By Eric Bloch
THE late Phil Whitehead was one of the very few who could justly be regarded as “a man among men”.
Departed from this
world very prematurely, at a most youthful 49 years of age, the world at large, and Zimbabwe in particular, has sustained a very great loss, for Phil Whitehead was a really remarkable man. His presence benefited all that interacted with him, and the community as a whole.
I have had the great privilege of knowing Whitehead for over two decades, our paths first intersecting when I was a non-executive director of a Bulawayo-based industrial company of which he was a very senior executive.
Although then a very young man of less than 30 years, he fulfilled immensely responsible, senior management functions with great expertise, integrity, determination and ability. He applied a combination of his training in engineering with an inherent managerial skill, and with a remarkable knack for motivating others to achieve maximised performance.
Over the following years, Whitehead progressed to diverse high-level managerial posts in various Bulawayo industrial enterprises, culminating fairly recently with his becoming managing director of Dunlop Zimbabwe Ltd.
In each of his posts he excelled in strengthening the businesses, enhancing the quality of their products and of their services to their customers, advancing the wellbeing of their personnel and promoting the security and growth of the enterprises.
Having only recently assumed managerial responsibility for Dunlop, he was vigorously engaged in addressing the many problems that were confronting its operations. That those problems were mainly driven by the troubled state of the Zimbabwean economy was no solace.
He was determined that they be resolved, in the best interests of all the company’s stakeholders and its shareholders, employees, suppliers and customers, and Zimbabwe as a whole.
Unfortunately fate intervened before he could complete his task, although he has laid a foundation for his successors.
Whitehead was a man who was totally driven by four great loves, which wholly concerned him and were to him his purpose and role in life. He deeply loved his God, and sought to serve him by not only observing his precepts, but also as a lay preacher in his church.
As deep was his love for his family – his beloved wife and his four very special and wonderful children (who are reputed to epitomise the special characteristics of their parents). His loyalty, his concern and caring, lover for, and his happiness with his family were unlimited.
His third love was also very great, and that was for his fellowman. He was determined to do whatsoever he could for others, be they co-workers, employees, friends, the underprivileged and impoverished, the handicapped, the aged, the orphaned and any others in need.
His membership in Rotary International was a key pivot in his life and within relatively few years of becoming a Rotarian, he became district governor.
That was a pronounced tribute to his dedication, motivation and ability. Few have reached such a position in so few years, but he accepted the position not for self-aggrandisement but to maximise his ability to serve others.
Even his untimely death was associated with his drive to help others, for it occurred when he was engaged in a road race for charity – he was a marathon runner for many years.
The fourth love in Whitehead’s life was his country, Zimbabwe. He ached to see it suffer, and believed that all should work assiduously to resolve its problems. He supported that belief by his own example, doing whatsoever he could do to alleviate and resolve those problems. And he did so with great intensity, for he cared so greatly.
Death is caused by physical circumstance but undoubtedly that circumstance was exacerbated, in the case of Phil Whitehead, by the intensity of his concerns to restore Dunlop Zimbabwe Ltd to full, viable production despite the environmental difficulties in general, the scarcity of foreign exchange in particular, by his distress at the growing hardships sustained by the company’s employees and by most Zimbabweans, his anxiety for change to end those ills.
Whitehead’s family, commerce and industry, all involved or associated with Dunlop, Rotary and society as a whole have been deprived of a very extraordinary man whose loss will seriously impede the face of economic recovery.
The greatest tribute that can be paid to him is to respect that which he stood and fought for, and to emulate him in every possible way.