Interview With Bernard Tyson, Next CEO of Kaiser Permanente

Bernard J. Tyson will be the next Chairman and CEO of Kaiser Permanente. The board of directors of Kaiser Foundation Hospitals and Health Plan announced that Tyson will succeed George Halvorson, who is retiring next year.


Tyson, the current President and Chief Operating Officer, was interviewed by DiversityInc CEO Luke Visconti the day he was named to the position. To hear audio of the interview, click on the audio players below. Tyson also spoke at our diversity event, emphasizing the organization’s emphasis on cultural competency and an inclusive workplace.

Cultural competence in healthcare is a hallmark of both Kaiser Permanente and Tyson’s personal priorities. “Our mission is to continue to become better educated and increase our competency in understanding the nuances of how we care for a diverse population,” he told DiversityInc. “The Institute for Culturally Competent Care is a training ground. It’s a metaphor for where the brain trust is to help the rest of the organization better understand how to care for diverse populations.”

In addressing corporate leaders who are selecting a health-insurance provider, he noted that the commitment to diversity is critical. “Your employees will see themselves in the walls of Kaiser Permanente. We are a diverse organization, taking care of diverse people,” he said.

Where Are All the Black CEOs

Kaiser Permanente, No. 3 on The 2012 DiversityInc Top 50 Companies for Diversity list, is not in the Fortune 500 since it is a nonprofit. However, the naming of a Black person to lead this major organization is a significant step. Currently, only 1.2 percent of Fortune 500 companies have Black CEOs, compared with 4 percent of the DiversityInc Top 50.

Kaiser Permanente’s Next CEO: Why Healthcare Reform, Cultural Competence Are Financial Decisions

Tyson noted Halvorson’s legacy of creating the most diverse top of the organization in the DiversityInc Top 50. “My job is to build on that and leverage the great strength of the diversity as we continue to deal with very complex problems in this country and the healthcare system,” he said.

Tyson is chairman of the board of directors of The Executive Leadership Council, which works to improve Black representation in senior levels across Fortune 500 and equivalent organizations. He emphasized the need for diversity from all underrepresented groups at the tops of organizations. He also is on the board of the American Heart Association.

Increasing Engagement and Motivation

Tyson discussed his long career at Kaiser, saying: “I’ve been afforded over the 28 years wonderful experiences in multiple roles. At the end of the day, what has kept me here is that I believe in the mission, in high-quality affordable care.”

He added: “It’s all about creating an environment where the people bring their best thinking forward and are respected and recognized for that. The benefit is to have a highly motivated staff coming to work every day, taking care of our 9 million plus members.”

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The decision to name Tyson came after an exhaustive search. “The full board of directors underwent an extensive internal and external search process, meeting regularly to consider a number of highly qualified candidates, to identify the next leader of Kaiser Permanente,” said Kim Kaiser, board member and chairman of the search committee. “The board’s decision to offer this position to Mr. Tyson is a testament to Kaiser Permanente’s robust internal succession-planning process. During Mr. Tyson’s 28 years at Kaiser Permanente, he has demonstrated excellent leadership and vision for this organization, uniquely qualifying him to serve as our next chairman and CEO.”

Kaiser Permanente’s succession planning will be featured in our diversity web seminar on succession planning, which will include best practices from IBM and CVS Caremark as well, on Dec. 4.

“The board made an excellent choice,” said Halvorson.

“Bernard has done an extremely good job as President and COO of Kaiser Permanente, and I am confident he will continue to perform at the same level as Chairman and CEO.”

Tyson has been President and COO for almost two years. Previously, he was Executive Vice President of Health Plan and Hospital Operations for Kaiser as well as Senior Vice President and COO for the organization’s regions outside of California.

He has a bachelor’s degree in Health Services Management and an MBA in Health Care Administration and Management from Golden Gate University in San Francisco. He also earned an advanced leadership certificate from Harvard University.

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