Gil Riojas on Connecting Care and Community

How Gil Riojas, Chief Financial Officer of Alameda Alliance, connects with the company’s mission

Gil Riojas, CFO, Alameda Alliance for Health (Photo by John Balbin)

Growing up in southern California to parents who had him as a teenager, Gil Riojas had a modest upbringing; money was tight and resources were limited. Riojas, who is now the chief financial officer for Alameda Alliance for Health, would have been exactly the type of member the organization aims to serve. “My upbringing connects back to the mission of the Alliance,” Riojas says. “If my parents lived in Alameda County when they had me, I would have been a member of the Alliance.” Today, he is responsible for four teams at the Alliance: accounting, budgeting, legal, and the vendor management department.

On a personal level, Riojas connects with the Alliance’s commitment to making high-quality healthcare services accessible to lower-income people in Alameda County. When he took the job at the public, nonprofit-managed care health plan, Riojas moved his family from a suburb of Sacramento, two and a half hours away, to Alameda County, a demographically diverse community that is 22.7 percent Hispanic. “It was a big move for my family, but it was very important for me to be a part of the community that I served,” says Riojas, who is actively involved in his community and church.

“Our staff reflects the diversity of the county, bringing different cultures and backgrounds to the job,” he says. “This body of diversity allows fresh ideas, perspectives, and views that help us better tackle our daily challenges. We recently completed two big transitions with a new payroll and benefits system and change of banking providers. The collective finance team did a great job successfully making these transitions.”

Established in 1996, the Alliance was created by and for Alameda County residents. “Our focus is on positively impacting our community rather than on shareholder profits,” Riojas says. This might seem counterintuitive coming from a certified public accountant and CFO in charge of the organization’s financial health, but Riojas doesn’t see it that way. “It’s important as CFO that the organization understands the financial impact of what we do every day, whether it’s buying a stapler or contracting with a hospital,” he says. “My goal is for us to stay financially solvent so we can continue our mission of meeting people’s needs and helping them get quality healthcare.”

Riojas sees his role as CFO in three parts: he is a financial steward, a mentor, and an educator, helping the organization’s employees and management understand the complicated language of accounting and finance. “Financial details are complex but very important,” he says. “One of my overarching goals is to provide education so that everyone in the organization understands our financial picture on a fundamental level.” Riojas holds regular educational workshops and staff meetings and presents at board meetings to review finance fundamentals.

On a typical day, Riojas shuttles between two office buildings on the campus working with the finance, accounting, and legal teams. “Every day brings different challenges that keep me excited about my job,” he says. His daily responsibilities include contract review and negotiation, reviewing financial statements, monitoring the investment strategy, forecasting, budget analysis, and translating financial issues to the rest of the organization. “I also mentor people who come up the ranks and encourage everyone on my team to maintain a good work/life balance,” says Riojas, the married father of two young children. “It is important for me to make time for my family. I expect and promote that for my team. The time that you have with your loved ones is more precious than anything you can do at work.”

Keeping his team connected to the mission of the Alliance is an ongoing effort. “In finance, we don’t directly touch our members,” Riojas says. “For people to be on board with the mission, they need to know how they fit in.” He keeps his team connected through regular discussions about the mission and fundamental purpose of the organization. “We like to reconnect to our core values and what are we doing to fulfill them,” he says. “Some organizations talk about their mission once and never again. When we are having a bad day and things aren’t going well, I encourage my team to focus on the individuals who are depending on us to access healthcare services.”

Riojas says he originally wanted a career in human resources, but his path took an unexpected detour into finance and accounting. “I graduated college with a degree in business, and I hated accounting,” he says. “I thought I would do great in human resources, but I soon found out that wasn’t my calling.”

Early in his career, Riojas worked for the California Department of Managed Health Care and discovered an affinity for accounting and healthcare. “I had the ability to see on a global level what health care plans were doing well and what plans were not,” he says. He joined the Alliance in 2016 after getting to know the company’s CEO and staff through his work at the state health department.

“Beyond Alliance, there are many groups in our county focused on the same mission— physicians, hospitals and county partners are all striving to provide high-quality access to care for members in our community,” Riojas says. “It’s great to be part of a network of local partners that works, every day, toward improving the quality of life of Alameda County families.“

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