John Wilkinson, 66 years of age, a clinical psychologist by profession, has been the CEO of Trans50 for the past 14 years. He attributes the success of Trans50 to the fact that it is an organisation that is financially sustainable – and that gives the board, as well as its clients, peace of mind. A strong Board of Directors also contributes to Trans 50’s success.
They actively work at recruiting board members with special skills, accountants, engineer, assessor, and others who make valuable contributions in terms of guidance in their area of expertise. Another factor contributing to their success is their business model of selling life rights, which produces income so that all their units can run at break-even operationally. Last year Trans50 used R5.1m to subsidise residents who could not afford unit cost of care. As you sow, you will receive, and though this is not their outset, they do receive massive donations which help the bottom line. He also believes their holistic approach with each centre having a lifestyle consultant, gives residents a sense of purpose. At Witfield Park, of their 370 residents, 110 are volunteers, involved in some or other aspect of the life of the home.
Even though financial sustainability is one of Trans 50’s biggest success factors, it is also their greatest challenge – to remain financially sustainable. Frail care fees are becoming exorbitant – frail care is indeed a loss leader.
Having been with the organisation for 14 years, it is John’s plan to retire in June next year when he turns 67. He has a supportive senior management team consisting of a Financial Director, a Care Director and a National HR Director, and for him, succession planning is about identifying someone with potential to become competent enough to move into senior management. He feels the organisation needs passionate, competent centre managers whom he can trust. He gives freedom for people to use to their advantage, not abuse it.
Reflecting on the meaning of leadership, John suggests that though you need to have a dream, a vision, the dream needs feet! The organisation can have an elaborate strategic plan but as a leader you need to sell the dream. With the dream, you motivate and inspire and get buy-in. There is a lot of resistance to change, so it is a slow process. For John, stewardship is important, ownership is needed.
For the care sector, John feels the greatest challenge is to get the Department of Social Development to see there are different models of care, that the preferred model is person-centred care not the medical model. In their Jacaranda Park they have four blocks of flats where people are encourage to age in place. They have no frail care, but run a clinic. The challenge for them though is ageing in place for people living with dementia.
John suggests that collaboration is very important for the sector and has great value for organisations. It gives strength to organisations. He doesn’t believe our sector is competitive because the need is too great. His involvement in networks is through both SAAHA (South African Association of Homes for the Aged) and the Interest Group for Retirement Villages, and he allocates four days a month for networking. John serves currently as the national President of SAAHA. He thinks the weak link in both these groups is the lack of a permanent position for a facilitator. SAAHA meets quarterly in the large centres and perhaps twice a year in smaller areas, and focuses on the nitty gritty of running homes and villages. There are no global links.
When asked what or who inspires him, John did not hesitate to say Change. “When I see growth in people, when I see dysfunctional relationships becoming functional, when I see a plan coming together” John has great hope – he puts his hope in Jesus – he feels a lot of people are despondent in SA today, a lot of people have lost perspective. He feels people need to be taught to live in the moment.
A family man, between his wife and he, they have 6 children and 11 grandchildren. The South African Care Forum salutes you John for your role in the care sector in South Africa today.