Throwback Thursday: My Interview with Paul O’Neill on Patient Safety & Habitual Excellence


Update 4/18/20: Mr. O'Neill passed away this morning at the age of 84. We grieve for the loss of a principled man and an inspiring leader. You can read his obituaries from the WSJ and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

One of the highlights of my podcasting adventures was the opportunity to interview Paul H. O'Neill back in 2011. The original episode was posted here as #124 in the series.

He served as the U.S. Treasury Secretary from 2000 to 2001 and was previously CEO of Alcoa, where he dramatically improved employee safety AND the performance of the company's stock (the he'd argue one led to the other through what he calls “habitual excellence.”

Secretary O'Neill became a leader in the healthcare improvement and patient safety movements through the Pittsburgh Regional Health Initiative and now serves as the non-executive chairman of the firm Value Capture.

Today, I'm sharing a PDF with some of the highlights from this episode with Secretary O'Neill:

You can also read and share a version of the summary that's published on LinkedIn.

Below is another throwback post with some notes I took when O'Neill spoke at the annual Lean Healthcare Transformation Summit (and I hope to see you there in June).

Here are more posts about O'Neill and his advice about patient safety, leadership, and improvement.

I remember asking him what got in the way of additional progress on safety across the healthcare landscape and, without missing a beat, he said:


Why are we apparently lacking enough transformational leadership in healthcare? Why are so many satisfied with the status quo? Why do too many leaders think they can delegate their obligation and responsibility for safety? Why do leaders make excuses for poor quality as being the way it has to be?

I hope you find value in the discussion with Secretary O'Neill.

Videos of Paul H. O'Neill:

Short version:

Longer version of the talk:

What do you think? Please scroll down (or click) to post a comment. Or please share the post with your thoughts on LinkedIn – and follow me or connect with me there.

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Mark Graban
Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker, and podcaster with experience in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. Mark's new book is The Mistakes That Make Us: Cultivating a Culture of Learning and Innovation. He is also the author of Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More, the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, and the anthology Practicing Lean. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology company KaiNexus.


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