University of Southern California

March 5, 2010 • by

Dear Friends of Marshall:

I walked into the Haitian orphanage at 11 p.m. and was immediately surrounded with life-changing stories. Like the little boy with the broken arm. His mother grabbed him when the earthquake struck. Rubble fell on them, crushing her and breaking his arm. She died holding on to her son. I was here to distribute 20,000 pounds of supplies donated by the hospital where I serve as Chief Operating Officer. I just kept thinking: "Don't screw this up." I had five days to ensure that the supplies made it through the U.N. and U.S. Army checkpoints and arrived at the orphanage. Additional supplies then had to be split up and delivered among five other Haitian hospitals, some of them only accessible via helicopter. At the end of those five days I was never more grateful for the education I received in the Marshall MBA.PM program. I had thought choosing USC Marshall was a decision that would be useful for my career. As it turns out, it’s a useful program for life.

I used every technique I learned in the Negotiations class while I was dealing with the U.N. The voices of Communication Professors Donna Miles and Anne Hill ran through my head, reminding me to be clear and communicate effectively as I spoke with the other hospital officials. Every task we had in delivering the supplies held hidden problems I wouldn’t have anticipated if I hadn’t remembered Professor Carl Voigt's Strategy class where he constantly preached to think ahead.

And as I worked eighteen-hour days, I realized that every moment was just a replay of Professor Diane Badame's Marketing class: the constant collection of data, constant analysis, and the constant decision making. Only these decisions weren’t just about cases in a book, they were about the real need to ensure that ten tons of supplies got into the hands of the physicians and hospitals that needed them.

Beyond our immediate mission, there were a number of questions I wanted to ask: how does the economy of a torn country move along? How do you best teach leadership to the new government officials who will replace those that were killed? Are there factors in the surviving Haitian businesses that will help them survive, and if so what are they? Clearly this nation will not be rebuilt in a day, but what are the right steps now to get the economy going again?

I can’t begin to describe how heartbreaking it is to see a country in ruins. The suffering and devastation is horribly real. But Haiti did teach me one important lesson: we can all use the talents we have to help make a difference. Operation Haiti Relief may not be where every member of the USC Marshall family is called to serve, but it was where I was needed. And I am ever thankful that I had the skills needed to accomplish my mission. Having gone through this experience, I believe a gift to USC Marshall doesn't just support a business career; it supports the training that can make a difference for life.

Chris Rakunas

USC Marshall MBA '06