Healthcare veteran Gregory Adams stepped in to lead Kaiser Permanente as soon as the sudden death of Bernard Tyson was announced on Nov. 10. Adams’ interim position became official one month later when the nation’s largest integrated healthcare system’s board of directors cemented his role as CEO earlier this week.
It is one of few times in history that a major organization has appointed one black male CEO to succeed another. While Adams has inherited a financially healthy entity – Oakland, California-based Kaiser is an $80 billion nonprofit organization with more than 250,000 employees and physicians serving 12.2 million members – it is also a grieving institution. Tyson was a bright light who cast a long shadow, making this transition uniquely complex.
Stepping into the wake of an extraordinarily dynamic leader who was broadly respected and revered is no easy task. Here are four reasons why Adams, the sixth CEO in Kaiser’s almost 75-year history, should succeed.
- He already knows the ropes. Tyson was a lifer at Kaiser, having started there as a college intern. While Adams had an impressive decades long career in health care prior to joining Kaiser, he’s also logged 20 years moving up the Kaiser ranks. Starting in 1999 as a Los Angeles-based senior vice president, in the last 10 years, he rose swiftly through roles that prepared him well for this moment. In, 2013, the year Tyson was named chairman and CEO, Adams rose from Kaiser’s regional president for Northern California to executive vice president reporting directly to Tyson. Adams was named group president in 2016. There, he had direct responsibility for health plans and hospital operations in all eight Kaiser regions, impacting 12 million of its plan members.
- He began his career as a caregiver.. A native of rural Georgia, Adams graduated from Atlanta’s Ogelthorpe University with a degree in nursing and proceeded to work in the emergency department at nearby Crawford Long Hospital. It was there that he confronted the social determinants of healthcare and began to consider other ways that he might craft an even more impactful career in the industry. He went on to earn his master’s degree in nursing administration from Wichita State University. His clinical background, though brief, may give Adams an edge with Kaiser’s physicians and healthcare providers, who are a powerful force.
- Adams is up for the challenges. Kaiser has successfully negotiated new contracts with several of its unions in the past year, but testy labor relations disputes continue, including with the National Union of Healthcare Workers, which plans a weeklong strike beginning on Dec. 16 (a previous strike was postponed out of respect following Tyson’s death). If carried out, the strike could shut down services at 100 Kaiser clinics. That said, in a statement released following Adams’ appointment, the Alliance of Health Care Unions, a coalition of unions that represents 50,000 Kaiser employees, praised him as the “best choice to lead Kaiser Permanente seamlessly and boldly forward.” The group’s leader, Peter DeCicco, was quoted by The Sacramento Bee, lauding Adams’ vision, depth of knowledge and experience: “We are confident that with Greg’s record of commitment to labor management partnership, together we will continue to ensure that Kaiser Permanente is the best place to receive care and the best place to work, a community anchor for good, stable jobs and healthy neighborhoods.”
- Adams is committed to a seamless succession. During his seven years as CEO, Tyson oversaw major expansions in Kaiser’s membership, workforce, and revenue, but he became perhaps best known for his unflinching leadership on social justice issues ranging from racism, mental health and gun violence to homelessness, poverty and affordable housing. Under Tyson’s leadership, Kaiser committed $200 million to fight homelessness, which is rampant in the Bay area. At Tyson’s memorial service last month, Adams was moved to tears as he paid tribute to his late boss and friend. Even in that raw moment, Adams stated his full commitment to continuing the work Tyson was so passionate about. “It is truly an honor to be named Chairman and CEO of this amazing organization and follow Bernard,” Adams said in a statement. “Kaiser Pernamanente will continue to move forward together to deliver on our mission.”