01 Feb 2002
Mary Quin: A Life-Changing Story
Another in a series of occasional articles on HBS graduates who have taken a leave from their careers to explore nonbusiness endeavors.Topics:
When she describes the experience today, Mary P. Quin (MBA '88)
remains composed and thoughtful. Yet four years ago, Quin, a seasoned
world traveler who had visited over sixty countries, was taken
hostage in the desert of Yemen and faced what seemed a certain
and violent death. A Xerox vice president and general manager
at the time, Quin has since seen her life change as a result of
her terrifying ordeal, and she is currently taking time off from
her business career to write a book about the incident.
While on a two-week tour of Yemen, Quin and fifteen
other tourists were captured by Islamic militants who, they later
learned, were attempting to win freedom for a group of Muslim
extremists imprisoned by the Yemeni authorities. The next morning,
as army troops mounted a rescue operation, one of Quin's
captors stuck an AK-47 into her back and used her as a human shield.
"It seemed impossible that we could survive," Quin recalls,
"so one part of my brain was saying, This is it, this
is the end.' But I also had this feeling I would make it,
and I could actually visualize myself back home telling people
what had happened." In a hail of bullets, Quin's captor
was shot, and she managed to run to the safety of her rescuers.
Four of the other tourists were killed.
Quin returned home to Rochester, New York, aware that the ordeal
had permanently changed her. But she thought it best to wait until
some of the initial shock had dissipated before making any life-altering
decisions. "Coming so close to death was a wake-up call,"
she says. "It made me reevaluate how I wanted to spend the
rest of my life." Upon reflection, she decided to leave the
corporate world and take time off to write, with the plan of eventually
starting a business. She moved to Alaska last summer with her
new partner in life, Ray Kaufman, an executive who e-mailed Quin
when he read about her experience in the Rochester
newspaper. Quin sees her move to Alaska as another adventure,
an opportunity for new experiences that so far include learning
how to fly-fish and hunt.
Her longtime interest in women's issues has kept her actively
engaged internationally and led her to attend the U.N. Fourth
World Conference on Women, held in Beijing in 1995. She then launched
the 100 Heroines Project, a group that awarded grants of $1,000
to each of one hundred women around the world who were working
for women's rights. Through this project, Quin became aware
of the plight of women in Afghanistan and then worked with Afghan
women to help craft the Declaration of the Essential Rights of
Afghan Women, a document that she hopes will be formally incorporated
into the constitution of a newly reformed Afghanistan.
Last August, Quin returned to Yemen, where she interviewed the
imprisoned Muslims whose release her captors had sought, in order
to better understand their thoughts and personalities. Having
completed the bulk of her research and some writing (she hopes
to publish her book in 2003), she is looking ahead to her next
endeavor. "My interest in business goes beyond the P&L
or the product," says Quin, who intends to split her time
between her current residence and her native New Zealand. "I
would love to figure out a way to use my skills to help Alaska
and New Zealand become stronger communities and stronger economies."
- Susan Young (send e-mail
to the author)
Class of MBA 1988, Section G