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.


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)

Featured Alumni

Featured Alumni

Class of MBA 1988, Section G

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