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

Photo courtesy of USC Marshall School of Business

Students in Marshall’s social entrepreneurship master’s program. Photo courtesy of USC Marshall School of Business

Trujillo began his career in commercial real estate but lost his job during the crash in 2008. He found the Cesar Chavez Foundation, which at the time was the National Farm Workers Service. And they had an ideal role for him. He applied to be the foundation’s director of property management where he’d manage 32 properties totaling about 4,200 units. Six years into it, Trujillo was ready to expand his business prowess and fulfill his now more than a decade-old dream of attending USC.

So he applied to the MBA and EMBA programs at Marshall and MBA programs at nearby UCLA and Pepperdine. He was accepted to all of them. When trying to decide which program to enroll in, he spoke with an admissions staffer at Marshall. Trujillo told her his goal of converting the Cesar Chavez Foundation into an entrepreneurial mindset. She told him about Adlai Wertman and the MSSE.

“As soon as the word ‘social’ came out of her mouth, I said I’m sorry, but I really want an MBA.” But she insisted. So Trujillo obliged and met with Wertman. “I learned it was a finance first, impact second type of program,” he recalls of the meeting.

THE BUSINESS OF SOCIAL PROBLEM SOLVING

And that’s exactly what Wertman wants his tribe of do-gooders to practice. “I’m saying I need you to take some accounting and finance and then go and take on hunger,” a fired-up Wertman exclaims. “Any heterogeneous group is going to make better decisions than a homogenous group. If you take a bunch of electrical engineers and put them in a room, add one mechanical engineer and you’re going to start coming up with solutions that the electrical engineers aren’t going to think of. And take a bunch of white men and put them in a room and you’re going to come up with less creative decisions than if you put some women and people of color in the room.”

Likewise, Wertman has made it his academic mission to merge programs and schools. He’s been doing everything he can to get involved with other departments at USC and inviting them to his social enterprise lab. “Philosophically speaking you’ve got hunger, and homelessness, and education, and they’ve all been segmented,” Wertman explains. “So who focuses on education problems? People coming out of the education school. Who focuses on poverty? People coming out of the policy school. And it’s all these little things. And my attitude is, let’s just throw a business person on that team, and we’re going to come up with new solutions. That’s all. I don’t want a group of just business people sitting alone doing it.”

So far, Wertman says the few graduates of the program have been doing just that. They’re working for watershed conservation organizations. They’re leading sustainability for clothing companies. They’re creating pharmaceutical and affordable housing startups. And in Trujillo’s case, he’s simply making sure education is a topic of conversation at dinner tables like his when he was growing up.

“I just know education is the antidote for alleviating poverty and crime,” Trujillo says, alluding to his own life as much as anyone else’s as he sits about five miles due west of the Boyle Heights affordable housing he once called home. “It is. It really is.”

DON’T MISS: SOCIAL ENTERPRISE PROGRAMS: ‘LIKE LITTLE WARTS ON A BUSINESS SCHOOL’ or POETS&QUANTS’ ONE-ON-ONE VIDEO WITH USC MARSHALL DEAN JAMES ELLIS