Ex-Investment Banker Builds Army of Social Entrepreneurs


The natural next step was to start opening up new businesses. Unfortunately, Wertman couldn’t find anyone to run them, even after teaching non-profit management at UCLA. “I couldn’t teach the social workers, so I came up with this idea: What if we created a program at a business school specifically to train and nurture students who were learning business but wanted to use that education for social change, to solve world problems?” Wertman says. “I wrote a ten-page proposal and cold-called three business school deans and said, ‘I’ve got this idea.’” Not everyone was for it. “UCLA’s dean turned me down cold and said she didn’t understand why this belonged in a business school,” Wertman says.

He found like-minded folks at Marshall, where he began working in 2007. As far as west coast schools go, Stanford and Berkeley generally get associated with do-gooding; meanwhile, USC gets nicknamed the University of Spoiled Children. But Wertman sees Marshall becoming the top place for social enterprise. He notes that Stanford and Berkeley’s programs are research-based, and Berkeley focuses on corporate social responsibility, which is an entirely different beast. By contrast, Wertman’s whole goal is to move out an army of social entrepreneurs. Even undergraduates can easily get involved through the social entrepreneurship minor. “We’re Marshall-based and business-based as always, but we’re really looking to see how many partnerships we can build with other parts of the university in order to add business to the mix, to give people a way to actualize their ideas in the real world,” Wertman says.

Adlai Wertman, who teaches the core social entrepreneurship course for MBAs, has carved out a number of initiatives for both MBA candidates and undergrads. Among other things, MBA students can take a concentration in Sustainability, Society and Business. They can do a summer social entrepreneurship internship in Kenya, Rwanda, Ghana or South Africa, partnering with community leaders who are trying to create jobs, products and services that change lives.

Or they can work for a non-profit or social enterprise elsewhere and earn subsidies from the school to offset the loss of income from not taking a more traditional MBA job. Wertman says that MBAs from the program who enter the social enterprise world are earning $91,000 on average in their new jobs—not bad for someone starting out in a nontraditional sector.


Having taught social entrepreneurship well before it was hot, Wertman easily lists some of the many misconceptions surrounding the subject. Misconception number one: All nonprofits are horribly mismanaged. “My response to that is, if you went to work for a private company that was poorly run, would you never work in the private sector again?” Wertman says. Misconception number two: MBAs have no place driving social good. That’s certainly what the UCLA dean seemed to believe, but Wertman strongly disagrees. “With problems getting bigger, you need to add people with the discipline of business into the world of social change,” he asserts. “They’re the ones who are going to create the new methodologies for solving these problems.”

Adlai Wertman’s shift from investment banking to social entrepreneurship might still seem odd, but arguably, Wall Street chose him more than he chose Wall Street. “I had not thought anything about what I was going to do after school—really hadn’t—and my professor came to me at graduation and asked me what I was going to do,” Wertman explains. “I said, ‘I have no idea, probably take some time and go look for a job. It was a different time. It was 1980.” The professor had him meet up with a friend. Five days after that meeting, Wertman was working for a 400-person brokerage firm. “I don’t think I ever had a happy week on Wall Street, but I was very addicted to the game,” Wertman says. He liked the thrill of day-to-day intellectual competition, even if it didn’t actually feed his passions.

Perhaps that’s the bright side of a difficult economy: The lack of easy-to-snag jobs might prevent most of us from stumbling into 18-year aberrations.


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