Meet Bernard J. Tyson, Kaiser Permanente’s first Black CEO who nearly doubled company revenue in six years

BY Solomon Mensah November 30, 2023 10:24 PM EDT
3-5 May 2013: Anaheim, CA. UDC at Disneyland Hotel. Bernard J. Tyson, CEO KP

In 2013, when Bernard J. Tyson assumed leadership at Kaiser Permanente, the healthcare organization boasted a subscriber list of 9.1 million and a workforce of 174,000. However, by the end of his tenure in 2019, Kaiser Permanente’s annual revenue had surged from $53 billion to an impressive $82.8 billion. The organization’s workforce had expanded to 218,000, and its membership had grown to 12.3 million.

Tyson’s distinctive leadership style revolved around ensuring high-quality healthcare that was accessible to all. He firmly believed that those in leadership roles should continually add value. Hence, upon taking the reins of leadership, he adopted a strategy focused on enhancing access to affordable healthcare. In Tyson’s view, people sought healthcare services with the expectation of receiving top-notch care, not otherwise.

Unfortunately, this was not the reality in many healthcare institutions, as he once observed. A 2016 TransUnion survey revealed that 58 percent of Americans felt overwhelmed by escalating healthcare costs. Tyson regarded reversing this trend as paramount, as it went against the very essence of his commitment to the healthcare sector.

Tyson’s career path was significantly influenced by his mother, who battled diabetes. Spending a substantial portion of his life accompanying his mother to the hospital, he became deeply committed to the idea of eventually owning his own healthcare institution. His journey started with a job at the very hospital that had treated his mother.

In 1984, Tyson embarked on a six-month internship at Kaiser Permanente, eventually securing a full-time position as an administrative officer, as documented by history makers. Over time, he climbed the organizational ladder, ultimately becoming the first African-American chairman and chief executive officer of the company. While his mother served as his initial inspiration, his father, a carpenter and part-time minister, provided valuable guidance, emphasizing the importance of personal improvement as a means to enhance the world around them, according to

Tyson did not falter in his mission to transform the global health giant upon assuming its highest leadership role. He worked tirelessly to establish a healthcare system that consistently delivered exceptional service. During his tenure, he prioritized investments in technology to streamline healthcare delivery, ushering in electronic health records. He firmly believed that electronic records were at the core of delivering high-quality healthcare.

Prior to his passing in 2019, Tyson expanded Kaiser Permanente’s reach by founding a sister unit, Group Health Cooperative, which later integrated into Kaiser’s network in 2017. His impactful contributions garnered recognition from Time magazine, which included him in its list of 100 influential people worldwide.

A graduate of Golden Gate University and a father of three, Tyson also received honors from Modern Healthcare, naming him one of the most influential figures in healthcare for six consecutive years. He ranked second on the 100 Most Influential People in Healthcare list and was featured on Fast Company’s roster of the most creative individuals. In some instances, he ranked just behind either President Obama or Trump.