find what works for you. And perhaps even most importantly, you have to identify and cover your blind spots while learning to accept and integrate feedback from your peers. It really changed the way I think about leading a team. Based on that book, I try to foster teamwork, build employee engagement, and help my teammates reach their own leadership potential.
8. What cause is closest to your heart?
Education is my number one cause. I believe the reason for where I am today is because of the educational opportunity presented to me in eighth grade. I was blessed to receive a scholarship to a wonderful college prep school in New York. It was warm and welcoming with absolutely top-notch teachers and staff that loved their jobs and their students. I truly flourished there. So, in keeping with my theme of paying it forward, I focus my giving on secondary education opportunities like the one I received.
I’ll add here that I go out of my way to be a mentor in honor of those who mentored me. It’s so gratifying to see people I have advised on their journeys thrive. I can count seven people who used to work for me in my various organizations who are now CFOs and CEOs of other companies. I really love developing talent and helping people reach their goals – and not only those on my finance team. There’s no better feeling as a leader than watching your teammates shine.
9. What’s your favorite part of helping clients and members reach their goals?
I embraced this mission seven years ago when I joined my prior company. Our mission was helping Americans save for what really matters in life: their retirement, their kids’ education, and their healthcare.
The mission is so similar here at HealthEquity that I feel like my transition in this respect was seamless. We save and improve lives by empowering healthcare consumers. This is so exciting. I believe the Health Savings Account (HSA) is the absolute best savings vehicle available in the market today. And now I can be a part of helping both high-deductible health plans and HSAs achieve wider adoption, in part by educating Americans on how the HSA can help them build savings to last into retirement. We can all do well by doing good.
10. What absolutely excites you right now about HealthEquity?
There is so much to be excited about. The HSA market continues to expand much faster than the overall economy. HealthEquity is #1 in HSA market share. And we continue to grow even faster than the overall HSA market, increasing our share each year. We’re in a wonderful position in the marketplace. We’re not resting on our laurels atop the HSA league tables either. I’m incredibly excited about the technology investments we are making in the product and in our service delivery capabilities. We will continue to show the market WHY we are #1!
HealthEquity does not provide legal, tax or financial advice.
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