In Memoriam Philip Pumerantz: A Final Tribute to Caring

I posted this tribute to Philip Pumerantz, PhD, on April 15, 2015, shortly after he announced his retirement as President of Western University of Health Sciences. In it, I briefly examined some noteworthy leadership traits that I observed in my limited contact with him.

With the announcement of his passing on December 26, 2017, I felt it was important to revisit this leadership tribute and add a few more thoughts in his honor.

Next to the statue of Dr. Pumerantz, across the Esplanade from the Health Sciences Center, is a fountain with the three building blocks of Western University: Humanism, Caring, and Science. I don’t believe that these were mere words for Dr. Pumerantz; these seemed to be a part of his core values. He was a kind, caring man. That was particularly evident than when he was with his wife, Harriet.

WUHS Fountain

And that caring was extended to the faculty, staff and students of WesternU. He loved the students. He seemed energized by them. In his last few years as President, he insisted on being on stage for all 5 commencement ceremonies. He did his best to stand and congratulate each new doctor. I cannot imagine the superhuman effort that entailed. Having participated in five commencements for the College of Dental Medicine, I can begin to understand his love for the students and his pride in their accomplishments.

I have a close friend who served as a consultant when the College of Osteopathic Medicine of the Pacific was being organized. He spoke of Dr. Pumerantz as a shrewd business person, and I don’t believe that this was meant as a negative comment. Indomitability, tenacity, and ambition have also been used to describe him. He has also been referred to as a super salesman. Without that, without the drive that goes along with an unconquerable desire for success, Philip Pumerantz could not have accomplished all that he did.

My original tribute, slightly edited, follows.




Recently, Dr. Philip Pumerantz, President of Western University of Health Sciences, announced his retirement. Even though I have not had the privilege of working directly with him, my nearly six years of contact with him as an employee have provided some valuable lessons.

Dr. Pumerantz founded Western University, starting with the humble beginnings of the College of Osteopathic Medicine of the Pacific in 1977. In the intervening years, the university has grown to include nine colleges of various health science disciplines.

These colleges form a well-integrated, innovative university. For example, we have been pioneers in interprofessional education in the health sciences. But each college is also making a name for itself within its own discipline in health education. Our College of Dental Medicine, where I am employed, is a trendsetter in dental education.

Our clinic facility includes clinics for dentistry, podiatric medicine, osteopathic medicine (family practice), optometry, and an interdisciplinary diabetes center, along with a full-service pharmacy. Each is manned by students who are guided by capable faculty and staff.

All of this is noteworthy enough, but by itself, it would not motivate me to consider a tribute. Rather, it is the man himself, Dr. Pumerantz, who inspired me to write this. I believe that we as leaders can learn much from this great man.


Allow me to share what has been most significant to me.

Dr. Pumerantz was a man of vision: he was always looking beyond the horizon. He surrounded himself with capable men and women who caught his vision and have helped him to make it a reality. Many of these individuals are innovators in their own right, and have been given the freedom to develop excellence in their own programs.

He was appreciative. Each year, on the anniversary of my hire, I received a thank you note. This was a very pleasant surprise at the end of my first year. In conversations with us, he always seemed to find something to thank us for. His attitude helped me to realize that my contributions do not go unnoticed.

He created a culture of friendship among all university employees. For lack of a better term, he fostered a “Hilton culture” at WesternU, where nearly everyone is happy to help out. Whether it is the maintenance crew, the mailroom staff, security, doctors, or anyone else: we all greet one another and treat each other well. This culture was well established before I joined the faculty, and that made it easier for me to adjust to academia.

Dr. Pumerantz was an example of community involvement and community service. Indeed, this is a key point of our success. We put on health fairs and screenings and serve in many other ways. Applying students must show a track record of service in order to be admitted! Not the least noteworthy here is how we as a university have helped to revitalize downtown Pomona. Because of what Dr. Pumerantz has done in the community, I was once thanked by the Mayor of Pomona for all the good we do for the city.

Dr. Pumerantz was approachable. He didn’t stay in his ivory tower. He often stopped us to chat. Many university presidents can’t be bothered with that. He embodied the principle of MBWA: management by walking around. Many of my co-workers have told stories of kind conversations with him.

Frequently when I was out walking, I heard him call out “Hello, Professor!” He always had questions about how I was doing, how my family was, how the College was doing – he showed an interest. And I always felt appreciated.

At a social event, he stopped me, my wife and my daughter, and praised my efforts in building the university. At that point my daughter wanted to be a veterinarian. When he heard that, he made an effort to track down an administrator who could be a key contact for her. He was unable to locate the individual, but his effort and his concern were very much appreciated.

Dr. Pumerantz was known for his hospitality. He hosted various events for faculty and staff during the academic year. During our orientation week, which he calls Welcome Week, he and his wife hosted an ice cream social because they wanted to greet all the incoming students and thank them for coming here. For many years this was held in his back yard, until we became too big. Now it is held on campus. But in spite of poor health, they continued to attend.

And following our opening ceremonies at the end of welcome week, he hosted a barbecue luncheon for the new students and their families, along with faculty and staff.

Finally, I have never heard Dr. Pumerantz speak publicly without praising his wife, Harriet. She has been his partner and his support, and has shared all of his achievements. He was quick to point out that he would not be where he is without her. If each of us were as quick to praise our spouses, this would be a better world.


