New SHRM CEO Bolsters Organization for Health Care Debate

By Staff Report

Aug. 11, 2008

Laurence G. O’Neil will take over as president and CEO of the Society for Human Resource Management on October 1, giving him a couple of months to settle in before Congress embarks on what likely will be a major health care reform in 2009.

Having served five years as senior vice president and chief human resources officer at Kaiser Permanente, a $40 billion not-for-profit health care organization, O’Neil is well prepared to lead SHRM into the fray.

“His knowledge of the public policy issues surrounding affordable health care for employees is going to be a valuable asset to SHRM,” said Susan Meisinger, O’Neil’s immediate predecessor as SHRM’s top executive. “What he brings is a view from the trenches that is very compelling when you’re offering [congressional] testimony.”

O’Neil was named on Monday, August 11, to replace Meisinger. 

Meisinger announced her retirement in January and departed on June 30, citing the need to care for ill family members. SHRM said it had reviewed a pool of more than 400 candidates for CEO.

Beyond health care, O’Neil brings to the 245,000-member SHRM a deep executive background that could amplify the organization’s emphasis on strategic HR and globalization.

Before his stint at Kaiser Permanente, O’Neil was executive vice president and chief human resources officer for global corporate and investment banking at Bank of America. He also directed HR in Asia and held several other positions for the bank.

Between Kaiser and Bank of America, he was managing partner at Heidrick & Struggles, an executive search firm.

“He’s got very broad HR expertise that he’s gained in a variety of industries,” said Cari Dominguez, former chairwoman of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission who is now an HR consultant and corporate director at Manpower. “He’s a great choice.”

Dominguez’s strong endorsement of O’Neil, who goes by the name Lon, is based on her experience working with him when they were both at Bank of America.

“Lon is a person of ideas, and he’s a visionary,” Dominguez said. “He’s got leadership skills and is inspiring. He loves HR.”

With his knowledge of Asia, O’Neil will be able to build on SHRM’s foundation in that region, where it has offices in India and China, Dominguez said.

“Lon will be able to provide influence and direction in those markets,” she said.

He also is positioned to help SHRM meet another goal—attracting and engaging senior corporate leaders.

“One of Lon’s great strengths is his ability to work with line executives,” Dominguez said. “He has the ability to look at HR from a business perspective. He’s highly regarded by CEOs.”

O’Neil will have a chance to concentrate on promoting the SHRM brand in the C-suite rather than getting buried in the daily grind of a Washington trade group, Meisinger said.

SHRM is currently being led by COO China Miner Gorman, who became acting CEO on July 1. SHRM generated $105.4 million in revenue in 2007.

“The professional staff is very strong at SHRM,” Meisinger said. “China Gorman is quite an effective COO, and they’ll make a good team. He won’t need to focus his time on running the business side of an association.”

When he interacts with the SHRM staff, he’ll do it in a collegial way, Dominguez said.

“Lon’s style is quite consultative,” she said. “He tries to learn. He tries to probe.”

—Mark Schoeff Jr.

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