Only a Fool

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In 1995 after completing ten happy years contract in Singapore we were on our way to the next assignment, a university appointment in the Philippines. I was delighted with the appointment as the new campus had been developed during my time as the Singapore based administrator sourcing funds for the project, and I’d additional good fortune to be on the search committee appointed to look for the suitable site they then occupied so I was familiar with the site and the institution’s growth to date. The location was not far from the resort area of Tagaytay, one of my favourite places in the Philippines.

The university I was invited to join was formed by Presidential Decree for the purpose of offering Masters and PhD opportunities for Asian administrators, but it soon became apparent as the campus came on line there’d be a sizable African group sourcing this opportunity because of the reduced cost of obtaining an internationally recognized degree and prospects of later transfer of credits to US Universities. I’d annually taught business in distance learning centres for the university during my Singapore assignment days so was familiar with faculty and staff as well as location.

We arrived on campus a few weeks before Christmas and within days received our household effects. They’d been shipped from Singapore weeks before our departure.  Once more we were unpacking and setting up home. This would be our eighteenth unpacking in a new location since leaving Australia in 1965 to work overseas.

The move was not without considerable personal cost.  India and Singapore had comparable electronic equipment which ran on 240 volt and 50 cycles similar to that used in Australia, so those moves had been relatively easy.  However the Philippines power supply in our area supported 230 volt 60 cycles and that necessitated discarding all old equipment and purchasing new.  It was quite an investment for us to make.

So when we received a surprise phone call a few weeks after unpacking requesting we urgently consider a job back in Australia to manage a large hospital out of financial crisis we quickly turned the request down.  We’d just settled, and the thought of packing up again and unpacking in another country was hardly appealing.  What would we do with equipment just purchased which would not be suitable for use in Australia? We had an enjoyable relatively stress free job in a beautiful location and were being invited to swap that for a high pressure stressful substitute job. We said a quick no to the invitation and prepared to settle in to university work for a few enjoyable years.

But telephone calls from Australia continued, each one becoming more urgent as the days went by, and finally the President of the university who’d also been included in this barrage of calls advised me to fly to Sydney and sort it out there.  Perhaps if I said no face to face the telephone calls would stop?

So I made the trip at hospital expense and spent a couple of days looking over their operations, finances and administrative staffing. Now not all were happy to see me arrive.  I quickly discovered the telephone calls had been coming from owners of the hospital who’d been desperately searching for a suitable replacement hospital CEO and they’d interviewed several from in and out of Australia, along with some aspirants for the job from within the hospital.  Finally in desperation those owners, all of whom I knew from international contacts, decided I was the man they wanted and they went after me with all the persuasion they could muster. Those from within the hospital who’d wanted the job were very guarded in their welcome when I arrived to orient myself on hospital operations.

After taking a look at the hospital I came to the conclusion this assignment could end up being the one that destroyed a career which had been fairly successful up to that point of time.  I prepared to say no and head home leaving my friends, the owners, to find another solution to their problem.

But hospital administration realized the delay in choosing a new CEO was adding to woes of a ship already adrift so they decided to back the owners and request I accept the job too.  Owners and hospital administration were finally in agreement on whom they wanted for a CEO. 

My sixth sense warned me only a fool would accept that assignment as I had limited hospital administration experience. I had chaired the governing committee of an Asian based hospital system but that was not like hands on administration.

I knew there would be difficulty in getting 560 doctors and 2,500 staff behind a re-engineering program to rescue the hospital. This would take everyone outside their comfort zone and vitally affect personal space and interests. Only a fool would do this and expect to survive! 

So, because I qualified as that fool I said yes, and wearily boarded a plane for Manila to break the news to my long suffering wife and university administration. We were on the move again!



The assignment was just as difficult as I’d imagined it would be, and many times during the next six years, until I retired to preserve what sanity remained, I nodded my head in agreement as I remembered that sixth sense definition of a fool!  But re-engineering and millions of dollars spent on extensions worked in spite of difficulties experienced, and that hospital operates profitably today and has expanded its services through building and acquisitions.


“© Copyright Ian Grice 2014, all rights reserved



22 Comments Add yours

  1. Madhu says:

    I can imagine your misgivings at taking on such a challenge. But the satisfaction of seeing it turn around must have been worth the angst. You must be justifiably proud of your contribution! 🙂


  2. stacilys says:

    So this was your last job before retiring then eh. Why did you suddenly have a change of heart when all else was saying no? Are you glad you took on the challenge? And did you find it rewarding?
    Blessings =)


    1. I guess I can’t resist a pleading look! lol. It was the most difficult job of my career and I had been in some form of administration since my late teens. It was a 24/7 job. It was a very large hospital with three distinct cultures. There was the day shift, night shift and weekend shifts. Getting to know each culture by personal visitation was very wearing not to mention the angst created as people were taken out of their comfort zones in order to match the best in the industry in the 21st century. I guess I did feel satisfaction when it was all complete and they were on the road to corporate health once again. To see despair replaced with positive belief in the future is extremely satisfying.


