ADVERTISEMENT

Western New York is about to experience a big transition with the announcement that HealthNow New York President and CEO Alphonso O’Neil-White is soon to retire.

HealthNow is parent of BlueCross BlueShield of Western New York.

O’Neil-White, CEO for a decade, has guided HealthNow through some turbulent times for health care in America. But he also leaves an admirable legacy in the greater community.

The company has promised a seamless transition, with O’Neil-White remaining until a successor is named. He will also continue serving this year as board chairman of the BlueCross BlueShield Association, the national branding and trade group for 38 Blues plans across the country.

O’Neil-White, 64, has led the company through a series of challenges, not the least of which was returning HealthNow to a position of consistent financial strength, with appropriate reserve levels, while helping it remain a leader in the market.

HealthNow serves more than 800,000 members, with estimated annual revenues in 2012 of $2.5 billion and $550 million in reserves. The plethora of plans offered and the company’s thousands of employees reflect the breadth of responsibility under O’Neil-White. As he said, in part, “I’m leaving the company at a good time in its evolution.”

Indeed, but his many contributions to the larger community have also made him an invaluable leader.

He is a trustee or director on the boards of the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, the Buffalo State College Council, the National Institute for Healthcare Management, the Business Council of New York State and the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. And he is the immediate past chairman of the Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo.

O’Neil-White is a trail blazer, but with the equanimity of someone who has overcome adversity through hard work and determination. He graduated from Hampden-Sydney College in Virginia, where in 1968 he became its first African-American student, and, in 1972, its first black graduate. His law degree is from the University of Louisville’s Brandeis School of Law.

His broad experience and expertise could fill pages, but perhaps what will be missed most is his excellence in leadership that has translated into corporate and community responsibility.

One very visible example of that leadership is the HealthNow headquarters in the old gas works at 249 W. Genesee St. next to the Niagara Thruway. When the company was looking to move its headquarters in 2004 it could have gone almost anywhere, but chose the downtown site. O’Neil-White said at the time that the project would fuel downtown’s rebirth, which is now well under way.

We wish him well in retirement and hope, for our sake, he chooses to remain in Western New York.