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Servant leadership inspires Oak Park president David Pope '94 to build community

By Shannon Sweetnam

David Pope  
Pounding the pavement: As president of Oak Park, Ill., David Pope works hard to stay in touch with the community. He gets some help here from his daughter, Elise.  Photo © Josh Hawkins of WJinc  
Making a world of difference  

"During my time as president, we've had great success in enhancing intergovernmental coordination, building cooperation among separately elected governing bodies and across municipal borders to support efforts that benefit the entire region," Pope explains. "We've also begun to see tangible benefits from more effectively engaging our employees, from viewing our own performance through the eyes of our residents and from aggressively instituting greater performance transparency."

In his role he is also leaving his mark on a broader stage as a member of the U.S. Conference of Mayors' leadership group and as co-chair of that group's sustainability task force.

Pope's history of community involvement is a long one, with roots in his childhood.  "I grew up in a family that has always been actively engaged, in our community and beyond.  The importance of service to others has been a lifelong guiding value for my parents and, in turn, for my sisters and me, just as it continues to be for so many others despite the increasing complexities of our world," says Pope, whose early adulthood included two years as a Peace Corps volunteer in Thailand.

Yet perhaps the real start to Pope's service to others began at West Suburban Hospital in Oak Park, where upon his birth he was placed for adoption.  "As an adoptee, it is particularly easy for me to see myself in the faces of others," he says.  "I could, after all, be quite literally in just about anyone else's shoes, but my experience highlights the central importance of opportunity in all our lives.  Who would ever have thought when I was given up for adoption that this same community would entrust me with their confidence and ask me to lead one of the larger municipalities in Illinois?"

Part of Pope's motivation in pursuing his Kellogg MBA was to advance social concerns by bringing more effective management practices to the public sector and "deploying resources more efficiently to help address intractable social challenges." Ultimately, he wanted to provide greater opportunity for everyone, including those most at risk.

Pope found support for his social awareness at Kellogg both in what he describes as the school's "strong commitment to community involvement" and through his relationships with professors and classmates who shared similar values.

Pope has a particular fondness for Professor Wally Scott and his wife, Barbara, whom he describes as two of the more thoughtful people he has ever met. "Together they have enjoyed great success and had a very positive impact in the private, public, and not-for-profit sectors," says Pope.

After graduating from Kellogg, Pope worked in the strategy consulting practice of PricewaterhouseCoopers, where he became a principal and led large-scale strategy definition and implementation engagements. He and his wife, Beth Houle '95, moved back to Oak Park, just a few blocks away from his childhood home. In 2000, he started his own consulting firm and become more engaged in his local community.

"Oak Park is, and will continue to be, a very special place," says Pope. "Beth and I are thrilled to be raising our daughters here. I feel tremendously fortunate to be a resident and to have been asked by the community to serve in this capacity."

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