Adlai Wertman had a very successful career on Wall Street. Born to middle class parents who valued education, he looked at his good fortune as being about “everything but me”. The Wall Street pace and the rewards that came from winning was addictive, but he felt that using his skills just to make money for corporations or for himself was a “remarkably selfish waste of time”. He had a responsibility to changes people’s lives. It was never a question of if, simply a matter of when.
He figured he would stay in the high stakes game until he was 50.
When Adlai was 35, his older brother died in his arms. A few years later he was diagnosed with melanoma. Suddenly it occurred to him that there was no guarantee he would live to see 50.
It was time for a change.
He quit Wall Street and moved his family to LA. His colleagues in the finance community all came up with their own reason for why he would walk away from a high paying job to go help homeless people. He had “out niced” them. In their minds, the explanation couldn’t be as simple as his need to follow a calling. It had to be that he was burned out. Or that he suffered a mental breakdown.
When he was first interviewing for a job at Chrysalis (the homeless organization he would end up running for a number of years) the assembled group, which included some members of the board of directors, decided that what he was really doing was cleaning up his resume so that he could run for mayor. Adlai was later told that after he left the interview one of them stood up, slammed a fist down on the table and triumphantly declared “no one is going to use our Chrysalis for their own personal benefit”.
Everyone wanted to define the narrative because they could not accept that he just wanted to help people.
But there’s much more to the story.
Welcome to the very first episode of MIPtalk – Conversations With the World’s Most Interesting People.
To learn more about Adlai Wertman you can read his bio here.
For additional reference we’ve included links to some of the people, places and things discussed in this episode:
Pentagon Keeps Dead Out of Sight
Jamaica Estates, Queens
Cable Corruption Scandal
The King of Queens
The Long Island Press
Story Brook University
Ian Dury and the Blockheads
Life Is With People
USC Marshall Society and Business Lab
Red Cross and Hurricane Katrina
Gerard J. Tellis
Works Progress Administration
Rachel Getting Married
Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson