Tom Green was seldom what people expected.
The first time we met I wasn’t quite sure what to make of him. It was the typical kind of cloyingly hot day in Indonesia where the spiced smell of cigarettes sinks into your clothes. Tom had a ready smile and a big handshake. Southern style, I guess. Easy to like.
But as anyone who worked with him learned, you didn’t want to wind up in his cross hairs. He had made Lt-Col in the ‘80s by the time he left the “active” part of the US Army for life as a diplomat. The active bit was mostly leading men jumping out of airplanes into places they wouldn’t easily have chosen to go on their own. The ready smile was driven by a fierce brain and by a steady determination to make progress.
Tom died in Manila on December 26, 2016, reportedly of a heart attack, while jogging in his neighborhood of Makati.
As his old friend and colleague Don McFetridge says, “He was a positive force in people’s lives — a giver, not a taker; he was a guy who lifted you up.”
He did. The last time Tom and I talked we were trying to figure out how to get one of our key experts out of a place we could see was wobbling toward community conflict. Tom grabbed onto the situation from his base in Manila and we spent a couple of hours talking through the issues on the phone. Which is to say that we cranked each other up so much in the first 15 minutes that we had to spend the next hour getting back to a place where our first line of action wasn’t to get on a plane to express our, umnhn, displeasure with the client. It wouldn’t have been, anyway – his skills were always focused first and foremost on keeping us safe. Getting pissed off at a client might have felt good for two seconds but wouldn’t have moved things forward.
I’ve worked with a lot of honorable guys over the years, people who’ve helped me understand the world better. And I think if you did a search for Honorable Guy in Wikipedia, here’s the pic you’d find.
Over the years, Tom’s relentless curiosity has stuck with me — particularly his love of military history. He was a natural storyteller. I often prodded him to talk about the early colonization of the western US by what were essentially the Scots border clans – his own, the Greens, among them. As our friend Don says, Tom was warm and generous with a natural empathy for people and deep experience that informed his insights and ideas.
“He was very cool under pressure, not flappable. He was critical of errors, but he didn’t personalize it; he was a gentleman in that regard,” Don says.
Tom joined the Army early and spent the first part of his career in Germany as a young Lieutenant, coping with the chaos of leadership that followed the war in Vietnam.
Making the Jump from Public to Private
In 1983, he was posted to the Indonesian Army Staff College. He fell in love with Indonesia, as many of us have, and when he finished at the College went back to work for a couple of tours at the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta. This was a move that probably hurt his promotion chances. “But what he was doing,” says Don, “was much more important than jumping out of an airplane or shooting at a tank.”
In ‘97, he left the army to stay in Indonesia and work for Freeport-McMoRan, where he went through the tough transition from the public to the private sector. As the head of FMI’s security and social responsibility activities, he was a pioneer in the early days of creating and implementing pragmatic tools to manage social performance.
In 2002, he went to work for Pacific Strategies and Assessments in Manila. He ran the operation there, learning to apply his knowledge and insights to a consulting model until we managed to convince him to join us at MFC.
Leading in a new Generation of Social Performance
In 2009, he took over running the external affairs department for one of our clients in Panama. “Last time I was here,” he joked, referring to his previous life in the Army the first night in Panama City, “we didn’t land at the airport”.
Tom had inherited a strong social engagement team…but a young one that didn’t immediately see the value of having some old US military crank, and an officer at that, as their leader. No surprise to me, about six weeks later I was starting to hear strong, positive reports about the progress we were making and these seemed to always start with, “Well, Tom thinks we should…”.
He was that kind of leader. Less comfortable working on his own. Wonderful leading a small team. He also became our de facto community–crisis response leader. It didn’t really matter where the problems were or if he spoke the local language. He either knew the issues going in or knew to have an expert team with him — like Carol and Rebecca and Jerry — who could give him what he needed to inform a response strategy.
In 2010, Tom shifted over to lead our team on a big project in Mindanao in the Philippines. “How’s morale?” was the first thing out of his mouth when he stepped into the office. Usually, he didn’t have to worry. His candid stories about work and life never failed to lift spirits. He led with a generous presence and guidance that raised his team into doing their best.
We miss him already. The long, drawn out “wellll, shiiit,” when something jumped up and bit us. The way he volunteered to face that crisis, whatever it was, without hesitation. As new challenges emerge, and they surely will, we’ll think back, while we look ahead, and ask: “What would Tom have done?”