Please Share Your Stories about Paul
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From: Ken Segel
When I reflect on the year since we lost Paul O’Neill Sr, I can’t separate what he taught us from the COVID crisis that has dominated the world for the last year. How deeply has crisis revealed the truths he spoke to, and the imperative for leaders to act on those truths.
Perhaps foremost was that safety cannot be a “priority” but instead must be a precondition, something we don’t trade off against other priorities. As Paul noted, priorities change, especially when the going gets rough. How deeply ironic and sad that the cause of the profound “shifting of priorities” itself this year was a defining safety issue – a predictable world pandemic. And yet, we were not ready to meet the pandemic. We did not adequately protect our teams, and together with our government and political leaders we did not protect the public. We also allowed COVID to erode the modest commitment to safety and safety gains we had exhibited in the decades prior to the crisis.
Paul knew safety had to be a precondition, led and demonstrated by leaders, because only with that constancy of focus can the people of an organization believe it’s really true, at the deepest levels, and commit themselves to the habits of excellence, in all things. Only then can you build the habits and problem solving and improvement capabilities needed to excel in all things, both routine and complex, in normal times and especially under stress.
If you can get safety right, you can get everything right, safety leaders say.
But safety isn’t just a skill-building lever to get great at all things. It is actually inextricably linked to all things. Consider the profound and ongoing economic damage done by the pandemic, and the large percentage of that damage that was avoidable if we had truly “led with safety.”
Paul O’Neill knew that ideas and systems are all connected. The principles are the principles, and they can make human life better across the board.
Another more hopeful thought grips me as well. Paul’s vision at root was rooted in his belief in people, and that we can learn these ideas, apply them, and make remarkable things happen. We can choose to be part of something really important. We can change for the better.
We have seen people step up across health systems and across society during the past year, in so many domains. Here I think of our awakening to racism and inequity, and our start, hopefully, of a more profound journey to at long last being to turn the tide. One respected leader shared with me that their people were anxious about looking at their own equity data, because they were afraid they would see that they had been part of a system producing disparate outcomes. “I have been complicit in this system too,” the leader replied to their team, “Until now. I am deciding to change. Together, we can change it.” And in their place, they have started to do it, measurably.
We all can. Start with safety. Aspire to do great things. See the connections. It is all still possible. If we decide.
2020 Reflections and Remembrances:
From: Sandra Beach Lin
I first met Paul O’Neill when I worked at Celanese, leading their Ticona Engineered Materials business. Paul, then the former CEO & Chairman of Alcoa and former Secretary of the Treasury, served on the board of Celanese, so we interacted multiple times per year. Going back in time, though, to when I worked at Alcoa, I was immersed in all-things Paul O’Neill, even though he had left the company at that time.
Having been trained on Safety and Six Sigma at AlliedSignal (now Honeywell), I thought I had a deep understanding of how to ensure & drive employee safety. Paul, through his many years of dedication to safety as the foundation for everything, taught me so much more. I learned to use the term “incident” instead of “accident” for safety occurrences, as “accident” implies that one has no control over its
occurrence. Everything started with Safety at Alcoa; a lasting legacy of Paul’s.
When I met Paul for the first time at a Celanese board meeting, I told him that his shadow was long and his legacy immense. He and I got to know each other well at board dinners & meetings, and my education continued – this time in person. There was one conversation at an airport in Europe I remember well. Celanese executives and board members were waiting to fly to a manufacturing location for a board visit.
Paul and I were sitting next to each other in the gate lounge area and we ended up in a deep discussion about leadership. I told him about a CEO I worked for in the 1990s who saw in me leadership potential that I wasn’t yet able to visualize myself. He promoted me to my first large P&L role. When Paul and I talked about the choice that CEO made in me, Paul said, “That’s because he trusted you.” I think about this comment often today in my work as a board member and the people we choose for CEO roles.
Paul was a leader with a true North Star of integrity, plus honesty and self-awareness. After I left Celanese, I stayed in touch with Paul. I served on a board in Pittsburgh, where Paul lived, so every December I would meet with Paul before our board meeting. During those discussions we would cover many topics, and I came
prepared with my list. He was always open and frank, and he shared with me his takeaways from mistakes he had made during his career. So much learning.
Some of you reading this may remember that when Paul served as the Secretary of the Treasury under George W. Bush, he dramatically improved the safety incident record at the U.S. Mint facilities. Following his time at Treasury, Paul dove deeper into a mission he had an absolute passion for – Safety in healthcare. Paul is well known for his work in Pittsburgh and nationally to drive down the safety incident rates for patients and healthcare workers. I was able to see his pride when progress was made and his great frustration when things stalled. His North Star included impatience when change wasn’t happening fast enough.
I, along with the thousands of people who interacted with Paul will remember what we learned from him. Paul O'Neill was a very fine man indeed.
From: Barb Pezze
Paul O’Neill was an extraordinary leader and I consider myself very fortunate to have been influenced by him. I’ll share one story that illustrates his visionary ability. In 1999, the Alcoa eCommerce technology team was newly formed and struggling to think of ways to utilize a new technology—the World Wide Web. With a belief in its potential, we were looking for identifiable projects that we could drive within the Company. I reached out to Paul’s administrative assistant to see if he might have some time to share his thinking on the matter, requesting 20 minutes of his time. Paul, at the time, was transitioning out of the role of CEO. Nonetheless, Paul enthusiastically agreed to meet and proceeded to list so many ideas of how the Internet could be used to benefit companies, research, and mankind as a whole that I could scarcely keep up with the discussion and take notes. The ideas were flying! The meeting lasted 45 minutes, with Paul inviting me back to continue the discussion. Many of the concepts seemed revolutionary at the time – using the web as a tool for collaborative research, for example. Our team was inspired, and now, looking back, I am amazed at how most of those ideas have become commonplace over the past 20 years. Thank you for the continued inspiration! Barb Pezze
From: James M. Anderson
I first met Paul when I was CEO of Cincinnati Children’s Hospital. We had been awarded a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to engage in Pursuing Perfection, a program managed by the Institute of Healthcare Improvement. We committed to the grant not knowing what perfection looked like or how we would get there but knowing that radical change was necessary and that our standard practices were nowhere near that standard. Paul came into our lives with an impeccable pedigree and lots of radical thoughts that made the unlikely seem possible. I stole from him without shame. Phrases like “habitual excellence” and notions that financial results were the trailing consequences of what we did, landed with high impact and stayed in our vocabulary, high among our attainable aspirations.
