Robert O'Leary is living proof that there is no such thing as impassable divides in the hospital industry. For the past 25 years, the wunderkind of the hospital industry has moved effortlessly from heading up hospital associations to running large not-for-profit health systems to turning around investor-owned chains, before heading back to not-for-profits and the group purchasing side of healthcare.
Most recently, O'Leary, 56, who describes himself as a specialist in "start-ups and turnarounds-companies that need a big boost"-even tried a brief stint in managed care.
O'Leary was still less than 30 years old when he became president of the Illinois Hospital Association. After positions with St. Joseph Health System, Orange, Calif., and hospital alliance VHA, he dipped his toe in the for-profit waters, turning around the foundering American Medical International before selling it in 1995 to National Medical Enterprises, a precursor of Tenet Healthcare Corp.
But perhaps O'Leary's highest profile stint was with American Healthcare Systems, where after eight months with the San Diego-based group purchasing organization he helped mastermind the three-way merger between the nation's second-, third- and fourth-largest GPOs, creating Premier, also in 1995. Two years after the merger, O'Leary says he made his first and last feeble attempt at retirement, stepping back from the day-to-day activities by relinquishing the chief executive position while staying on as chairman of Premier. In June 2000, he resigned to become president and chief executive officer at PacifiCare Health Systems, the nation's largest Medicare HMO. He stayed for a mere three months. The short-lived effort perhaps proves that some chasms in healthcare cannot be crossed.
"Clearly, I'm a hospital person," O'Leary says.