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Mike Erwin: An accidental social entrepreneur

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Yale School of Management
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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.

While Erwin was no stranger to leadership positions, his primary experience had been in large, structured organizations. In high school, he had been an athlete and student leader. That continued in college when Erwin gained a nomination and enrolled at the U. S. Military Academy (USMA) at West Point. He thrived in the highly regimented program offered by the school. Later, Erwin excelled in his assignments in the Army, garnering multiple awards and medals.

However, the founding and growth of Team Red White and Blue (Team RWB) had none of the characteristics of his previous endeavors. Erwin started the organization as an emotional gesture “to enrich the lives of America’s veterans by connecting them to their community through physical and social activity.” Erwin’s enthusiasm and the organization’s mission caught on rapidly and Team RWB attracted media attention disproportionate to its size. With the acclaim, others joined in to form new chapters and Fortune 500 companies kicked in sponsorship money. In short order, despite being resource constrained and having no paid employees, the organization grew beyond anything that Erwin had envisioned. Without any intention to do so, Erwin accidently became an entrepreneur.

Back at his beloved West Point to teach, Erwin started a run on a brisk day in November 2012 and found himself ruminating on the future of the organization and his place within it (see Exhibit 1 for Erwin and Team RWB Timeline). He was overjoyed with the success of the organization, but also recognized that Team RWB needed to be professionalized in order to scale. Erwin wondered whether he was the right person to continue to lead Team RWB. If he was not, how could the organization pivot and restructure without losing its momentum?

Published Date: 11/10/2017

Suggested Citation: A. J. Wasserstein, "Mike Erwin: An accidental social entrepreneur," Yale SOM Case 17-018, October 11, 2017

Keywords: Military Veterans, service organization, running