George Halvorson, Chair and CEO of Kaiser Permanente, 2002-2013

Today we are thrilled to release our substantial life history interview with George Halvorson, a former Chair and CEO of Kaiser Permanente, one of the nation’s largest providers of health care. Halvorson has been listed several times on Modern Healthcare‘s “Most Influential People in Healthcare” roll call, reaching the #6 position in 2012. Halvorson headed up the Kaiser Foundation Health Plan and Hospitals from 2002 through 2013. Before that, he served as founding CEO of HealthPartners in Minnesota. Since his retirement from Kaiser, Halvorson has devoted his time to promoting the benefits of early childhood education through California’s First Five initiative and to addressing social difference and tensions through his own Institute for Intergroup Understanding.

In 2016, Karen Ignagni, herself one of the Most Influential People in Healthcare and former CEO of America’s Health Insurance Plans, wrote this of Halvorson:

George Halvorson has led an extraordinary life that is filled with accomplishment, introspection and leadership. These tapes beautifully capture what he did, but what’s especially riveting is how he did it. In listening to the complete set, you come away with nothing but admiration for the sheer magnitude of what this curious, big thinking, self-aware but personally modest man has accomplished.

I’ve known George for approximately 25 years and believe leaders from different stakeholder communities will find these interviews both inspiring and challenging. While all of us know how successful George has been, these interviews explain how his career unfolded, what drove him, and how he created the circumstances that allowed him to lead very different organizations.

As listeners, we have a front row seat for his thought process, his choices and his perseverance. We learn what a formative experience it was for George not to become the CEO of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota, how it made him available for the leadership role at HealthPartners, and how he forged new relationships with physician groups and hospitals long before health policy leaders were suggesting this was the path to the future.

We learn how George worked with Key employers in Minnesota to attack rising healthcare costs, create product transparency and pave the way for a pathbreaking buying cooperative. At the same time, we learn how a busy and successful executive constructed and implemented a plan to bring healthcare coverage to the people of Uganda and teach leaders from the World Bank how to achieve that objective efficiently and effectively.

Even though I had the pleasure of watching George’s transition to Kaiser Permanente, I enjoyed listening to him describe why he made the change and what he set out to accomplish in that key delivery system. At that point in their careers many CEOs might have chosen to simply enjoy the ride. Not George Halvorson. He chose to make Kaiser a leader on safety long before it was top of mind for others in large health systems. We learn about his quest to attack sepsis and reorient his hospitals’ processes to make that possible. We also learn about what it took to form a strong partnership with the Permanente medical group and exactly what made that work over time.

But that’s not all. George was a leader in helping to pass the Affordable Care Act. Here he gives us an inside look at what that responsibility meant to him and how it impacted the country. George has been an actor on the national stage, but what is particularly fascinating is his ability to explain what he was thinking, why and how that crafted his strategy. As a listener, you are transported back in time as he recounts his experience.

George’s introspection as a prolific author makes him a skilled raconteur. You root for him, you admire him and you are delighted that you listened. Many CEOs have experiences worth sharing but few have the ability to teach. George Halvorson has that gift, and these tapes make it possible for us to learn, to admire and to respect this unique individual who dared to dream and had the courage and skills to lead.

Video excerpts: