The rapidly evolving industry keeps her engaged and on her toes, serving as area vice president at Gallagher Benefits Services.
When Louisa Alvarez took a summer job during college, she never guessed it would lead to a lifelong career. For the past 30 years, Cuban-born Alvarez has moved her way up in the health-care industry, transitioning from an administrative assistant in her college days to her current role as area vice president for Gallagher Benefits Services, Inc. While studying business at California State University, Alvarez began to work part-time at a large consulting firm. Her hard work and ambition were recognized, and once she graduated, Alvarez was asked to stay on full-time.
From the beginning, Alvarez was captivated by the fast pace and variety of her job. “I’m the type of person that can easily get bored, so I knew this was the perfect industry for me. And the legislation constantly changes, so the learning process really keeps you on your toes,” she says. Alvarez saw the wide array of opportunities available as the company went through a period of growth, and very rapidly, she rose from administrative assistant to supervisor to manager at a young age.
After almost 15 years with the same company, and another 15 years with Aon, where she had been serving as vice president, Alvarez stepped into the same role at Gallagher—and many of her accounts followed. At Gallagher, Alvarez now helps companies set a proactive benefits strategy in line with business goals. She also oversees plan marketing and renewals, open enrollment, benefit-enrollment systems, vendor relationships, wellness programs, and health-care reform consulting. Working with a team of account managers, Alvarez makes it her priority to stay on top of health-care provider network changes and new plan options with insurance companies.
While her work essentially revolves around strategic consulting to help her clients make their jobs easier, Alvarez says each day is different—and that’s what she loves most about her career. “You definitely need to be a multitasker: great with deadlines and a good communicator. And there are peak times during the year that require me to work really long hours,” she says.
As much as Alvarez is thrilled by the ever-changing dynamics of her job, keeping up with the changing health-care reform landscape is a challenge. It means reviewing and interpreting new legislation to keep her clients in compliance, and making sure that, at the end of the day, their employees still understand what they’re getting.
“There has been a lot of activity with our clients since health-care reform became effective in March of 2010, and then was upheld by the Supreme Court as constitutional in June 2012,” Alvarez explains. “We are preparing our clients to understand what the new marketplace will bring and what options are available to them that will help them best grow their business. One aspect is helping employers evaluate whether it’s best for them to ‘pay or play’ in regards to offering health benefits. Gallagher has recently released a financial modeling tool that forecasts the financial impact of the different choices employers can make about their benefits package.”
But, she points out that adapting quickly to changing environments is also one of her strengths. In fact, being a Cuban-American woman has defined Alvarez’s strong work ethic—a standout quality that helped her parents build their own business from scratch after migrating from Cuba in the mid-1960s. Alvarez explains that her heritage also gives her the opportunity “to be more involved with Hispanic businesses and to have a better overall understanding of their cultural needs.”
This should come in handy; Alvarez’s latest venture is exploring the regional Hispanic market to add businesses to her client base of technology and hospitality niches in Southern California. In the long term, Alvarez sees herself working in Latin America in the global benefits arena, where she’d have the opportunity to apply her Spanish-language skills. Meanwhile, Alvarez travels for pleasure in her free time, seeing new places, discovering new cultures and meeting new people—something that she always enjoys even when she’s not on the job.