These four tips from Bernard Tyson, former CEO of healthcare giants Kaiser Permanente, will help advance your career

BY Preta Peace Namasaba March 21, 2024 8:20 AM EDT
Bernard Tyson. Photo credit: Kaiser Permanente

Bernard Tyson earned himself a reputation as a distinguished corporate executive and community leader. He rose from being an assistant administrator in the Outpatient Medical Records Department at the San Francisco facility to CEO of Kaiser Permanente, the largest integrated managed care consortium in the United States. A credit to his remarkable qualities, Tyson was promoted every 2 to 2.5 years over three decades with the healthcare giant.

He received his bachelor of science degree in health service management and master of business in health service administration from Golden Gate University in San Francisco. Tyson managed the major aspects of the business before his rise to top leadership. As Chairman and CEO, Tyson grew Kaiser’s revenue by $30 billion and its workforce from 174,000 people to more than 218,000 employees. Under his leadership, the organization provided care for 12.3 million members at more than 600 locations across eight states and the District of Columbia.

Tyson’s career trajectory serves as a source of inspiration for Black executives seeking to thrive in corporate America. From navigating cultural preconceptions to understanding unspoken subtext in conversations, Tyson often spoke candidly of himself and his storied professional journey. The Kaiser Permanente Bernard J. Tyson School of Medicine honors his indelible contribution to public health.

These four tips from Bernard Tyson, former CEO Kaiser Permanente will help advance your corporate career.

1. Stay open to learning
While working as an administrative analyst at Vallejo General Hospital in California, Tyson worked closely with the hospital administrator who wielded immense power. He was fascinated by the questions his boss would ask and would dig deep in research to find the answers. Tyson likened these learning moments to solving a mystery. He utilized this experience to elicit feedback from his teammates later in his career, consequently becoming an effective and indispensable leader.

2. Be your own advocate
Tyson grew up a large religious family and learned to infuse storytelling as a major component of his communication style. When named administrator of one of Kaiser’s newest hospitals in 1992, he found himself unable to collaborate with his physician partner. The fact that his colleague had never worked with a black man was the root cause of the difficult relationship. Tyson used this revelation as a basis to guide his colleague on how to relate and work with someone different. Through direct communication, he turned around a situation where failure seemed inevitable and created an amicable working dynamic.
“My journey has always been to be the different person in the room. Since I started my career. I would go in the room, and I’d be the different person. Then I figured out how to make my voice known in the room,” Tyson said about speaking out in professional spaces.

3. Commitment is key
Tyson picked up the mantra “To whom much is given, much is required” and abided by it. He contributed his time, energy and resources to everything he was involved in. He was committed to not only improving the health of the Kaiser’s members but also of the communities where the group worked. Under his leadership, the organization examined systematic issues such as housing shortages, food insecurity and gun violence and their impact on health and well-being. His passion for the job and improving the lives of people contributed to his meteoric rise.

4. Create impact
Tyson’s background in medical records proved to be invaluable later in his career. Despite opposition within Kaiser, he championed the development of electronic health records at a time when their use was unclear. The organization pioneered investment in technology among health systems with its Electronic Medical and Health Records proved to be game changing. Tyson embraced the opportunity to be a change maker on all fronts, driving business growth and championing racial equity.
“In our brief time together, you might agree with me, you might disagree with me, but you will never forget me,” Tyson said about standing out at work.