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Wednesday, December 24, 2008

WHIVP Consulting trip to Capetown, South Africa: Act III

Act III: Less Sung Heroes: Dr. Ivan Toms
The last Act was singing the praises and showing the human side of a very prominent world figure, Archbishop Desmond Tutu. However, our trip wouldn't be possible without a man who is a hero in South Africa but not as well known outside of his country. I linked to Dr. Toms wikipedia entry but due to his unexpected death from meningitis earlier this year, he needs his own story.

When the alumnus who was a Teaching Assistant for Archbishop Tutu wrote him the letter, Arch immediately thought of Dr. Toms. Dr. Toms ran the public health system and had become legendary for his protests of the brutality of the apartheid government by refusing conscription to the army. Rather than flee the country which was the most common method of protest, he chose prison. Upon hearing the story, I wondered what I would have done if I were in the situation where I felt so strongly against my country. I don't know if I would have had the strength to sacrifice myself in prison and fight directly when leaving the country would have been such an easier option.

Dr. Toms was also visionary enough to recognize the opportunity that our team presented. We wouldn't bring any extra money to his budget and we wouldn't immediately solve any problems. We also would probably take up his and his staff's valuable time. But he did see the potential pay off in the long-term. His team was so dedicated to the daily operations of keeping the clinics open that there wasn't time to work on long-term goals, evaluate improvement opportunities, or understand if funds could be spent more effectively.

Dr. Toms often read non-medical magazines like Business Week. However, he had never heard of Wharton before we contacted him so he had no idea what kind of MBA students and alumni we were. Since he hadn't heard of Wharton, I actually think that he figured that it couldn't be a very good school. A few months after the first team went, Dr. Toms did receive his copy of Business Week with the annual MBA program rankings and saw that Wharton was the top ranked program that year. He excitedly emailed the main alumnus with his discovery that he actually got a consulting team that had been verified by national publications to be pretty good.

We could see the sense of strength and conviction that Dr. Toms had. He made decisions that could go contrary to ruling elites, special interests, or were otherwise unpopular when he knew they were the right decisions. He did not have a fiery personality or exude charisma but a quiet strength and confidence. Our meetings with him were fairly ordinary so I must confess that he was not a dramatically memorable part of her trip. However, he was the reason that the consulting trip happened and continued since he saw the benefits of having a team of outsiders work on questions of the future while his team handled the issues of the present.

Next: Act IV: What we actually did when we got there

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