I suspect that there may be some character flaws lurking beneath the surface. In fact, I suspect Dr. Pumerantz might point that out himself. But I have not worked closely enough with him to observe that. I don’t wish to insinuate anything negative; I just don’t want to claim that he can walk on water. I only know what I have seen; but I have seen enough to make me admire this great man as a leader and as a good person.

I have a deep sense of gratitude for the privilege I have had to work with Dr. Philip Pumerantz, and for the example he has provided to us. His legacy is one that will benefit all of us.




In the two-and-a-half years that have passed since I wrote this tribute, I still feel that deep gratitude for my connection with Dr. Pumerantz, and for the great privilege to be a small part of the remarkable university that he founded.

His passing leaves a hole in the hearts of all who have been a part of WesternU, one which osteopathic medicine cannot heal.

May we all do our best to continue the legacy which he has established, and continue taking the university, and our individual colleges, to new heights. I believe that is what Dr. Pumerantz would want.

I extend my condolences and deepest sympathies to Harriet and the Pumerantz family, and to all who knew and loved Dr. Pumerantz.

Requiescat in pace, Dr. Philip Pumerantz.


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The 5 Times Your Leadership Is Guaranteed to Fail

Lolly Daskal is another leadership blogger whom I have been following for some time. Her frequent posts have given me food for thought as I lead, and as I observe others lead.

In this post, she names five key characteristics of a good leader. Everyone has their own list, but I think that these five points are absolutely essential. Read this and see if you don’t agree.

The 5 Times Your Leadership Is Guaranteed to Fail

Posted on 17 May, 2016 by Lolly Daskal

Missed target

We all want leadership to be successful. But some circumstances are reliable pointers to failure. Learn what they are and how to avoid them.

Done right, leadership is difficult. It brings great rewards, but at great risk. You have to put yourself on the line—so when you do, you want the best possible odds of success.

In some situations, though, failure is all but guaranteed. Here are five of the most common. Get to know them so you can steer far clear.

  1. When there is no trust. Leadership is about credibility and reliability; to be an effective leader, your followers must have trust in you. That’s why it’s critical to always take responsibility for your actions. Make sure your people feel guided and supported in their work and show that they can trust your leadership.
  2. When there is no character. Leaders build excellence—helping their team become all that they are capable of. To reach that level of excellence requires leadership that is grounded in character. Excellence starts with leaders of strong character who model doing what is right, not what is easy.
  3. When there is no communication. No one ever became a great leader without first becoming a great communicator. Successful leaders connect with people on an emotional level every time they speak. Their words build relationships, teach, and inspire others. Great communication also means listening well and treating your team with candor and honesty.
  4. When there is no respect. You can’t lead anyone who doesn’t respect you, and it’s hard to lead those you don’t also respect. Respect must be first given before its earned. That means thinking about every small thing you do as a leader and how it is perceived. Leaders who know how to give the utmost respect will receive respect, in the form of loyalty and performance.
  5. When there is no ability. To be successful requires tactical and technical proficiency. In any organization it is the leader’s capabilities and performance that set the tone for the team’s engagement. Leadership is empty without an understanding of the work at hand, and the best leaders work constantly to improve their expertise.

How is your own leadership looking? Are you doing what it takes to propel it forward?

Lead from within: Decide what kind of leader you going to be—the kind who is content to think of themselves as the best, or the one of the few greats whose leadership achieves the highest levels.

The original post may be found here.

Your Leadership Compass

I am of the opinion that the presidential election process goes on far too long. But that is not the topic of these posts.

As I listened to the discussions about the “debates,” it occurred to me that there are two questions I would like to ask each candidate. First: “Who are you?” “Do you have a sense of identity?” “What is it that makes you tick?” “Who is the real you?” And second, “Do you understand and intend to support and live by the bylaws of the organization (i.e. the Constitution of the United States of America)?” “How have you demonstrated that support up to this moment?”

Since these are two very distinct topics, I propose to address them separately. This will deal with first questions. The second, To Form a More Perfect Union?, will follow in the next few days.


A good leader has a sense of identity. That identity is a rock-solid foundation for the leader’s thoughts and actions.

Skilled mariners, both in sea and in sky, learn to chart a course using map and compass and other important instruments. They learn to find true north to guide them in their journey, and they learn to rely on other landmarks as well.


In a similar fashion, a leader should know how to find his way, even in the midst of storms and chaos. If a leader has no sense of his true direction, he will be unable to chart a course that will lead his organization to safety. Without that sense of direction, he will simply be at the mercy of the winds and currents, driven by external forces.

In a ship, this loss of direction usually leads to disaster. It is no different in an organization that has lost its way.


If a leader wants to be able to guide his team through the storms that organizations and businesses will inevitably encounter, he must have a true north, an undeviating set of principles and values to direct him. When times are tough, the leader’s internal compass or GPS must be able to detect that true north consistently.

This holds true for all leaders, whether they are leading a small business, a large corporation, a volunteer organization, family, or a nation. It is impossible to stand firm if one does not know where he stands. True leadership must begin with a firm, reliable foundation.

So I would ask each of the presidential candidates to give me a straight answer. What are the undeviating principles that you have built your life on? Can you define them? Are you true to them? Will you continue to be true to them?

My guess is that few of them can give a direct answer to such questions. If that is the case, they are unfit to lead on any level. If one cannot provide a straight answer to questions about character, it would be unrealistic to expect straight leadership.

A good leader has a fixed, constant guiding star, and knows how to navigate by it.