Statement About Paul H. O'Neill
April 18, 2020
Photo by Kieran Doherty/Reuters
The RAND Corporation notes with profound regret the death of Paul H. O'Neill, a longtime RAND trustee and corporate chief executive who served as President George W. Bush's first secretary of the Treasury.
“Because of his unusual and highly successful careers in the public and private sectors, Paul O'Neill knew how government worked as well as how business worked,” said Michael D. Rich, president and chief executive officer of nonprofit, nonpartisan RAND. “RAND greatly benefited from his exceptional insights and unwavering personal integrity.”
In 2000—the year he retired as the CEO of steel giant Alcoa—O'Neill and Alcoa together made two gifts to RAND totaling $2.5 million to establish the Paul O'Neill Alcoa Professorship in Policy Analysis to foster research on such major public policy issues as education, health and economics.
O'Neill's path to the Treasury post began somewhat unconventionally. He studied computer systems in the mid-1950s at what is now California State University, Fresno before spending two decades as a civil servant at the Veterans Administration and the Office of Management and Budget. In 1966, he earned a master's degree in public administration from Indiana University. He was deputy director of the budget office for the Ford administration when he left Washington to join the private sector.
In 1977, he became vice president of the International Paper Company, rising to president in 1985. In 1987, he was named CEO of Alcoa, where his modernization efforts led to substantially greater profits and cash flow. According to the New York Times, O'Neill's leadership over 12 years turned Alcoa into “a case study at business schools for the proposition that a company's investments in technology can reap large productivity dividends and enhance workplace safety.”
A chief executive who preferred an open cubicle to a corner office, O'Neill was known for his independent thinking and candid style. As Treasury secretary from 2001 to 2002, he was often at odds with other members of the Bush administration on tax cuts and other major issues. After leaving government service, he devoted much of his time to promoting health care reform and workplace safety.
O'Neill first joined the RAND board of trustees in 1988 and was elected chairman in 1997. He left the board to become secretary of the Treasury in 2001 and was reelected to the board in 2003. He also had been a longtime member of the RAND Health board of advisors.