USC Marshall: Building A Do-Gooder Brigade To Tackle Society’s Ills

MSSE students leaving an event. Photo courtesy of USC Marshall School of Business

MSSE students leaving an event. Photo courtesy of USC Marshall School of Business

‘THERE WAS A PETITION GOING AROUND SKID ROW SAYING I WOULD RUIN SKID ROW’

Wertman started by taking a seat on the board. A few months later, he became chairman. Another few months later, the position of president and CEO for Chrysalis came open. When word got out that a former investment banker was eyeing the top position at one of the most impactful Skid Row-focused organizations, push-back quickly ensued.

“There was a petition going around Skid Row saying that I would ruin Skid Row, if they let some investment banker MBA in,” recalls Wertman, laughing. “There are 18,000 homeless people, but one investment banker is what it’d take to ruin it.”

He didn’t ruin it. Wertman took over as president and CEO, gladly accepting the  85% cut in pay and made an immediate impact. He doubled the size of the agency, adding 1,400 donors. Chrysalis upped its transitional employment success rate from around 65% to 93%. He also managed two social enterprises that employed about 1,000 people and generated more than $4 million in revenues annually.

The most successful of the two social organizations is a street cleaning and trash collection service. Wertman was even asked by then-San Francisco Mayor and current California Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom to open and run a similar program in San Francisco.

AN INDUSTRY ‘STIFLED BY A LACK OF TALENT’

Instead, Wertman took another pivot. In 2005, he entered academia as a senior fellow in UCLA’s School of Public Affairs, teaching three graduate-level nonprofit management and finance courses. But he soon experienced the crux of the social enterprise problem. “I’m running a $4.5 million garbage business with more than 900 employees and insurance and customer service and logistics and 28 trucks,” Wertman explains. “I need people who are the exact same business people as any other business. Yet none of those resumes were coming to us. I’m looking at an industry being stifled by a lack of business-trained talent.”

This wouldn’t do. Wertman had to do something about it. So he put together a 10-page proposal for a social enterprise program within a B-school and cold called three area business school deans. USC Marshall Dean James Ellis was new on the job in 2007 and was intrigued. “He was new, but he understood business schools had a role,” Wertman says. “I don’t think he knew what it was I was going to do. I’m pretty sure I didn’t know what I was going to do, mostly because I didn’t know what a university did.”

Wertman left Chrysalis, scored a $1 million investment from Salesforce founder Marc Benioff and as a professor of clinical entrepreneurship started a social impact fellows program for MBA students at Marshall. Wertman spent the next five years developing an undergraduate social enterprise minor, a scholarship program and establishing the Brittingham Social Enterprise Lab at Marshall.

And then he proposed a specialized master’s program.