He made so much sense. Of course we should concentrate on what we really did - take better care of kids - and seek excellence in everything we did, without exception, every day. Our job as leaders was to expect that, to live that and to enable others to push the frontiers of practice to new levels of excellence. Real-time as the only goal for data gathering was made more emphatic by Paul’s telling the story of his asking Treasury colleagues how long it took to close the books on the US financial performance each year. When told it took three plus months he responded “Why bother.” Real-time is actionable; slow time is not helpful or actionable. We embraced that standard. Paul talked safety and ALCOA was among the safest industrial companies. My recollection is that its lost time injury rate was 3 per something. Hospitals were more dangerous than logging or mining at around 10 lost time injuries per that same something. We set ALCOA’s number as our goal and when we finally beat it I had great fun telling Paul. He just smiled, deeply satisfied.
I will miss him. His directness, his comfort insisting on revolutionary change for the right reasons and profound sweetness all impacted us personally and institutionally. Thank you, Paul, and know that the energy in your example continues to have impact. Jim
From: Susan Johnson, Paul H. O'Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs
The first thing that comes to mind about Mr. O’Neill is how he lit up when he was interacting with students – be it one or one hundred. He never seemed impatient when the line of students waiting to speak to him was lengthy. He was so passionate about developing young leaders. What I will always cherish most about him was seeing how he lived out his values. His interactions with our University President were no different in tone than his interaction with the courier who brought him in from the airport. Many people espouse principles like, ‘the hospital cleaners should be treated with the same respect as the brain surgeon,’ but he actually lived that way. It was amazing to witness. And, of course, he treated me as though I was an accomplished dignitary. It is a value I have embraced -- striving to treat everyone I meet with equal respect and dignity. He made it look easy but it is not.
From: John D. Graham, Professor, Paul H. O'Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs
In 2009, Paul returned to Indiana University after several decades and gave a lecture on leadership. The Atrium where he spoke was packed well beyond capacity, with students lining the second and third floors that open to the Atrium below, straining to hear. It was the first time I had seen Paul speaking to students, and it was remarkable. I have rarely seen students as mesmerized by a speaker.
Paul was an inspiration to me because he discouraged emphasis on political ideology and partisanship. He urged policymakers to focus on scientific evidence, analysis, and reasoned deliberations. His dedication to public and community service, his business acumen, and his strong sense of integrity (occasionally in the face of powerful opposition) was legendary. Paul was a “transparent” leader long before transparency became a popular political buzzword.
I remember that while he was Treasury Secretary, a New York Times reporter asked him how he judged himself. His response was, “It’s not, ‘did we get some bill passed or did someone like what I said or wrote.’ What really matters to me is lasting institutional change.” That message is prescient - and certainly relevant – today. He will be sorely missed.
From: James L. Perry, Distinguished Professor, Paul O'Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs
I first met Paul O’Neill in September 2011 when he visited Indiana University to give a lecture at the School of Public and Environmental Affairs. I was so impressed with the lecture, “Truth, Transparency and Leadership,” that I asked him whether I could publish an edited version of it in Public Administration Review, the premiere public administration journal for which I had recently been named editor-in-chief. He graciously agreed. I was proud that I was able to include in my first issue Paul’s explanation of the trilogy of questions he used to define a real leader (https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/j.1540-6210.2011.02487.x).
I was fortunate to meet Paul on subsequent visits to campus. Each time I met him I was attracted to the qualities he projected that are associated with the best public administrators, qualities like integrity, authenticity, caring and compassion. This encouraged me to want to share more about his personal and leadership philosophy. Paul graciously agreed to sit for a lengthy interview, which we did in the Value Capture offices in Pittsburgh. The interview ranged widely, covering topics like mentoring, truth telling, and values-based leadership (“Know Your Values and Be Prepared: An Interview with Paul H. O'Neill,” https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/puar.12640).
One of the most satisfying days in my professional career was the day I received the news about Paul O’Neill’s generous naming gift to the School of Public and Environmental Affairs. As a student of public administration for the last 50 years, I was excited that everyone who values public service, especially future students, would come to know Paul O’Neill’s legacy. Having come to know him, I am mindful of the extraordinary model he is for students. His combination of competence, grounding in values, and passion epitomize the qualities we seek to instill in our students. More fundamentally, he symbolizes what everyone expects from a public servant. Although I am sad he will no longer walk among us, his legacy assures that those who follow are more likely to walk his path.
From: Lisa Beckwith
I have learned so much from Mr. O'Neill over the years about how to live your values, to deeply respect every person and what that actually means though demonstration of behaviors, to empower people, to find your strengths and to be the best you, that you can be.
I worked as a pharmacy manager and then joined Pittsburgh Regional Health Initiative when I first met Mr. O'Neill. It was long before CPOE (Computerized physician order entry) existed. Remember when doctors hand wrote medication orders? I do. It was the most amazing design. The doctors examine the patient and determine the most critical pieces of information - exactly which medications, in the dose, form, frequency, and duration that they believe is just what the patient needs and then they write it as fast as they can on the order sheet and move on to the next patient. A large part of the role of the pharmacist was to interpret what the order said. If a pharmacist and his/her co-workers couldn't figure out with their detective skills what the order said, s/he had to call the busy doctor for clarification. (Which often was not appreciated). In fact when we studied the work of the pharmacist, we found that on average, pharmacists spent 33% of their time clarifying orders. We called it work. Others may categorize it as waste. I understood it. It was the way it was. It was our culture and we worked through it.
That was the way until, Mr. O'Neill, understanding the problem and the risk of harm to the patients, had the courage to stand up to the hospital CEO and say that illegible and incomplete orders were such a sign of disrespect that any doctor that writes them should not be allowed to practice in this hospital! He opened the door for us. Not for getting rid of the doctors, of course, but for pharmacists and nurses to work across the silos with the doctors to design systems, including binary connections between people, to ensure that everyone that needed to know, understood the critical information.
He read our (Value Capture) weekly reflections of our work and he cared so much about the work we did with our clients to help people to apply principles and behaviors to make workers and patients safer in our client organizations. He joined us for our team learning session in October 2018. He put forth a challenge to us, which I take very personally. It is essentially a road map of how to support people on a journey towards eliminating harm. We have lots of work to do.
He told us in no uncertain terms what he would like us to accomplish --
First, he would like to see a Value Capture "stamp" on the client organization. There will be a real-time data system in place and available to every worker. The performance measures would be moving closer to perfect. Everyone owns the institutional goals. Continuous improvement is taking place and it starts with improving towards "injury free" for workers and patients.
Second, help the organization take an inventory of the values and compare to his "trilogy"- He believed that "In organizations that have the potential for greatness, people can answer “yes” to the following 3 questions every day: 1) Am I treated with dignity and respect by every person I encounter without regard to race, gender, educational attainment, rank, or any other distinguishing feature? 2) Am I given the tools, training, resources, encouragement etc. to make a contribution to the organization that adds meaning to my life? 3) Am I recognized for that contribution by someone whose opinion matters to me?"
Third, he would like to see ongoing measurable improvement on important measures including hospital-acquired conditions and worker injuries. Help people to see preventable harm and all harms.
Fourth, help people to fix the medication pathway.
Fifth, help to be the "best in the world at everything that they do."
Sixth, in a year's time he would expect to see statistically significant improvement in worker safety.
I will do my best to help people to apply principles, tools, and behaviors to work towards these goals and keep his spirit alive through my work. I miss him dearly.
From: Nancy Meyer Fitzgerald
I was a research chemical engineer at Alcoa Technical Center near Pittsburgh, PA when Paul O’Neill became CEO. It was seemingly simple, yet startling and long enduring, for him to begin his first large group meeting by pointing out the exits from the room and building in case of an emergency, then talking about safety and then values. And I remember because his leadership was consistent throughout.
I was on the first Safety Committee in our research division and we were asked to track, improbably, Near Misses as well as Injuries, analyzing what needed to be changed now before there was an injury, being trained to consider long range impact of our choices in designing experiments, choosing materials, putting ourselves and others at risk. Paul O’Neill reminded us repeatedly about the company goal of zero work place injuries, and made management decisions to support what he said. He walked the talk, and soon so did we. My whole self could stand tall with the values he made explicit, central and non-negotiable, no matter the position or person. Integrity, respect for every person and every job, elimination of waste, environmental stewardship, accountability, expectation to speak and act on unsafe conditions.
I and my Alcoa researcher friends all consider ourselves truly fortunate to have been led by his example of excellence and consistency. Thank you, Paul O’Neill for your living legacy.
From: Jim Buckman
For us in Minnesota, especially at the University of Minnesota, our contacts with Paul as a visitor, lecturer, organizer, board member, friend and advisor are too numerous and deep to recount here. But I would like to recount a couple of personal contacts which reveal his character and leadership.
Thanks to our relationship with Dr. Joseph Juran, we at the University of Minnesota established the Juran Center For Leadership In Quality. We sought the advice and participation of a dozen or so of our nation's pioneering Quality executives, beginning with the legendary Bob Galvin, CEO of Motorola. As we fleshed out our vision and plans, Bob sent letters and made phone calls to great leaders from Ford, Corning, Milliken, P&G, 3M, and several more companies and their leaders...including Paul O'Neill. My job was to visit each of them in person; having prepared the visit with a deep package of background materials--Who are we? What are we planning to do?, etc. As I sat down with Paul, I expected to review the briefing materials with him...as I had done with several others. "I've read all of it, " said Paul. "I have a number of questions for you." He proceeded for many minutes to probe me regarding our plans, qualifications, assumptions, our understanding of the linkage between Safety and Quality transformation; and especially about the indispensable role of leadership, including my own. It was an unforgettable tutorial, and a test of our worthiness of his further time and interest. Apparently, we passed. And I wanted badly to get him out to Minnesota to lecture as large a group of students, faculty, business leaders and university leaders as we could manage.
Some months later, Paul did come to Minnesota for his first of several visits. He traveled alone--no assistants or servants--he carried a light suit bag, traveling light. I drove us from the airport to the campus. We walked up a flight of stairs to my small, no-status, freshly-cleaned office to stash his stuff. As we walked back down the large, main stairwell toward the hall in which he would be speaking, Paul bent down twice; once to pick up a gum wrapper, once to pick up a dust bunny. I quickly took the particles of trash from him, and carried them in my hand until I could find a wastebasket in which to get rid of them. That was two decades ago, but obviously I have not forgotten. Mentally, I was embarrassed...I was wondering how it was that our janitors could embarrass our school of management. Those were fleeting, non-accountable thoughts, before I KNEW this is my job; this building is MY home. Paul never said a word to me; nor I to him. I expect never to forget that incident.
No leader I've ever met ( and there have been some great ones) has had an influence on me like Paul O'Neill. His lessons are seared into me at a very deep level. May God welcome him home. Best to all. Jim Buckman
From: Christina Dixon
Mr. O’Neill believed in the power of education to transform lives and build a better collective future. In the late 1990’s, Paul served on the Allegheny Conference and chaired its regional education arm, the Education, Policy and Issues (EPI) Center. In this role, he led the organization to embrace and promote the vision of “every child, one at a time” for the entire Southwestern Pennsylvania region. He also paved the way for me, a junior EPI Center employee at the time, to learn from the Pittsburgh Regional Healthcare Initiative’s early quality improvement efforts in hospitals, with the goal of spreading these principles, methods and ways of thinking in education.
Since then, Mr. O’Neill’s vision for an education system truly capable of meeting the needs of each child has inspired my life’s work. His transformation of ALCOA through leadership grounded in respect for everyone, expecting excellence and developing people and systems to deliver outstanding results provides a road map for anyone seeking to dramatically improve in any sector, including education. I will be forever grateful for all the ways he “gave me eyes to see” what’s possible for all students and the education systems that serve them.
On a personal note, Mr. O’Neill loved babies. When I knew him, he was always excited for the next grandchild or great-grandchild to arrive, and bemoaned aloud when the gap between them became too long. One of my favorite memories of Mr. O’Neill is of the day my husband and I introduced our newborn to him. Mr. O’Neill held our son tenderly and with the assurance of an expert, beaming with the joy of having a baby in his arms.
Mr. O’Neill worked tirelessly to move the Pittsburgh community, our nation and the world closer to values-based ideals. May we have the fortitude and perseverance to continue his legacy of courageous service.
From: Pittsburgh Mayor William Peduto
Paul embodied so much of what makes Pittsburgh great — being an innovator, speaking truth to power, and never, ever giving up on his vision.
From: Tony Toledo
I started my working life at Alcoa Kwinana back in 1990, as a 16-year-old. I was fortunate to start my career in an environment where my safety and the safety of my teammates was a priority; it became the culture. This safety culture has followed me through my career and has made its mark in my family as my kids enter the workforce. I owe this to this culture, this vision that the work Paul O'Neill worked so hard to ensure became a core value to Alcoa.
I had a chance to meet Paul on one of his many visits to Australia. Last July, I managed to reach out to Paul via email, just to thank him for the impact he had made in my life he made. To my surprise he replied, and he thanked me for reaching out. I would like to share the following quote on choosing your keystone, which at the time was revolutionary, before its time and set the standard. “If you want to understand how Alcoa is doing, you need to look at our workplace safety figures. If we bring our injury rates down, it won’t be because of cheerleading or the nonsense you sometimes hear from other CEOs. It will be because the individuals at this company have agreed to become part of something important. They’ve devoted themselves to creating a habit of excellence. Safety will be an indicator that we’re making progress in changing our habits across the entire institution. That’s how we should be judged.” Paul O’Neill. Once again, Paul O’Neill, thank you. I end this with the final words he wrote to me in his email. God Bless You.
From: Lou Pahountis
I was fortunate to have joined Alcoa in 1991, just after a few years of beginning my career. After 2 months of observing the company's direction and decision-making I was struck by the money being spent on technology but without clear value to the company; so I naively (but respectfully) wrote a white-paper outlining my observations and recommendations for quantum-leap improvement to business/operations before introducing technology; sent it to Paul along with the top 30 or so senior executives, without the approval of my boss's boss. Well, what happened afterward is something I'll never forget, and what shaped my immense respect for Paul.
Two weeks following my white paper, Paul sent an announcement to the entire company of sweeping changes to the top few layers of management, inverting the leadership pyramid, 24 BU Presidents, and establishing the 'Chairman's Council'; in addition announcing the quantum-leap improvement program along with an increase in BU President empowerment and accountability. This was music to my ears, but what really impressed me was Paul sending me a note, inviting me to the Corporate HQ and to shake his hand and to have lunch with a member of the Chairman's Council. Following this I was invited to join an internal group of performance improvement professionals that would go on to assist BU Presidents achieve their quantum-leap improvements. Needless to say, this was unexpected by a 29 year old "kid."
I could go on-and-on about this story and its amazing experience but the key takeaway is that Paul O'Neill shaped a young man's professional life by taking an interest and then giving me the tools to do what I can do best for Alcoa ... so much so that I have kept a copy of that white paper, along with Paul's response. It has served as a constant reminder during my 30+yr career to always be bold, direct, but respectful. Thank you Paul O'Neill for touching a young man's life when you really didn't have to. Rest-In-Peace!
From: Charles F. Bonser, Dean Emeritus, Paul O'Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs
I first met Paul O’Neill in 1972 after I had just been appointed to be the founding Dean of Indiana University’s new School of Public and Environmental Affairs. Paul was a Masters student sponsored by a federal program for promising young civil servants. I recall Paul was particularly interested in natural resource management and environmental protection. It was clear from Paul’s experience in our program that he had great potential as a leader. We were excited to watch his career evolve and this potential realized as he took on important leadership roles in the Federal government and in the private sector. Paul continued to maintain a relationship with SPEA and he later proved invaluable on strategic matters as a member of our Board of Advisors. The commitment of his time and ideas and his generous philanthropy have helped position the Paul O’Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs to begin a new era of development in which we are now engaged. He will be greatly missed.
From: Siân Mooney, PhD, Dean, Indiana University Paul O'Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs
Paul O’Neill was many things: an extraordinary leader and devoted public servant among them. His vision, his business acumen, and his love for his family, friends, and all of humankind are well documented. Whether it was his passionate belief in the safety and wellbeing of the workers he led, his unflinching devotion to a principled set of core beliefs as Secretary of the U.S. Treasury, or his unwavering commitment to quality and affordable health care for all, Paul stood tall—as is so often the case with those who sometimes stand alone.
Though I never had a chance to meet Paul O’Neill in person, I had the opportunity to speak with him several times. Those conversations, which I will treasure forever, were nothing short of inspiring, if not the slightest bit intimidating! It’s not often one gets to receive the unfiltered wisdom from one of our country’s finest leaders.
When I asked Paul what he was most proud of over a storied career, he said it was his family. And I can see why. Over the past year I’ve had the great fortune to come to know them, and I couldn’t have been prouder to have them here in Bloomington, Indiana last September as we celebrated the formal naming of our school. Though Paul couldn’t be there, his spirit filled the room. How fitting is it to now have the Paul H. O’Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs at the very university where he studied public administration. The same lessons Paul taught so many of us will live on through generation after generation of some of the smartest and driven students in the world. Students just like Paul. His generosity—as we all know—was boundless, and his desire to see our school, and more importantly, our students, succeed, is something that cannot be replaced.
I was walking through the graduate center that bears Paul’s name the other day. As with most other colleges and universities, our students have returned home as we grapple with a public health crisis the likes of which we’ve never seen. There was an emptiness, though, that felt heavier than just the absence of our students. It was knowing Paul wouldn’t get to see what comes next. How will we respond as a people? How will our businesses help? How will our government lead? These are the kinds of questions I know Paul would be asking, and I know they’re the kind of challenges he would put forward to our students.
Paul and the entire O’Neill family have made a promise to our university and school, and we intend every day to honor the great trust and responsibility that comes with it. We owe him nothing less than our very best, always, at all times. He would’ve demanded it. And for that, we are eternally grateful. Our school is proud to carry Paul O’Neill’s name. We’re even prouder to carry on his legacy.
From: Mark Gilmour
Sad to hear of Paul O’Neill’s passing. I had many meetings with him at Alcoa. He was always on time, always prepared, and always smart. He asked Questions that got to the heart of a matter in seconds. When they say he was Quirky, that is code for someone who was an engineer and looked for Solutions, not excuses or half-baked ideas. He challenged the wishy-washy World we live in. He refused to keep the co. Membership in an exclusive Club in downtown Pittsburgh, until they changed their policy and admitted women. He drove his own car to work. I really loved working for such an accomplished, principled leader.
Two quick memories. First, he helped me change the company dress code as a gimmick to benefit The charity United Way. Second, we took kids to work day and my son met him. The boy said to me afterward, not knowing who he was, that “he had the nicest Office.” He meant the nice wood. It was still a cubicle, like the rest of us had. — R. I. P. Mr. O’Neill. The world needs more like you.
From: Mike Staresinic
In our quarter millennium, we can count a handful of Americans who have ably served at the top of business, government, and civic sectors. Let's continue to work to ensure his example of how to inspire, lead, and get things done, is emulated.
From: Richard McCracken
Two things I remember about Paul. His assistant called me one day and said, Mr ONeill wants to see you. I went to his office and he closed the door, which felt unusual, and he proceeded to tell me how bad the RFA (request for authorization) one of our business units was in terms of data to justify the expenditure. The lesson lasted for about 30 minutes and only ended when his assistant knocked on the door and advised him he had another appointment. Whew was I ever glad that was over, but never again would an RFA go to him without sufficient data,
The second strong recollection occurred after a management conference. He called me and said I don’t think I came across very well in my session. I said, honestly Paul you didn’t. He asked me to put together a group of attendees for a critique luncheon. We had the luncheon and it was an incredible experience. At one point one of the attendees said to Paul that you made us feel like we were clearly not as smart as you. Most CEO’s would have made a defensive remark to that or reacted negatively. Paul said, you know what, Nancy tells me that all the time and I need to be more sensitive to that. I was just astounded by that reply. We all grew from that meeting.
God bless you Paul.
From: Ed Markoff
Paul O'Neill was undoubtedly the most prolific and enlightened CEO in Alcoa's history. His leadership took Alcoa to new heights in multiple dimensions (not just financial) during his tenure as our CEO for 13 years beginning in 1987. Paul was a values-based leader who introduced a set of 6 core values that revolutionized and impact Alcoa to this day. These include, in no particular order of importance: Integrity, Safety and Health, Quality and Excellence, People, Profitability and Accountability. The underlying concepts and prescriptions of each of these values really represent and help to personify Paul O'Neill.
I offer this anecdote to portray the essence of Paul: Paul introduced Alcoa to TQM (Total Quality Management) in 1987/88 and proclaimed our vision as: Alcoa will be the best aluminum company in the world and a leader in other businesses in which we choose to compete. Alcoa's Quality Policy was far reaching, provocative, comprehensive, data driven, and customer focused. This particular anecdote that I would like to share occurred during the worldwide Juran Quality Conference in 1989. Alcoa was selected by the Juran Institute to be the keynote company for this conference. This was a very prestigious conference and definitely an honor to be selected as the keynote company. During his speech addressed in front of thousands of participants, hundreds of national and international companies and the media, Paul's speech was riveting.
Around this time, aluminum was being erroneously linked by the media as a direct cause and contributor of Alzheimer's disease. Paul's commitment to the health and safety of people is well documented over his tenure as our CEO. In true form during his keynote address, Paul made the statement that if aluminum was proven to be directly linked and a cause of Alzheimer's, he would "shut down the company immediately." Upon hearing this, the audience was dead silent for 30 seconds and then erupted into a five minute standing ovation. I was never as proud of being an Alcoan as I was on that day.
During one's career (I worked for Alcoa for 38 years), having a leader such as Paul is indeed a blessing. I was fortunate to have Paul as my leader during those 13 years. May His Memory Be Eternal!
From: Tom Matway
Value Based Leadership.
From: Kevin Kearns
I'm a professor in Pitt's Graduate School of Public and International Affairs. I never worked directly with Paul but, of course, knew of his remarkable accomplishments as a leader in all three sectors -- business, government, and the nonprofit sector. A number of years ago I called to ask if he would come to campus to share his wisdom with my students in a seminar setting. He graciously agreed and returned again and again making a lasting impression on students who were about to embark on their own careers in public service. In 2018 we honored Paul with the Exemplary Leadership Award from the Johnson Institute for Responsible Leadership. Subsequently, several students joined me in co-authoring a teaching case about his leadership. He was a leader of character, vision, empathy, and extraordinary intelligence. While the news of his passing was not unexpected, it still took my breath away. I'm grateful to have known him and even more grateful that he so graciously shared his vision with our students.
From: A. Irene Schmidt
Paul embodied the concept of integrity in everything he said and did. Those of us who worked at Alcoa during his tenure as CEO had the good fortune to see that repeatedly in his interactions with all employees, regardless of their rank in the company. He was interested in the facts, first and foremost, but incredibly approachable as a human being. What an example to all of us!
From: Clifton Orme
I consider Paul the most influential mentor I have ever had in terms of changing the way I operate as a Hospital Administrator. I met Paul nearly 20 years ago when I managed a hospital in Wilkinsburg, Pennsylvania. Because he lived just a few miles from the hospital, he took it upon himself to personally help me see a new way of managing problems that occur on a daily basis at that facility. Paul, together with the staff at Value Capture, helped me institute a daily safety report to document everything that goes wrong and then assisted me in focusing my efforts and those of my staff on solving each identified problem to root cause in real time.
The language my people and I use at the hospitals I have managed since I first met Paul has changed forever. He taught me about the "connectedness" of ideas and importance of recognizing the messages that are being unintentionally transmitted throughout the organization. He taught me that everyone can teach me something and to listen to ideas from people at all levels of the enterprise. He taught me to focus on the legacy I want to leave when I am done with my career—that for which I want to be remembered. He taught me to use inclusive not exclusionary language so that I can involve people at all levels in solving problems. and then share the learning throughout the entire organization. He taught me that everyone, everyday has the potential to contribute to organizational excellence and that in addition to having the best brain surgeons in the world, figuratively speaking, the hospitals I manage need to have the best housekeepers in the world.
He taught me how to tap into people's 20% reserve capacity by treating them with respect and dignity and then delegating downward, because I do not have the capacity to solve all the organization's problems. He taught me that it’s not fair to tolerate an unsafe work environment and that it's possible to create an injury-free workplace. He taught me not to budget for safety but rather that when we find safety issues to fix them on the spot. He taught me to give my phone number to the rank and file and encourage them to call me on nights or weekends when they are unable to find solutions to safety issues. He taught me not to measure compassion by what happens after a workplace injury occurs but rather on steps taken beforehand to prevent any situations that might lead to workplace injuries. He taught me that if anything happens to my employees that it’s ultimately my fault.
He taught me to set aspirational goals, to insist on habitual excellence, and then provide support to achieve said goals at the theoretical limit. He taught me that the rules apply to everyone, no matter how important a person might feel he or she is to the organization. He taught me to ask child-like questions and to be curious about the work people do at all levels of the organization. And, finally, he taught me the most important attribute I have as a leader is my moral authority and never to give it away, never to place blame and that understanding failure is one of the greatest contributions I can make.
In my current role as President of International Hospital Corporation, Paul helped me understand that values-based leadership principles are universal and can be applied across all cultures, as long as I learn to recognize cultural differences and make appropriate modifications. Paul was indeed a unique teacher, one who modeled exemplary values and encouraged the rest of us to step up our game and be great leaders. May others be privileged as I was to find and be influenced by someone of similar characteristics as Paul, my mentor and friend.
From: Carlton Davis
I knew the late Paul O'Neill during my years as a leading government representative in Jamaica's Bauxite sector in which Alcoa had a major interest. I remember distinctly a very productive meeting he had with the late Prime Minister, Michael Manley at the Waldorf Towers, New York in early 1990s. I remember, too, his leadership role in the recovery of the aluminium business after the market was flooded with aluminium following the collapse of the Soviet Union. My brief comments are a mere cameo of his remarkable career.
From: Didier Rabino
Last year, in March, I had the privilege to spend several hours face to face with Mr. O’Neill. I was curious, nervous, and armed with questions centered on value-driven leadership. What I did not expect was his genuine desire to know more about me, my past, my passions, and my thoughts on healthcare organizations’ struggle with operational excellence. His humility touched me. I asked about his thoughts about healthcare organizations’ performance. Why don’t we still have a “Toyota like organization” in healthcare? His answer was: “healthcare is too complex to have a centralized decision-making process. We need to give autonomy to the front line and remove the hierarchy that is in the way. Leaders need to create a value structure they practice every day and never violate. They must remove every excuse for not achieving excellence.”
From: Rick Williams
My first encounter with Paul was during the ALCOA acquisition of Alumax. I was amazed by how he had shaped the ALCOA culture. He was genuine and down to earth but incredibly inspirational. Later Paul was instrumental in my appointment to NASA’s Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel. He had a profound influence on Sean O’Keefe, NASA’s Administrator, by demonstrating what was possible while Secretary of the Treasury. After Paul retired from ALCOA, we ran into each other often at the Pittsburgh airport. Every encounter ended with me having an assignment to contact someone at a hospital, bank or other business to help with their safety culture. I can honestly say, Paul challenged me and made me a better person.
From: Mark Schaefer
Mr. O'Neill was one of the most profound influences of my business career. I have even featured him in my latest book "Marketing Rebellion" as an example of how only steadfast and involved leadership can bring about complex change. I continue to preach his philosophies in the college classes I teach. His legacy will continue with this new generation of students. I also remember him for his true kindness and compassion.
From: Wade Hughes
I’m deeply saddened by Paul's passing. After we first met and talked during his visit to Australia, Paul’s leadership inspired me to pursue an international career within Alcoa. On occasions when I had the privilege of working directly with him, it was like working with an affable uncle. He was clear and consistent about his high expectations, and equally clear about why they were not only important, but also why he believed that they represented the best and most noble contribution that we, as individuals, and as a collective called Alcoa, could make to the world at large.
Paul was fiercely committed to these ideals, but he expressed his commitment with extraordinary humility, and was always prepared to roll up his own sleeves to assist in delivering them. To lesser mortals, such as myself, he was forever kindly. Although I did made him so mad with me during one particular video interview. He always agreed to such interviews being unscripted, with no advance knowledge of the questions, no scripted answers, and no interest in reading from credibility-sapping teleprompters so often used by corporate producers. The flip-side of that, though, was that he was such a deep thinker, that his answers often roamed across many related strands of the topic. I circled back a couple times, asking in in different ways a question that he was certain he'd already exhaustively answered. I was looking for a concise, unvarnished comment on the “tons out the door regardless of safety performance” culture that persisted in some corners of the company. His lips tightened, in barely concealed frustration, and he snapped the pencil he was holding. By that time I was wondering how I might best explain to my wife, Robyn, why it was that I needed to be out looking for a new job! But then, still clearly cross, he delivered that famous line: “If you are telling me that there are people out there that are putting production ahead of safety, then they are not on the same page as me, and I want them eliminated from this organisation!”
Paul had agreed to also read the voice-over narrative for that video, but this was the only direct on-camera quote we used. The video was titled Engraved in Stone, and Paul's participation in it, and his steely comment caused a seismic shift in attitudes within the workforce worldwide. Paul had said it publicly, from the top: there was no legitimate excuse to be injured at work. And so, literally overnight, it became OK for everyone to be saying it, if they didn't already, to believe it. It was very clear that he meant every word, and he never resiled from that. He publicly fired an Executive Vice President, a personal friend of his, and highly successful, in terms of $$, Alcoa BU leader, for failing to honour the commitment to safety and honest reporting of it.
Paul truly revolutionised the culture of Alcoa by demolishing old class-barriers, attitudes, and practices that were costing the company, and its international workforce, and shareholders, blood and treasure. Paul could see that going in. The improvements in safety, environmental, manufacturing, economic performance—and morale, that Alcoa achieved during his tenure proves that he was right.
I consider myself privileged to have known him, and to have worked within such a large organisation under his leadership. To this day, with my 31 year Alcoa career now nearly five years behind me, I am still influenced by the wisdom and clarity of thought he so generously shared. I also still have one of the dollar bills, printed with Paul's name, and personally autographed by him, when he became Secretary of the Treasury. At a time, now, when the people of the world are facing threats to both lives and livelihood from a common enemy in Covid-19, we need leadership based on intellect, vision, integrity, and deep humanity. These are all attributes that Paul had in abundance, and the world is a poorer place for his absence. To Nancy, whom I helped plant a tree to mark her visit to Australia in the mid 1990s, and to Paul's family, Robyn and I offer our deepest condolences.
From: Clovis Evangelista
As a true leader Mr. Paul O’Neill inspired me! Certainly not only me; for sure he inspired thousands of Alcoans and, with his example in Alcoa, who knows how many thousands of people he inspired outside Alcoa. In Alcoa he raised the Safety flag to the very top of the pole. When Safety is running well everything else will follow, he would say. During his tenure as Alcoa CEO, was when I had my best time with Alcoa in my thirty five years with the company. I then loved the company, was proud of it and of our CEO who valued people. All my colleagues felt the same. I learned immensely about Safety, how to manage it, about Values which certainly reflected Mr. O’Neill’s Values, and how to manage a business using Principles and Values as guides which should never be compromised.
I always believed that EH&S were disciplines which should be managed in an integrated mode. In 1997-1998 Mr. O’Neill inspired Alcoa’s top leaders to conduct the integration of the Alcoa’s Audit functions. Certain leaders thought he was intending to integrate E, H and S. However his intention was much broader. He would have said: I want to integrate all audit functions: E, H, S, Financial, IT, all that's auditable in the Company. That position came as a surprise to me; not to me only, a surprise to everyone. I was part of the Environmental Audit team in Pittsburgh at the time and had the great joy of participating of the whole Audit Integration Process. At the beginning we had EH&S, FBP (Financial Business Process) and IT, all integrated. Later we added Maintenance. More to the end we had: EH&S, FBP, IT and OpEx (Operational Excellence). That Mr. Paul O’Neill’s decision on integrating all audit functions was a one that impacted me mostly and directly as I lived the integration process and it’s application since the very beginning and along sixteen years till my retirement from Alcoa in 2012.
I firmly believe Mr. Paul O’Neill is one of these human beings who come to this world to make a great difference by doing good and helping others to do the same. He certainly accomplished his mission. Congratulations Mr. Paul O’Neill! Mission accomplished! Well done! Now rest in piece! Yet, I want to express my deepest condolences and feelings of sorrow to Mr. O’Neill’s wife, entire family and friends, for this loss, and I do this also on behalf of my wife Isabel Evangelista who, along with me, also met Mr. and Mrs. O’Neill at their house, in an open house even offered by them, in 1997. It was a great meeting and evening. We will never forget. Thank you Mr. O’Neill. Clovis Evangelista
From: Bill O'Rourke
Paul O’Neill was the most enlightened leader I have ever known. There are a few people in the World who change our lives; Paul was one who invited me to become a much better person. I could tell countless stories demonstrating the exceptional leader he was and the impact he had on my life. I could relate stories of how he taught me to gather facts first, how to treat everybody with dignity and respect, how to have conviction in your beliefs, but I’ll limit myself to these few:
- I was sent to run Alcoa-Russia in 2005. My initial orientation made it very clear that everything was wrong at these two 50-year old, gigantic manufacturing facilities. I wondered where do we start. Then, I recalled what Paul said; “If you get safety right, you’ll get everything right.” I had my answer - start with safety. It set the stage for bringing the Alcoa values to the Russian organization.
- I had the privilege of authoring an ethics book called “The Business Ethics Field Guide” with two professors from Brigham Young University. Before we went to print we needed to get someone to write the Foreword. I recall discussing the question of who in the World has the greatest integrity and the name Paul O’Neill surely arose. My colleagues asked if Paul might consider such a request. He did. Of course Paul said that he needed to read the book first before he would write the Foreword. He wrote it and included this message: “Everything a leader does is examined by the people in the organization. Your people will compare what you do with what you say. What you do defines you and becomes the default standard for your organization.”
- I also had the opportunity to introduce Paul the evening he gave a keynote address to a national leadership group at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. I recounted some of Paul’s positions and accomplishments, of course. But, I concluded my introduction by telling the audience about the highest regard in which I held Paul O’Neill. I explained that I have long identified eleven heroes in my life and actually have their pictures in my den at home. Those heroes include Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Ghandi, Thomas Jefferson, Mother Teresa, Neil Armstrong, Yuri Gagarin, Bill McDonnough, St. Pope John Paul II, my Dad and......Paul O’Neill. God Bless Paul. Bill O.
From: Peter Jager
As a Safety Professional working at Alcoa's most distant operations in southern Australia, Paul's impact was felt by every employee. By releasing a video viewed by all in which Paul stated "If you believe your work is not safe - stop the job!" he gave the authority and ability of every employee to work safely. As he stated, "If you are not completing work safely, you are not 'on the same page as me!'" A true giant in the world of OH&S. Vale Paul.
