Magdiel Rodriguez – Chairman & CEO, Alivi

Alivi has found a niche in one of the most complex and talked about sectors in the United States – healthcare. After gaining a foothold from its HQ in Miami, Florida, it is now one of the fastest-growing companies in America.

And with Magdiel Rodriguez at the helm, alongside his top rate management team, the company continues to go from strength to strength via acquisition and new business.

Offering and delivering a range of technology services, running office administration, and coordinating the transporting of people to health treatment appointments, Alivi is beginning to hit the “tremendous runway for growth,” predicted by Magdiel.

It’s a success story made all the more remarkable because of two incidents that took place decades apart.

Magdiel’s LinkedIn profile typically lists his University of Maryland Executive MBA, three languages, and details, skill by skill, experience by experience, his 22 years as a senior business leader with VISA, and another three with MasterCard. Experience around the world that throws up phrases like network engineering, enterprise governance, and enterprise risk management, which in layman’s terms means identifying what might go wrong with a new business venture.

It’s a phrase that probably didn’t resonate with his dad when he fled Cuba in a small, un-seaworthy boat with his wife, son Magdiel, and 15-month-old brother in 1980. The small boat, with 40 people on board, capsized in rough seas.

“Every time I have an apple, it does something to my brain,” said Magdiel. “It just takes me back to that place, to that moment. I was hauled out of the sea by a United States coastguard, and the first thing they gave me to eat was an apple. I had no idea what it was! I was eight years old. It was the first time I had an apple. It wasn’t because I didn’t like them. It was because in Cuba…there were no apples.”

Magdiel’s dad was fleeing Communist Cuba after serving years in prison for having a Bible in his house. The family were taken in as political asylum seekers and began a new and prosperous life, from adversity to success.

Fast-forward nearly four decades and Magdiel reflects on how he manages adversity and success in today’s world: “If life has been easy to you, I don’t think that you really appreciate things enough. And that’s where three elements of success in my life come into play: 1) you’ve got to be humble, 2) you’ve got to be hungry, and 3) you’ve got to have emotional intelligence.

You need to know how to ‘read’ people. How to make people feel something. How to get people to understand what you’re about. There’s a saying that people like doing business with people they like…and I believe that’s how we got our big break into the health sector.”

Alivi was recommended to a health insurer by a small client.

“We asked them very early on what problems and challenges they faced – we call them ‘pain points.’ They said it was NEMT (Non Emergency Medical Transportation) – basically getting people to hospitals and clinics for their treatment. They asked if we could do anything from a technology perspective.

This was a competitive pitch, so we went away, put some ideas together, bits and pieces from different areas of the business, not a full-blown solution. In fact, our response was not ‘fully baked’ for production. It was really a cut and paste collage of things, but they really liked it, and then they asked us if we could manage the whole transportation business. Basically, outsourcing the whole package to Alivi. We thought wow, we’ve never done this before, but Alivi likes a challenge, thrives on problems, and so we said we would do it.

We went away and started building new technology, recruiting, and credentialing transport providers and getting to a stage where we could take on the pilot they had prepared.”

Alivi exceeded all of the metrics lined up in the pilot.

“I think the reason they gave us the pilot was because they realized we didn’t know what we were doing,” said Magdiel. “They really took a leap of faith in us. I believe that they saw a humbleness, a hunger, and emotional intelligence in my management team. They thought ‘I trust these guys, they can do this.’ The deal became relationship-based, rather than transactional. And that is a brilliant way to do business.”

Today, award-winning Alivi is responsible for one million lives and manages 1,200 network providers (clinicians, doctors, consultants, etc.) and services nine health insurers, with a healthy pipeline of new business.

How did the concept of Alivi come about?

We started as a technology company, and our first customers were banks. That seemed to be a pretty natural direction after more than 25 years with Visa and MasterCard, but the catalyst that led to our current, strong position in the health sector came about when a client recommended us to a health plan. That story, along with its impact on Alivi, is told above in my introductory text. Two things I must add though. First, coming from a finance and credit card world, I understood all of the complexities of highly-regulated industries, so I naturally gravitated towards healthcare. And secondly, I was aware that the health sector lagged behind from a technology and process perspective. I could see a tremendous runway for growth…and by the way, the banks are still with us.

What was your marketing strategy?

Initially, we didn’t have one! We grew by word of mouth, and organically. We were fortunate to have some excellent customers who became partners and stakeholders in what we were building. It’s a very closed group of people in Florida. A lot of people know each other, and the word just got around.

How fast did the company grow in the first few years?

We are one of the fastest-growing companies in America. In fact, Inc. Magazine placed us at #300 on its annual Inc. 5000 list of fastest-growing companies. To get on this list, we had to illustrate being hugely competitive in our market, and show exceptional growth. We did. Growth was a staggering 1,496%.

How do you define success?

For me, it’s having the freedom to influence and make decisions that really help to change someone’s life. I don’t attribute success to financial targets or metrics. It’s about being able to help people – clients, the public, employees, and friends.

What is the key to success?

I think there are three things: 1) you have to be humble, 2) you have to be hungry, and 3) you have to have some type of emotional intelligence…be emotionally smart. It’s no more complicated than that.

What is the greatest lesson you’ve learned?

In a nutshell, don’t treat somebody in a way you wouldn’t want to be treated. My dad used to say to me, “You never know” and I’d say “What do you mean?” His answer was “You never know when you’re going to need someone’s help. You never know what’s going to happen tomorrow. You never know if that janitor you see everyday is going to end up in a position where he will be your biggest ally in the future, and help you succeed in life.” It’s about relationships and taking care of everybody.

What are some quotes that you live by?

There are an awful lot of quotes that resonate in the world. Winston Churchill was never at a loss for words. But my mentor, my guiding light, my hero, and dad delivered the one that I like best: “Hey, you never know” as mentioned in the question above. Another that strikes a chord is, “Nobody will remember what you said to them, but they will remember how you made them feel.” It’s a great quote and links nicely with my dad’s.

Do you have any favorite books?

Outside of The Bible, I really don’t have a favorite book – certainly nothing with business links. There is a key theme throughout The Bible about being humble, and about humility. I genuinely believe those simplistic thoughts and themes work in business. I don’t like to make things more complicated than they should be.

Tell me about one of your toughest days as an entrepreneur.

There are a lot of them, but the toughest was when I had to fire a dear childhood friend. That was tough. The second toughest was actually when I got fired after 22 years with an organization. Those are the two toughest days.

When faced with adversity, what pushes you to keep moving forward?

I think that maintaining a clearly-defined and positive outlook is key. Everybody goes through adversity. I’ve gone through quite a bit. Actually, my wife of 20 years died, and at the same time, my company was asking me to relocate to another part of the country. I had made a lot of compromises and sacrifices in 22 years, and I couldn’t make any more…and they fired me. I think that period was one of my darkest moments in time. How did I get through that? I surrounded myself with people who had a very positive outlook. Positivity was so important and I got it from friends and family. It had a tremendous affect on me and I was able to share that and show my son, Max, the power of being positive.

What advice would give to a young entrepreneur?

Find a mentor. Find someone who you trust. That you respect. That you can learn from. Find someone who is going to make you better at what you do, and then surround yourself with good people.