Board Highlight-Tom Melchior

Tom Melchior

Board Member Highlight

 

How did you become connected with Via?

I was introduced to Via International by our Board Chair Phil Hadley. Phil and I have been friends for over 30 years. We first met at The Bishop’s School when he was the Upper School Head and I was a Middle School teacher and football coach. A couple of years ago Phil called me to have lunch and told me about Via. I knew nothing of it prior thereto. After presenting Via he asked if I’d be interested in getting involved in one way or another. Knowing and trusting Phil, and hearing what he had to say about Via, I agreed to help as an advisor when the organization might feel the need for a review of matters from a legal perspective or perhaps an alternative business perspective. Through that limited role I gradually invested more time and learned more about Via, and most important to me, I came to know and develop great respect for its staff and leadership.

What is it about Via that inspires you? 

Via International does wonderful work and has several worthy, important programs. But none of that happens without the commitment of its people. From my perspective, Via would not exist but for the dedication, vision and plain hard work of its employees and volunteers. Its people is what I find most inspiring about Via International. I would add to their hard work and dedication the quality of their resilience which inspires me. For many years Via’s people have operated in very challenging circumstances to further the mission of the organization. One can do almost anything for a brief period — it is the sustained commitment of Via’s staff and leadership that is most impressive to me.

What makes you a good fit for Via? What programs do you have a particular passion for? 

It’s hard for me to single out a particular Via International program for which I have a particular passion because pandemic restrictions have prevented me from seeing the programs in actual operation. I am very interested in any program aimed at fostering human development and self reliant independence for the beneficiary of the program so that the beneficiaries do not feel like they are objects of charity. An example would be the micro-credit program in Tijuana. I am also interested in all of Via’s programs involving educational outreach to provide a factually accurate picture of what is going on at our Southern border and to foster an image of the border as something other than a barrier. In my opinion this subject matter is an arena filled with misinformation and misunderstanding, especially for those who live elsewhere and have no personal experience with life at the border. I think well delivered experiential education is the antidote. As to what I can add to the excellent work Via already does? Time will tell, but I feel like my lifetime has been a preparation for this moment of involvement. My years of experience in law, my years of fishing business experience in Mexico and Central and South America, and my years in banking and in education all seem to align well with Via International’s efforts.

What do you hope to accomplish as a member of Via's Board? 

Via International has thrived long before my arrival and will be fine long after I’m gone. My goal as a Board member is simple: that is, after I depart the Board, whenever that may be, to be judged by my fellow Board members and Via’s leadership and staff as one who was helpful, who was a force for good and who advanced the organization’s mission.

You are joining the board at a time of real uncertainty in the world. What challenges do you see for the organization in regards to the ongoing pandemic, and the organization's ability to weather the storm?

I have lead two businesses which suffered threats to their very existence due to industry wide down-turns triggered by government policy and macro-economic conditions over which no businesses in the industries had any control — the tuna fishing industry in the 1980’s, and the banking industry in 2008. Those were soul searing experiences for me, and I learned some lessons, many of them the hard way. Based on my experiences in those days, I think my prescription for “weathering the storm” boils down to something along the following lines:

  1. Only employ the best people who authentically believe in and share your values.
  2. In any given situation, identify the right thing to do. It’s generally not hard to know what the right thing to do is; and often it’s not so easy to actually do it.
  3. No matter the cost, always, without fail, do the right thing for your employees.
  4. No matter the cost, always, without fail, do the right thing for your customers or clientele.
  5. Find a way to gain peace of mind in the midst of the turmoil, every day.
  6. And a corollary to that is stop trying to control anything that is not within your control — only focus on what you can actually do.
  7. Have faith that things will probably work out as they should.

 

All of the above easier said than done. And please excuse me for being “preachy”.