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DeHaan talks success in business and charity

Posted on 04.10.2013

World-renowned philanthropist and entrepreneur Christel DeHaan spoke on the University of Indianapolis campus April 1 about her business experience and philanthropic work.
The event was put together by the Student Business Leadership Academy. SBLA is a student-run group that provides real-world business experience. Director of External Relations and Associate Professor of Finance Matt Will, the executive chair of SBLA, helped bring DeHaan to campus.
“I’ve known Christel for many years. So when the group decided, ‘Hey, this would be a great person to bring to campus,’ I asked her, and she agreed,” Will said. “She doesn’t give many public speeches, maybe one or two a year.”
Will said that students may not understand the significance of  having DeHaan speak on campus but will after hearing stories from those in attendance.
Will also sits on the board of Christel House International, the worldwide school system for impoverished children set up by DeHaan. Will and his wife give money to support the mission of Christel House.
“I am probably her biggest fan, because I like that she is a successful business person and also a philanthropist who gives back to the community,” Will said. “It’s like the best combination of everything.”
SBLA Vice President of Operations Austen Hildebrand hosted the event and knew, when Will mentioned DeHaan’s name, that he wanted to invite her.
“We were sitting down with Dr. Will, and he was going over a list of possible candidates. And we ran across the name Christel DeHaan,” Hildebrand said. “And I went, ‘Oh wait, you have to stop. This is the most successful woman of all time, a patron of the school.’ So it was a perfect fit.”
DeHaan said that she enjoyed receiving the invitation from UIndy.
“I have a special place in my heart for UIndy. I was on the board of trustees for many years, I was the board chair for almost 10 years,” DeHaan said. “I am very appended to this university, and this was my way of still demonstrating how much this institution means to me.”
Before the speech, SBLA members had the chance to sit down and have dinner with DeHaan and her guest Ron Haylock. The students discussed their work at UIndy and their time with nonprofits. DeHaan offered suggestions and encouragement to the students.
The speech began with SBLA member Kyle Nobles introducing DeHaan to the audience. He outlined her childhood in post-World War II Germany, her success in business and her ventures into charitable work.
DeHaan began her speech talking about what makes entrepreneurs and their characteristics. She said that true entrepreneurs have a predisposition for the skills required and an inner drive.
She defined entrepreneurs as people who are willing to take risks, convert their ideas into success, pursue their idea relentlessly into reality, avoid stops that may get in their way, be resourceful, draw from a reservoir of creativity and possess what she calls “fire in the belly.”
“I’ve had the opportunity to meet many entrepreneurs, and I have found one common thread among them. Most are driven by one overarching principle, to succeed and to make successful what they have started. Most never have a goal and the desire to become wealthy,” DeHaan said.
DeHaan then explained how she and her husband Jon DeHaan founded Resort Condominiums International in 1974 to help resort developers find a solution to the state of the real estate market and help  make time sharing easier for consumers.
“Our vision was to provide the real estate market with a sales tool that would make the purchase of resort condominiums more attractive to consumers,” DeHaan said. “We would form a network of affiliated resorts. And the individual purchasers would become RCI members and exchange rights within the network on an international method,” DeHaan said.
She said that RCI was run from her home for the first six months and joked with the audience, asking them to imagine hearing a washing machine and dryer running when she and her husband would answer their phone.
According to DeHaan, RCI made only $1,400 in its first year but was able to find a successful business model in time sharing.
“Purchasers were restricted to use the same time every year, same resort, same unit. So RCI brought that solution,” DeHaan said. “The purchasers had variety and flexibility by exchanging to other resorts at different times, at different locations. The exchange was the missing link to making time sharing succeed as a product. Time sharing needed RCI, and RCI needed time sharing in order to grow and reach scale.”
Before selling her company in 1996 for $650 million,  DeHaan opened branches in Mexico City, London, Japan and Australia. The company had 38 offices worldwide by 1994. When the RCI deal closed, each RCI employee received a bonus based on his or her time in the company.
DeHaan attributed this success to her investment in her employees and their hard work.
“I regard myself as a classic example of the American dream. What does this really mean? Simply defined, it was about understanding a need in the marketplace and devising a product that would fill that need,” DeHaan said. “It was about hard work. It was stressful, and there were many sacrifices.”
In the second half of her speech, DeHaan spoke about her desire to use her business experience to create what she calls human capital.
In 1998, she was asked to support a shelter in Mexico. When she arrived, she found 135 children crowded into a small house outside of  Mexico City. This is where Christel House International was started.
“I realized that giving money would make life somewhat easier for these children … Here is where the concept of Christel House was born. I wanted to create a model that would address the systemic causes and the debilitating effects resulting from poverty: poor health, isolation, abuse and abandonment,” DeHaan said.

Christel DeHaan speaks about her experience in business and philanthropy at an event hosted by SBLA. Photo by Anna Wieseman.

Christel DeHaan speaks about her experience in business and philanthropy at an event hosted by SBLA. Photo by Anna Wieseman.

Christel House serves 4,000 children worldwide, with one location on the South side of Indianapolis. According to DeHaan, these schoolhouses provide students with the tools to become self-sufficient, independent and productive members of their countries.
The Christel Academy in Indianapolis has some of the highest ISTEP scores in Indianapolis. DeHaan said that this success is due to the environment of  love and support her houses bring, as well as the no-excuses attitude and academic rigor.
“I believe that each of us has a responsibility to give back to our community and to make the world a better place. Christel House kids learn this from the first day,” DeHaan said.
DeHaan also said that she visits each of her schools every year and enjoys interacting with the children. The Christel House in South Africa has a 100 percent graduation rate, and the one in India has a 98 percent graduation rate.
“There is truly a common link [between RCI and Christel House]. Each organization has improved the quality of life it touched. RCI became a catalytic force in helping create a new sector in the tourism industry. Similarly, Christel House transforms the lives of impoverished children for the generation that follows,” DeHaan said.
After the speech, DeHaan answered questions from audience members.
SBLA members traditionally present a gift to the speakers. Will said that trying to find a gift for DeHaan was difficult.
“The students in the Student Business Leadership Academy were sitting around saying ‘What do you give this person? She could buy anything she wants,’”  Will said. “So what they did is they went out and raised $1,000, and they’re going to donate $1,000 to Christel House.”
DeHaan accepted the check with teary eyes and many thanks to SBLA. After the speech, DeHaan said that she hopes students can take away something from her speech, even if it is something small.
“Many years ago, a professor of mine said if you remember five percent of what I’ve been trying to teach you in five years’ time, you will be doing very well,” DeHaan said. “If they walk away with two or three points of philosophy about life that will start playing in their heads as they move on through their life, then I think the speech was successful.”


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