New Case Study Focuses on Veteran and Accidental Social Entrepreneur, Mike Erwin

Photo courtesy of Team Red, White and Blue​​​​

“Mike Erwin never envisioned himself as a social entrepreneur or activist.  Yet in 2012, he found himself the CEO of an organization with 15,000 members and 34 chapters reaching from Syracuse, NY to Houston, TX.” - from Mike Erwin: An Accidental Social Entrepreneur (Yale SOM Case Study #17-018).

Erwin, a decorated West Point graduate who served multiple tours in the Army, initially started Team Red, White and Blue (Team RWB) “to enrich the lives of America’s veterans by connecting them to their community through physical and social activity.” The organization quickly gained momentum, attracting outsized media attention, a plethora of volunteers, and new chapter leaders from across the country.

Though Erwin was proud of his organization’s growth and had excelled in leadership positions, he questioned whether he was the right person to scale Team RWB.  Would someone else with more experience be more appropriate? If he indeed moved on, how could he ensure the organization would continue to thrive amid a change in leadership and potential restructuring?

A.J. Wasserstein, the Eugene F. Williams, Jr. Lecturer in the Practice of Management at the Yale SOM and primary author of the case, describes how he became interested in Erwin’s dilemma, “I think it’s fascinating for an entrepreneur to contemplate their role in a company as it grows and professionalizes and whether they still fit into the organization.  Starting a company and leading and growing a business require very different skill sets.  Additionally, the idea that business skills can be transferrable to a social enterprise appeals to me.  The Erwin case wrestles with both of these topics.”

Wasserstein will debut the case in his upcoming Entrepreneurship through Acquisition class where students learn how to purchase a business, finance an acquisition, and operate and grow a business. “My hope is that this case will help students develop an awareness for how an entrepreneur’s role in a business can change - or even end – and that it’s not necessarily a bad outcome.  It is healthy to have the self-awareness of your skills and place in the organization and to be honest about your abilities and role as an entrepreneur,” Wasserstein explains.

The case also introduces a discussion about how business practices can benefit organizations that have other concerns beyond  just profits. “I have always been fascinated with how some of the topics we explore in business (strategy, culture, organizational processes, teamwork, leadership, accountability, metrics, outcomes, failure, training, values) translate into environments where lives are constantly at risk and outcomes have greater consequences than making more or less money,” Wasserstein adds. “The military and healthcare are just two such environments where that exists.”

Mike Erwin: An Accidental Social Entrepreneur is available for free to Yale faculty, students, and staff as well as to partners within the Global Network for Advanced Management. All others may purchase a copy of the case by contacting one of our participating distributors, or by writing to case.access@yale.edu

To learn more about Mike Erwin: An Accidental Social Entrepreneur, visit:  http://som.yale.edu/case/2017/mike-erwin-an-accidental-social-entrepreneur.

To learn more about Team Red, White and Blue, visit https://www.teamrwb.org/.

Disclaimer: Case studies are developed for pedagogical purposes and are not intended to furnish primary data, serve as an endorsement of the organization in question, or illustrate either effective or ineffective management techniques or strategies.