An interview with David O’Toole

Q. Why CIHI? What attracted you to this position?

It was really a perfect mix of personal and professional things. CIHI has developed a stellar reputation over the past 20 years as a forward-thinking, relevant organization that has a keen insight into the needs of health care. There’s a special kind of focus of purpose to CIHI that I really like.

On the personal side, I grew up in Ottawa, my son works here and my wife, Julie, is originally from Quebec and would love to come back to this area.

Right now, we are dividing our time between Kingston, Toronto (where Julie is working) and Ottawa, but we intend to move back to Ottawa in early July. So really, it was a quality of life decision brought about by a combination of personal and professional factors.

CIHI’s values—respect, integrity, collaboration, excellence and innovation—and the notion of having a balance between personal and professional life were a huge attraction for me.

Q. What unique characteristics do you bring to this position?

I’ve got experience working in both the public and private sectors, and that’s made me a more effective manager and leader. I also have a happy intolerance for wasting time. I like to work in a place with a sense of purpose. If you ask my former colleagues about my best traits, they would agree that I get things done, and I have a sense of respect for those I work with. This sense of respect goes back to listening, to being committed to a plan and to really throwing support behind that plan—acting with purpose.

Q. Tell us about yourself. What do you like to do in your spare time? Do you have a bucket list?

I like to fish, hike, camp, canoe and cross-country ski in the winter. In my last position, as deputy minister for the Ministry of Natural Resources, I was responsible for the park system in Ontario and I loved that aspect of the job. I also really like to travel, both around the globe and close to home. I don’t really have a bucket list; I’m open to many different things, from a 3-week canoe trip, to hiking in France, to cross-country skiing in eastern Ontario.

Q. What do you consider to be some of your greatest successes, either professionally or personally?

I’ve been fortunate to have played a role in a number of significant public policy developments over the past several years, and that’s certainly something I am proud of, but I consider the major success to be the relationship my wife Julie and I have developed over the last 15 years. Mentoring and coaching are also really important to me and something that I derive my greatest satisfaction from. Mentoring can happen in big and small ways. An hour over coffee can make a big difference to someone. And I believe there are mentors all around us. We are all able to influence others in the most subtle way; no one is solely successful.

Q. How do you start your work day generally? How does it end?

My ideal day starts around 6 a.m. over breakfast, reading the paper. Sometimes I get in a run, and I generally get to the office by 8 a.m. Mornings are the most productive time for me to do intellectual work—thinking about HR issues, reviewing policy, commenting on Board materials, developing strategies and approaches; this is the stuff I carry out early in the day. I tend to bucket more transactional work into the afternoon. At the end of my day, I love to cook, garden, read, have a glass of wine and sometimes go for a walk or run.

Q. What are your views on social media?

I’m active on some platforms, but I’m definitely more of a stalker—a listener on Twitter rather than a talker.

In this position, I’m willing to learn more about social media and my role in it, just as CIHI’s role in social media is evolving. I think it’s important for any organization to be involved in social media. One of the last things I did in my former job was to create a branch within the Communications department that is now dedicated to social media. It’s had a real impact on a 150-year-old business, and that’s really fascinating to see.

Q. Over the next few weeks, you’ll be meeting with employees, stakeholders and the Board. What would you like them to know about you?

I’d like everyone to know that I’m easygoing and I’m not big on hierarchy. I’m also pretty approachable, and I’m interested in receiving candid comments about all issues. I don’t like to waste time, in that I like to get things done, and I like to do it all while keeping my sense of humour and the humour of everyone around me.