From: Terry D. Kramer
I remember meeting Paul almost 20 years ago while I was working at Vodafone AirTouch and considering a long-term goal of entering public service. I remember the expert advice he gave me willingly that helped advance my entry into a public service role that was one of the most meaningful roles I've had in my career. I remember being so impressed with Paul's broad leadership skills – – allowing him to succeed in a variety of settings – public and private sector, CEO and board related. This became a role model trait that I sought to emulate – – being able to operate in a broad variety of settings. I also remember being so impressed with Paul's clarity of thinking which transcended political and ideological views that can exist so starkly in the public and even private sector. This reminded me of the importance of being "honest" in thinking and always seek to achieve the broader goals in your work. I will remember the many leadership lessons I took away from Paul and in my own way try and share those with the next generation of leaders. I will miss you but not forget you. Terry D. Kramer, former U.S. Ambassador, World Conference on International Telecommunications; former Regional President, Vodafone Americas; Current Faculty Director, UCLA Anderson--Easton Technology Mgmt Center
From: Viral Mehta
Though I never personally met Paul, I feel like the impact of his life on mine has been profound, through my connection to his incredible Value Capture colleagues. The profound inspiration and mentorship Paul continued to provide to them was apparent right away, and they in turn, paid that forward with great dedication and humility through their work with institutions around the world. In our work, we too have been touched deeply by his vision, passion, and example, and most importantly -- the conviction to make the right thing the easy thing, reliably. We will certainly continue walking on our path, in connection to timeless principles and inspired by Mr. O’Neill’s teachings that habitual excellence is a responsibility we have to all the hearts and minds we are privileged to touch through our work.
Deep condolences to Paul Jr and family, and the Value Capture family. We will greatly miss Paul, even those of us who didn't meet him. I do feel greatly reassured having personally experienced, one layer removed, the irresistible power of his message, and the self-activation it creates. Each of us has the capability to be great. As Dr. King said, "Everybody can be great...because everybody can serve....You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.” Grateful to Paul for his deep service through his heart and soul, and for what it has catalyzed around the world.
From: Jeff Shockey
Paul was an inspiration to me, as an individual and a safety professional. Paul charted a path to True North for me and my Alcoa colleagues around the world. He will forever be the “Gold Standard” for a CEO’s commitment and passion for workplace safety. If you had the opportunity to work with him, you knew you were working with someone who had integrity, class, courage and conviction to a core set of values. He treated you with dignity and respect, regardless of position or title.
I’ll never forget having to run-down the management of a random hotel or bank; to offer a single-point safety lesson – courtesy of Alcoa - because Paul observed a window-washer working without fall protection either from his office or while walking back from lunch. With Paul, when it came to safety, it was “unconditional surrender” – it didn’t matter if they were not our employees or contractors.
One of my favorite responses when someone would call asking to set up a benchmarking session with “Alcoa’s Chief Safety Officer” was “well that would be Mr. O’Neill”. If you worked at Alcoa – that was the reality. Safety was a Value not a priority; and it was led from the top. Paul was always reinforcing that safety leadership was a precursor to operational excellence.
Paul’s legacy does not end with his passing. Nothing is as powerful as someone who leads by example. To that end, thousands of current and former Alcoa employees, select CEOs and others will be carrying the lessons he taught us forward for generations to come. I feel privileged to have known him.
From: Julie Schoelzel
I first discovered Mr. O'Neill when reading his book The Price of Loyalty. I was in my mid twenties and had just begun my career in business. I found his book to be a great resource on learning to trust my instincts and my integrity. I kept tabs on Mr. O'Neill, even buying a set of his CDs on Transforming Performance. I reached out to Mr. O'Neill directly when my father passed away after a nine month battle to recover from a heart attack. I laid out the long, miserable story, from doctors persuading us to trache him to his never ending infections like CDiff and pseudomonas. I was raw and reeling after my loss and the incomprehensible carelessness and waste I witnessed during that nine month period. Reaching out to Mr. O'Neill was a strange thing to do, but I couldn't shake the feeling I had a crime to report and that he might just listen. And he did. He expressed compassion and he took it a step further, bravely acknowledging that what had occurred was indeed a colossal failure and assured me of Value Capture's commitment to improve how hospitals function. I have described grief as walking around, going to work, and living life all while engulfed in flames. Mr. O'Neill threw a little water on me that day and I will never forget it. I am so sorry for your loss. I am also sorry for America's loss. Sincerely, Julie Schoelzel (formerly Waters)
From: Amy Crawford-Faucher, MD
Paul graciously met with me and my husband, Gus Faucher, when we moved to Pittsburgh. To a physician/economist couple this was like meeting a rock star. I am so aware of the difficulty of grieving privately and publicly at this time, so we wanted to send our appreciation and sympathies to his family, and to his Value Capture family as well.
From: Kathryn Correia
It was a privilege to serve on the Catalysis Board of Directors with Mr. O’Neill. As I listened to board member conversations about quality in health care, I was impressed with how Paul always spoke with integrity and absolute commitment to zero harm. He listened with the same intentionality. In my office on my leader standard work board is Paul’s quote, “If we bring our injury rates down... it will be because the individuals of this company have agreed to be part of something important: They’ve devoted themselves to creating a habit of excellence...” Reading this quote never fails to inspire and to give me energy to lead forward.
From: Mark Williams, MD
As the former Chief Medical Officer at North Mississippi Health services in Tupelo, Mississippi, we were fortunate to experience Mr. O''Neill in person for a couple of days as part of our inaugural Annual Safety Summit. I recall that the night prior to his keynote at our Safety Summit, he spoke to a large gathering of our medical staff - it was scheduled for an hour. 2 1/2 hours later he was still going and not a single person had left - the breadth of his knowledge and his history of service and accomplishment erased any partisan perspectives, it was as if each person in that audience was trying to extract as much wisdom as possible from this gentleman. As someone whose passion has been largely derived from improving safety in health care, Mr. O'Neill is simply our 'hero.' The organization in Mississippi was the largest rural health system in the U.S. with the largest non-metropolitan hospital (650 beds) in the country. It remains the only health care organization to win the National Malcolm Baldrige award twice - in no small part from the inspiration provided by Mr. O'Neill and others who aspire to do great things. My condolences to his family and what a great legacy.
From: Rajiv Anand (Alcoa, retired)
“I was an analyst. He picked me, just a manager... He would not buy a company until he asked me, in front of all the top executives, what price we should pay. He believed in his people. Not outsiders. His people. A remarkable leader.”