An MBA Student Confronts A Tragedy

Allison Hughes. Courtesy photo

Allison Hughes. Courtesy photo


After the accident, she was granted a year to leave the program and take care of her husband. In April of 2013, Allison Hughes re-entered the program and had another life changing experience. She attended a retreat for caregivers of critically injured soldiers.

“One thing I was always thinking about was once Breg got rehabilitated, was he would continue to improve and eventually our lives would go back to normal,” Hughes says. “Spending time on that retreat with wives of other wounded warriors, I saw down the road a ways of what life would be like for me through them. And they were still suffering. The PTSD. The depression. The substance abuse. It left them so broken and depressed.”

According to Allison Hughes, there is ample support for the soldiers but beyond financial resources, there is not much for the caregivers. She was able to get a nanny for her children and some therapy with the financial support but that was only a Band-Aid on the problem.

“This is new because medical advancements are now keeping our soldiers alive despite some serious injuries,” says Allison Hughes. “Before, someone like Breg wouldn’t have survived. Most don’t realize the secondary stress. Even being a service member you don’t think about the stress it puts on your loved ones. They (caregivers) quit their careers. They feel like they lose themselves and forget who they are.”

Breg Hughes. Courtesy photo

Breg Hughes. Courtesy photo


It was no coincidence that Allison Hughes started seeing these needs as she entered the entrepreneurial-driven MBA@UNC program. Her friend and former Army officer and licensed professional counselor, Katharine Malavenda, spent a month in San Antonio with Allison supporting and helping her. After the retreat, Allison reached out to Malavenda to discuss her experience. According to Allison, there were two broad issues. First, caregivers needed more than a retreat once a year. Second, more than 350 caregivers applied for 50 spots at the retreat she attended.

Malavenda saw an opportunity to combine her counseling background with Allison’s business education. There was for sure a need for services. But how would they raise the money? And what model would they create?

Allison and Malavenda created a five-part program, called Heels on the Ground. They offer local support chapters, individualized physical and mental wellness plans, monthly webinars, live quarterly workshops and holistic retreats for up to 15 caregivers at a time.

With a need and answer in place, the fundraising was upon Allison and Malavenda. Allison signed up for professor Ted Zoller’s New Venture Discovery course. During the course, Allison used her classmates and the office hours of Zoller to gain feedback and assistance in developing a business model. Allison developed a crowd funding Indiegogo campaign and raised more than $11,000 last autumn.


The big break came in November of 2014 when Heels on the Ground received full funding from the Green Beret Foundation and adopted the name Steel Mags. The Green Beret Foundation is a nonprofit dedicated to providing financial support to wounded Green Berets and their families. The program hosted a workshop and a couple of webinars this past fall and will take off full-fledged this month after Allison graduated in December.

Now a retired major, Breg Hughes is also an MBA student, at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business, where he is working toward a career in international finance. He actually decided on applying for an MBA while still in the hospital in San Antonio because he thought it would be the best transition from the military into civilian life. Both Breg and Allison wanted to live in Chicago so Breg applied to Chicago’s Booth and Northwestern’s Kellogg. Breg decided on Booth because of the school’s “robust partnerships with schools abroad.” He says the program has been even more rigorous than what he expected and he is constantly impressed by the caliber of students he meets.

The family remains Chicago-based. The flexibility of an online program coupled with the prestige of a top business school allowed Allison Hughes to care for her husband, raise her family and discover a need in the lives of a little known and seldom talked about group of people.

“When you lose yourself in the full-time life of being a caregiver and parent, it is tough to even seek help or take the next step,” Allison Hughes says. “I think that’s what the program aims to do. To help them find a new life.”


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