An interview with David O’Toole, CIHI’s new CEO

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An interview with David O’Toole, CIHI’s new CEO

Meet David O’Toole, the man who’s signed up to head one of the most well-known not-for-profit, independent organizations dedicated to forging a common approach to Canadian health information.

Now, only a month into the position of president and CEO of CIHI, does he know what he’s gotten himself into?

He certainly does. In fact, he came into the job with his eyes wide open, drawn to CIHI by the stellar reputation it’s developed over 20 years and the opportunity to work in health care again.

“CIHI’s a forward-thinking, relevant organization that has a keen insight into the needs of health care. There’s a special kind of focus and purpose to CIHI that I really like,” says David.

A regular guy

Outside of the office, you’re just as likely to run into David on a hiking trail in Gatineau Park or portaging through Algonquin Park in the summer. You might also find him running along the Rideau Canal after work or cross-country skiing on a weekend in the winter.

And if you do come across him—at the office or outside—he’s likely to strike up a conversation with you in a friendly, easygoing manner before heading off to a meeting that needs his insight and attention.

That’s the thing about David O’Toole. He’s definitely heading somewhere, running with purpose and, more likely than not, listening intently as he goes.

David considers listening—to colleagues, peers, partner organizations, competitors and critics—one of the most important competencies a leader can have. It’s something he plans to do a lot of during his early weeks and months at CIHI.

“To be able to listen to disparate views and synthesize what you hear, and be able to give yourself and your organization a sense of direction that comes from all of these factors—that’s really essential.”

Listening with intent

David calls it “listening with intent,” and it’s a skill he is already making use of as he makes his way across the country getting to know CIHI’s colleagues and clients.

So far he has met with CIHI’s former CEOs and Board chairs, and he is committed to visiting all of CIHI’s regional offices before the first Board meeting at the end of June.

Making frequent trips for work across the country, and outside the country, isn’t new to David, who began his career in health care, working in both the public and private sectors. Most recently, he was deputy minister for the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources. But long before that, he was the senior project director for the Ontario Drug Benefit Program and executive assistant/policy advisor to the Office of the Assistant Deputy Minister of Health.

“The health sector is always something I thought I’d like to return to,” says David, calling his early experience a rewarding one that helped inform his views on health care.

“I knew CIHI; I’d certainly heard of its reputation, both here in Canada and internationally, and I was intrigued by it,” he says. “The more I researched this organization, the more energized I became.”

A benchmark institution

He calls CIHI a “benchmark institution,” the type of place where people come to work with a sense of purpose and a focus that you don’t often find elsewhere.

Not only is the work that CIHI does paramount, it’s also “public service.” It has a stellar reputation for the work it carries out and for the quality of life it provides to the people who work here. To David, that felt like a natural fit.

For someone who is a huge believer in having a comprehensive sense of what’s going on in a sector, the national scope of the work CIHI carries out was also appealing.

Early priorities

Fast-forward several months and here he is, finding his feet immediately and jumping in head-first to tackle 2 early priorities—funding renewal and pension reform—so that CIHI’s staff and Board can get on with the business of health.

He plans to address both of these issues in a transparent and open manner.

He’s also getting a comprehensive sense of the organization so that he can start thinking about the next 10 years, and where CIHI should be in 2025.

“It’s part of our responsibility over the next 2 or 3 years as our current strategic plan wraps up,” he says, “to make sure that CIHI is still a prominent part of the health care landscape and that we are still inspiring health outcomes across the country.”

What has he valued most since arriving?

“Everyone’s been extremely generous with their time and willing to share their insights and knowledge.”

A sense of humour and health

And what would his former colleagues say make him a good manager or leader? In David’s words he has a “happy intolerance for wasting time” combined with a sense of purpose. “If you ask colleagues about my best traits, they would agree that I get things done.”

Over the next few months, as he gets to know the organization better, he says he’ll be listening to everyone about everything and offering his perspective about what is going on at CIHI. He’ll also work to establish regular communication channels to keep staff and clients informed.

He plans on doing all of this while keeping his sense of humour and health—and hopefully, he adds, the humour and health of everyone else around him—fully intact.

We’ll be hearing more from David in the coming months. Watch for an upcoming article in a fall issue of Land.

Read more from the interview with David.