01 Jun 2000

Going Public: Margaret M. Crotty

An Unsinkable Inspiration
by Susan Young


Twenty-four hours after almost drowning in a ferryboat disaster in Indonesia, Margaret Crotty agreed to a telephone interview with the Today show to discuss how she survived -- and helped save others as well. Her decision to be on television, however, was hardly self-serving. "I was working for Save the Children and thought that Bryant Gumbel might make a donation," she laughs. The reasoning was classic Crotty: bold, altruistic, and always focused on drawing others into a good cause.

Crotty's brush with death came toward the end of her two-year stint with Save the Children, which she joined a year after graduating from Princeton with a degree in history. As a consultant, she evaluated community development programs throughout Indonesia and helped rural women build microenterprises. The resourcefulness of the women impressed Crotty so much, she says, that thinking of their determination helped her get through her own sixteen-hour ordeal.

While on a weekend vacation from Save the Children in 1995, Crotty boarded one of Indonesia's chronically overcrowded ferryboats. Several hours into the trip, as night was falling, the ferry began to roll over. Crotty calmly began distributing the meager supply of life jackets, neglecting to keep one for herself. When the boat sank, she used her skills as a former lifeguard to save people in the shark-infested waters, but hundreds of others drowned. Fashioning a flotation device out of her pants, Crotty swam all night and the next morning before she was eventually rescued on an island some thirty miles away.

A Dateline NBC piece, filmed ten days after the accident, turned the unassuming Crotty into a celebrity. She has received and responded to hundreds of letters from people who have been inspired by her story. They have offered numerous book, television, and movie deals, along with several marriage proposals, all of which she has turned down.

Six months after the accident, Crotty returned to the United States to become an assistant principal at St. Mark's School of Harlem, where she put to work her natural talents at networking and motivating others. She recruited her brothers to tutor students, her Princeton alumni club to paint classrooms, her investment banker friends to help write a budget, and members of the community to organize fundraisers. At the same time, "Miss Margaret" (as she was called by the elementary school students) managed a $1 million budget, created and implemented a technology plan, and put an arts curriculum in place.

At St. Mark's, Crotty realized she needed more business training and, inspired by Charles MacCormack, Save the Children's president, she applied to HBS. "I knew that if I wanted to make an impact on the world the way that Charlie has, I needed management skills," says Crotty, who, true to form, has been active in numerous HBS student organizations.

Fortified by her MBA, Crotty plans to refine her skills in the private sector before eventually returning to the nonprofit world. Her dream is to lead a global organization -- like Save the Children -- that "makes an impact on people all over the world." There is no substitute, she says, for the satisfaction of helping others. "The capacity that people have that goes unseen continues to amaze me," observes Crotty, unaware how aptly those words apply to her own inner strength and exceptional ability.

Photography by Webb Chappell

Shari P. Hubert
Scott C. Bolick
Herman I. Safin
Margaret M. Crotty
Christopher S. Yeh
Raymond M. Jefferson

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