This time, the college was flunking.
Enrollment at the prestigious, picturesque Pacific Oaks College and Children's School in Pasadena was declining. So was income. Decisions made within the courtesy of consensus had slowed planning to the point of paralysis. School needs--higher salaries, simplified priorities, academic rigor, fiscal controls and institutional research--were endless.
A somber report by a three-person accreditation team from the Western Assn. of Schools and Colleges concluded: "There will need to be some profound changes in attitude and process in order to seek resolutions and orderly planned action for the future."
A school executive, in retrospect, was a little more dour: "Had nothing been done, it (Pacific Oaks) would have ultimately muddled its way down the tubes."
Turned the Books Around
But something was done. Shaken by the 1985 report, the school's board of trustees formed a long-range planning committee. A new chairman, a president and a dean of the school were chosen. Work began on a faculty evaluation process, handbooks on policies and procedures, stiffening business services. . . .
And last year, the school capped its comeback by tapping into a vital cabinet of corporate talent: the Executive Service Corps of Southern California, an all-volunteer, nonprofit organization of 225 retired senior executives.
Two corps consultants were offered Pacific Oaks. For six months they explored it and delivered written recommendations.
"They had a major impact," said Katherine Gabel, who assumed presidency of the campus at the height of its troubles. "We could have done it without them, but it would have taken us longer, with less insight and more pain.
"They've been a tremendous, positive, motivational force in a very tough organizational change process. I think we've turned the corner and they helped us to turn that corner and stabilize through perspective and humor that was sorely needed."
Such references have become typical for the Executive Service Corps whose members have worked high and successful careers--commonly as vice presidents, often as chief executive officers--with the megagiants of Southern California business.
Now, in retirement, they have time to give back--by pouring combined centuries of their expertise in accounting, personnel, board governance, marketing or public relations into the nonprofit and constantly struggling organizations of Los Angeles, Orange and Ventura counties.
"We have two things going for us here," noted Jack K. Horton, chairman of the executive committee, Southern California Edison Co., and chairman of the corps' board of directors. "One, the great (retired executive) talent pool we have here; and two, the flock of nonprofit organizations in Southern California.
"Sure, they (nonprofit organizations) need money. But, in my judgment, what they need more is management advice. And that we can supply."
Since 1981, more than 125 nonprofit groups in Southern California have been assisted by the Executive Service Corps.
Last year, Horton said, the value of those executive services, rendered on the organization's privately funded budget of $165,000, was $1.3 million for "a leverage factor of nearly 8-to-1 on the investment made by our funders."
In more human terms, however, that translates to aid to ADEPT (Assisting the Disabled with Employment, Placement and Training) and a boost to the business of the Back Alley Theater. The Capistrano Valley Symphony is on the corps' client list of organizations. So is the Coalition Against Household Violence, the Vietnamese Community of Orange County, Inc., and Providence Speech and Hearing Clinic.
Propping Up Castles
Praised the Walden School of Southern California: "Thank you for helping us put foundations under our castles in the air."
Said the Travelers Aid Society of Los Angeles: "What Executive Service Corps provides is an excellent service at a bargain price."
Those bargain prices range from $100 to $1,500 depending on the financial state of the organization. It's a one-shot fee no matter how long the counseling. But if obtained from a commercial counseling service, corps officials say, their advice would cost an average of $110 an hour.
The benefit, however, is far from unilateral.
"We also provide an opportunity and a challenge to those capable people (retired executives) who have reached the time that some people call 'legislated senility,' " Horton added. "They're anything but that . . . so while we provide a helluva service to the nonprofit organizations, we also provide a helluva service to those individuals who need to do something for their own self-esteem."
The work may even be keeping retired executives alive. "In seven years," Horton said, "we've only lost three or four consultants."
Resentment Toward Advice
It is not always simple service. Outside advice can, in fact, be resented by the organization that requested that advice.