A firm finds a new way to help descendants of an ancient culture.
The mystical Inca citadel of Machu Picchu in Peru is
one of the world's great travel destinations, an awe-inspiring ruin in
the Andes Mountains roughly 45 miles northwest of the ancient Inca
capital of Cuzco. Cuzco today is the modern-day hub for tourism to
Machu Picchu and the surrounding Sacred Valley, and while it's easy to
be enthralled with the region's past, a visit to nearby villages makes
it clear that its present is mired in poverty.
The plight of the natives wasn't lost on Sherman Doll and his traveling companions during a 2003 visit to the Sacred Valley. "We were sitting in our hotel talking about how Peru is such a great place, but that it's sad the people are so impoverished," says Doll, 51, a partner at Capital Performance Advisors, a fee-based firm in Walnut Creek, Calif., about 25 miles east of San Francisco.
Two of the firm's partners were with him on the trip, and together they devised a game plan. "We decided to think outside the box on this and to help in a direct way," says Doll. In 2003, Doll and partners Brent Thomas and Steve Leininger formed the Adelante Charitable Fund to organize humanitarian medical expeditions and to finance microenterprise business ventures in Peru's Sacred Valley region. Adelante is part of the Schwab Fund for Charitable Giving.
Adelante means "to move ahead" in Spanish, and the charitable fund works in tandem with Chasqui International, a Utah-based organization that provides educational, medical and economic aid to impoverished natives in Peru and Bolivia. In 2004, Adelante's first mission to Peru didn't get off to a flying start. "We were a bit discouraged because only one doctor from our area signed up," says Doll.
Chasqui helped round up enough doctors for the group by recruiting veterans from past Chasqui missions. An Idaho doctor on that trip told Adelante organizers that the first year is generally tough, partly because you don't have the answers to people's questions. He said recruiting gets easier the second year, and that they'd be turning away people the third year.
This past July, Adelante's second medical mission had a full load of more than 30 people. All of the doctors and dentists were Capital Performance Advisors clients, and some brought along family members. The medical staff treated roughly 2,000 people during their stay, and procedures ran the gamut from repairing hernias to performing tumor biopsies to pulling teeth.
The Adelante group's 11-day journey to Peru is a mix of volunteerism and pleasure for participating medical professionals: The first half is devoted to Albert Schweitzeresque humanitarian service in the mountain villages, the second to sightseeing. For Doll and Thomas, this summer's expedition leaders, the mission requires long days as facilitators, translators and tour guides.
The group stayed at basic yet comfortable quarters in Cuzco. Doll and Thomas each day got up before everyone else to make sure the medical gear and bus were ready, and that everyone ate breakfast and made it on the bus. From there, the group traveled into the hills and visited one of the villages to treat a steady stream of indigenous people, the descendents of the ancient Incas.
These are hardscrabble communities that get by on subsistence farming and herding on the terraced fields and wild pastures of the Andes. Some people walk as much as two hours to receive the free medical care. When the bus arrived in a village it was like the circus meets a MASH unit, as locals gathered excitedly around and a path was cleared to let the doctors and dentists set up shop in makeshift clinics. This is essentially triage work; facilities generally are rooms in schools or community centers, and American doctors work in primitive conditions performing basic services to diagnose problems and alleviate pain.
Working with the help of volunteer Peruvian doctors and nurses, the American medics practice a brand of medicine decades removed from high-tech U.S. standards. For some, it's a revelation. Bergen James, a San Francisco pediatric dentist and a Doll client, yanked countless teeth with nothing more than a table and chair, a shot of Novocain, and an assistant holding a flashlight into a patient's mouth. After a tooth was excised, the patient spit into a plastic bag, was given gauze, and then went home.
"I pulled teeth I never thought I could without lights or suction," says James. "It's amazing what you can do when you're put into certain situations." More important, says James, was the impact the trip had on her world view. "The people of Peru have nothing, but are so kind and appreciative, and to give something to people who have nothing is an eye-opening experience that reminds me that I live in a skewed environment where people have so much and don't realize it."
Doll says that many of the medical professionals from the July trip are interested in returning next year, and several are talking it up with their colleagues. "We're thrilled with how that California chapter is evolving," says Kirk Magleby, Chasqui's executive director.
For Doll and his partners, the leap from money management to mercy missions was a bigger one than their firm's transition six years ago from accounting to financial advisory work. Capital Performance Advisors' initials-CPA-are a play on the company's roots as an accounting firm with a niche clientele of doctors and dentists. All of the original partners have retired, and the current company is a three-legged stool of three separate companies.
Thomas, Wirig, Doll and Company is the accounting firm that still exclusively serves medical and dental practices. Pension One Advisors administers and maintains retirement plans for corporations and self-employed individuals. Capital Performance Advisors, formed in 1999, has quickly become the fastest-growing segment. As of July 31, CPA's assets under management were $418 million, up roughly 40% from the prior November.
The firm had done tax and financial planning for years as part of its accounting work, and some clients said they wanted them to expand and provide various financial services under one roof. Five of the firm's seven partners passed the personal financial specialist (PFS) exam, and they rolled out CPA to a better-than-expected reception. "Many more clients were interested in this than we ever imagined," says Doll.
To quote one of the company's brochures, CPA's approach "is not the stuff of water cooler chatter." Employing BAM Advisor Services in St. Louis for back office functions, CPA invests almost exclusively in long-term, passive, asset class mutual funds from Dimensional Fund Advisors.
"We think these funds are the best way to implement a low-cost, diversified strategy," says Doll. "We don't believe in market timing. Part of our job is to keep clients focused on their plan and to ignore market noise."
Doll joined the firm in 1982, more than two years after graduating with a master's degree in accounting from Brigham Young University. While at BYU, he formed a study group with fellow students Steve Leininger and Jay Wirig that met several mornings a week at 7 a.m. Today, all three are partners at the same company.
Brent Thomas, a partner who joined the firm in 1978, was on a three-year Mormon mission to Peru's Sacred Valley with his wife when Doll and Leininger visited in 2003. It was that trip that inspired the formation of Adelante.
The second half of Adelante's mission-funding start-up microenterprise businesses among natives in the Sacred Valley-has moved slowly. "Giving them money is the easy part," says Thomas, 57. "Once these people in need have money for the first time, the challenge is getting them to use it in a prudent way."
Working with Chasqui and other organizations, Adelante aims to fund microenterprise ventures that enable poor people to create their own business and help themselves rise above poverty and dependence. These ventures can require as little as a couple of hundred dollars to get started, and can include something as simple as operating a food stand.
Education is a big part of the program. Thomas teaches a microenterprise seminar for locals and imparts one of his most important lessons in agricultural terms the natives can understand: Don't eat the seed corn before you plant it. He stresses the need to show potential aid sources that they can keep records and grow their initial seed money. "A lot of relatives come looking for help when they find out someone has money. It's amazing how quickly money can vanish," says Thomas.
During his seminars, Thomas hammers home the point that it takes more than capital to run a successful business. He draws a pyramid with a foundation that includes such attributes as integrity, diligence and hard work. He then adds other key components such as experience and education, topping it off with capital.
To date, Adelante has invested $1,000 in a mango exporting business and funded microenterprise education programs. They want to do much more, but it's easier said than done. "We want to take it to the $10,000 level," says Thomas, "but we're not finding the infrastructure there yet to support these businesses."