Celebrating the Contributions of Paul O’Neill (1935–2020)

Paul O’Neill, a longtime supporter of the Drucker Institute, lived a life that embodied the highest of Peter Drucker’s management ideals: While economic performance is an organization’s first duty, strengthening society is its ultimate responsibility.

As CEO of aluminum giant Alcoa, O’Neill famously made worker safety the company’s most important performance metric. Investors and competitors initially thought it an odd approach—until they watched Alcoa turn out year after year of economic success.

O’Neill studied economics at Claremont Graduate University in the 1960s before moving on to a distinguished career that also included serving as chair of the RAND Corporation.

Never one to be cowed by the party line, O’Neill was a deficit hawk and Treasury Secretary under a Republican president who also talked with urgency about the need to counter global warming and ensure universal healthcare.

In 2013, the Drucker Institute interviewed him about his passionate work to reform the U.S. medical system. “I believed for a long time that we as a society should say…that if you’re fortunate enough to be in this country that you will have financial access to the medical care that you need,” O’Neill said. “I think we should state that as an explicit value of American society.”

O’Neill’s final cause was in this way no different than the many others he championed throughout his life: He matched a relentless focus on results with an overriding concern for the health of his country and fellow citizens.