      1. stacilys says:

        Wow, my hats off to you. I’m sure it must have been really challenging. And people definitely don’t like being taken out of their comfort zones. But I’m sure that seeing despair replaced with positive belief in the future, and knowing that you had something to do with that, as truly satisfying.


  3. Is it just that you wanted that challenge as your last hurrah? No fool I say.


    1. I knew the assignment had the strong possibility of failure so it was very brave of me to say yes. I’m not sure why I did! It does give me pleasure to look back on a job accomplished though. I suppose all of us like to be able to do that.


  4. Wow, Ian. What a life. (What a wife.)


    1. Yes she was special in her own right. As well as bringing up a family she has run industries, cafeterias, investment portfolios and worked in a college registrar’s office to name a few of her talents.


      1. Wow. You’re a blessed man, Ian.


  5. Esther Norton says:

    The Philippines is where we first me you in 1995 and we did visit you in Australia when you. where aCEO. Fond memories! Sent from my iPad



    1. And you are still treasured friends. Thanks for the visit.


  6. jstansfeld says:

    Congratulations on the hospital turn around. and this well written narrative. Of course I, along with all your other readers, and probably you family, knew that the moment that you set foot on the plane bound for Australia that you were going to accept the position. I suggest that, perhaps you also knew deep down in your subconscious; not a fool but one who likes challenges.
    I hope that the Philippine institution did OK without you!


    1. Actually I was not sure at all what I should do. The constant phone calls were wearing and I was sympathetic to their plight but who would want to take on a high stress job instead of a nice university job? On actually looking over systems, finances and culture that didn’t help my apprehension. I really don’t know why I accepted but while those 6 years were high stress I feel good about it now. The Philippine institution has expanded and is well funded.


  7. Mags Corner says:

    Doesn’t sound like a fool to me sweet Ian. From what I read it sounded like you were the one for the job and you did it very well. Hope you and Georgina are enjoying enough warm weather for me too. : ) Hugs


    1. We have some warm weather to spare. Come on over! lol


  8. billgncs says:

    wow – talk about a decision that impacted peoples lives – an efficient hospital is a win for everybody involved, nicely done.

    Sounds like what you really did was change the culture there.


    1. Yes you are right it required a culture change. The hospital was more than 100 years old with an inbred mentality. It needed cross fertilization from other healthcare institutions and new ideas. Nursing is a tough game in any country and I take my hat off to them for their commitment. There was about a 30% turnover of the nursing staff across the board in Australia at that time and apparently around the world. Some of our nurses went abroad to look at 4 walls in another environment and we had an influx of nurses from around the world to take their place. Nursing standards are high in Australia so those coming in had to pass muster with government and the nursing profession.I encouraged administrators who had grown up in the hospital to go to other systems for a while and then come back with the experience gained there. The young blood of the hospital who went through the business process reengineering exercise became the new leadership. It produced an explosion of innovation and stability followed.


  9. borika45 says:

    you rose to the challenge and I could sense the agitation behind that. The hospital knew who it wanted and looking back at the six years there, it was for the best despite your misgivings. I am wondering though, what happened to all the electricals you had invested into?


    1. We took the loss on those electrical items. It was quite a sum. It was tough times for the staff. No one likes to be dragged out of their comfort zone even though their intellect tells them failure to do so is a death wish. That’s why I retired as soon as we had completed the reengineering. The institution could only heal under new leadership.


  10. Well I can’t take all the credit for the turnaround Eric. We had many on the administrative team willing to learn and some couldn’t take it so had to go. We put selected younger generation department people into a Business Process Re-engineering program partnering with one of the world consultancy groups and identified world best practice in hospital management and measured ourselves against that. While general Australia average inflation rate at that time was about 2.5% pa, the inflation rate in the healthcare industry was running about 7.6% due to the cost of modernizing technology. So we had increasingly high cost and downward revenue push as the health funds supported by government pushed reimbursement rates down to make health care affordable to the community. That was a double whammy! Couple that with a delivery of service using twice the staff our competitors were using. It was a painful process to get that down to a point where we were still differentiated above others but not way out of line with our staff delivery costs. It is the younger generation who went through BPR who are running the hospital today and expanding services and facilities to meet future needs of the community. I’m proud of the achievements of the current crop of administrators. They’re top class! Doctor and nursing training is carried on onsite partnering with Sydney University and Avondale College. With the new tower block they will have about 500 beds, A&E and own the full range of diagnostics on site along with satellite hospitals in Sydney.


  11. Eric Alagan says:

    You’ve every reason to be proud of your achievements, Ian.

    In my books, you were no fool – and neither were the owners and administration. Even now, the experts have not got it right – change management – and every assignment is unique with very little use for templates, if any.

    What a resounding accolade to your career. Well done!

    All good wishes and continue to enjoy your well deserved retirement,


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