Paul H. O’Neill's career is marked by leadership and vision, which he has applied across the public, private, and nonprofit sectors—the same three sectors of the economy we address in our teaching and research.
About Paul H. O'Neill
“I went to Washington in 1961 because I believed what Kennedy said. If you want to make a difference, come here. It sounds corny, but it’s true.”
— Paul H. O’Neill
O’Neill is known for his dedication to public and community service and his strong sense of integrity—occasionally in the face of powerful opposition.
He started his public service career as a computer systems analyst with the U.S. Veterans Administration in the early 1960s. After obtaining his MPA from Indiana University through the federal government’s Education for Public Management program, he returned to Washington and worked with the U.S. Office of Management and Budget for ten years, ultimately serving as deputy director.
In 2001, O’Neill became the 72nd secretary of the treasury. Shortly after 9/11, O’Neill presided over a sudden downturn in U.S. economic growth but restored confidence by vowing to eliminate the funding source of terrorist attacks. He was instrumental in setting up a special task force to combat terrorist financing. O’Neill was an outspoken critic of the complexity of the U.S. tax code and an advocate for policy action on climate change. He resigned in 2002 over major policy differences with the administration.
“Your aim must be to be the best in the world at everything you do.”
In the private sector, O’Neill was the former CEO of Alcoa, one of the world’s largest aluminum producers, where he retired as chairman at the end of 2000. There, he developed a reputation as an independent-minded business leader who put an emphasis on worker safety and employee health plans. Under O’Neill’s leadership, Alcoa not only increased its revenue from $1.5 billion to $23 billion in 13 years, but also became the safest workplace in the world.
Prior to joining Alcoa, O’Neill was president of International Paper Company. He improved the company’s financial reporting by initiating audits of financial reports before they were required.
O’Neill’s commitment to excellence and to evidence-based decision-making is a legacy graduates of the O’Neill School can be proud to carry forward.
“A real leader hungers for the responsibility of making a difference.”
O’Neill has served on many boards and is actively involved in influencing public policy, especially as it relates to comprehensive healthcare reform and improving healthcare quality.
In 1997, O’Neill cofounded the Pittsburgh Regional Healthcare Initiative to address the problems of regional healthcare. In 2005, he founded Value Capture, LLC, where he champions the idea that healthcare can be improved through the pursuit of perfect safety and clinical outcomes. In 2016, he was appointed to the board of the nation’s premier research hospital, the National Institutes of Health Clinical Center Research Hospital.
Life and philanthropy
O’Neill was born into a military family in St. Louis, Missouri. He met his wife, Nancy, at Anchorage High School while living on a military base in Alaska. They have four children, twelve grandchildren, and nine great-grandchildren.
In 2019, Indiana University named the Paul H. O’Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs in his honor, following a $30 million gift from the O’Neill family to establish new student scholarships, fellowships, faculty positions, and the Paul H. O’Neill Center on Leadership in Public Service, among other initiatives. This follows a previous gift of $3 million from the family to help construct the Paul H. O’Neill Graduate Center on the Bloomington campus in 2017.