2020 Best & Brightest EMBAs: Michael Summers, INSEAD

Michael Summers

INSEAD Business School

“Driven, resourceful, team-oriented, and passionate about making a positive difference for veterans.”

Age: 46

Hometown: Brisbane, Australia

Family Members: Girlfriend and the family dog.

Fun fact about yourself: I spent ten years in Iraq and Afghanistan; my longest rotation was 23 months.

Undergraduate School and Degree: INSEAD Global Executive MBA

Where are you currently working? Independent Consultant

Extracurricular Activities, Community Work, and Leadership Roles: I spent over 10 years on active duty in the Australian Army’s Infantry Corps and another 12 years as a regional security manager and consultant in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Africa. I have over 20 years of combat and leadership experience from Iraq and Afghanistan and various UN Peacekeeping Operations. I had led teams of up to 180 personnel, in the midst of the war, when the stakes were high. While I have received numerous military service medals and decorations, my most significant reward has been working with so many dedicated professionals. INSEAD now provides me with the opportunity to work with other equally talented and high-caliber individuals in high-functioning teams.

My extracurricular activities include volunteering and mentoring other veterans in pursuing an executive MBA. I am eager to help veterans understand the value proposition of an EMBA from a top-tier business school. I want to show corporations and hiring managers that highly-motivated veterans with proven strategic thinking and resilience demonstrated on the battlefield bring a unique value proposition to any organization and its executive leadership team. Mentoring allows me to pay it forward.

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? My greatest academic accomplishment is finishing the EMBA program. I went to business school to learn how I could complement my military leadership skills with an EMBA education. I sought to identify my blind spots and fill in the gaps of my knowledge in accounting, finance, operations, entrepreneurship, and innovation.

Having come from a military background, I knew I was going to be behind other students who had strong finance and accounting backgrounds. I simply was not acquainted with terms like Return on Investment Capital, Net Present Value, and the dynamics of pricing and markets. It is fair to say it was not on my daily to-do list in the military. After my first Financial Accounting class with Professor Bens, I realized how crucial it was to take a holistic approach to the program. In most cases, it is not about becoming the “domain expert” in a specific field. It is more important to acquire an understanding of the critical drivers, levers, and tools of business so that I can identify potential risks and opportunities, ask the right questions as a manager, and make better data-driven informed recommendations. I am proud that I have immersed myself in the program curriculum and now have a deeper understanding of the language and applications of business.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? I am most proud of serving 10 years in the Australian Army. Serving my country was an opportunity to be a part of something greater than myself. The armed forces gave me an incredible set of skills and experiences, most markedly an understanding of servant leadership and strength of character. I learned the importance of building the bonds of trust with your team and the meaning of collaboration and diversity.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? That is a difficult question. I was fortunate to have an incredible faculty of professors who shared their in-depth academic knowledge and real industry experiences. My professors made sure no classmate was left behind, and they went out of their way to help students be successful throughout the program. The professors pushed me to see my blind spots, to understand my implicit and unconscious biases, and to challenge my assumptions. I was taught how to identify my strengths and non-negotiables, to understand my weaknesses, and to see new opportunities.

Why did you choose this school’s executive MBA program? INSEAD is renowned as a top-tier business school with an exceptional alumni network. INSEAD’s EMBA program has a global outlook, where student diversity offers a unique learning experience without a dominant cultural perspective. I selected the EMBA for its global executive Leadership Development Program (LDP). I was seeking a full EMBA experience that offered classroom-based learning and in-person interaction with professors and classmates, allowing for the opportunity to build personal and professional relationships.

What did you enjoy most about business school in general? The most enjoyable part of the EMBA journey, and one I am especially thankful for, is the personal and professional relationships that I have developed with my peers. While we are all very different from each other, we were unified by the compelling shared experiences of the program, and we had a genuine interest in seeing each other succeed. I was continually astonished at the levels of talent, industry knowledge, and diversity of thinking within my cohort. I had the sense that I was part of an international think-tank or in a laboratory testing new ideas and innovations, not just sitting in a stuffy lecture. The most profound learning on the program comes when classmates are teaching each other to recalibrate and challenge each other’s thinking. The most rewarding part of the EMBA program is gaining a cohort of life-long friends that stay connected beyond graduation. Without a doubt, the relationships created are the most invaluable return on investment.

What is the biggest lesson you gained during your MBA and how did you apply it at work? The biggest lesson I gained during the program during the EMBA came from Professor Klaus Wertenbroch’s Marketing class on brand building, where I came to understand the value of having a compelling and congruent positioning statement in my personal branding. Each of us has a personal brand, and if not appropriately communicated or maintained, it can send the wrong message and destroy value.

A strong positioning statement is the very core of your brand. It can do much of the heavy lifting when communicating your value proposition to a prospective employer, customer, or competitor. The positioning statement identifies the target segment and sends a clear message among a competitive market, including anyone considering investing in you, or your products, as to what they can expect from you as a brand. Your personal branding allows you to build trust with your audience by authentically highlighting your personality, skills, and character. A customer funnel makes the customer or hiring manager come your way. As a result, by having a clear personal branding statement, I have enhanced my degree of influence when negotiating with new hiring managers and headhunters.

Give us a story during your time as an executive MBA on how you were able to juggle work, family, and education? During the program, I tried different methods of juggling my time and scheduling to achieve a work-life balance between all of my competing priorities of work, family, and education. In the first semester, despite sitting at my desk with the plan to study, I was inefficient with my time, procrastinating, checking emails, and perennially distracted. I then had to find additional time somehow and make painful trade-offs with family, networking events, and the family dog. I learned very quickly that the quality of time spent studying is more important than just being at your desk.

What is the biggest myth about going back to school?

Myth: It has been many years since I did academic studies, an EMBA is too difficult.

Truth: If you are returning to academia after many years in pursuit of an EMBA, it can seem challenging; however, the good news is that you can give yourself a head start. Brushing up on your quantitative skills or participating in the school’s Pre-EMBA business preparation courses will ensure you do not start from behind the curve and allow you to have the highest chance of success.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? That is a difficult question. There are so many inspirational and brilliant classmates in my EMBA cohort; it is difficult to single out one. I admire all my classmates because they opened my mind to new possibilities and encouraged me to step outside of my comfort zone. All my classmates showed determination to pursue an ambition to advance their careers and were simply not satisfied with the status quo. Even when it felt as if we were in a pressure cooker, everyone in the cohort was authentic and vulnerable in sharing their opinions and did not pander to an audience or try and please everyone. I learned not to underestimate anyone and came away from the course with intensely personal and professional growth. I am grateful to my classmates for their generosity in sharing their knowledge and challenging my assumptions.

“I knew I wanted to go to business school when… I was fortunate enough to meet someone extraordinary and very successful in their field, who taught me to believe in myself and my leadership potential in business. In the military, we are taught how to survive, but rarely, as veterans, are we shown how to thrive. I never thought I would have the opportunity to pursue my MBA dream, but it has finally become a reality, and I am beyond thrilled.”

What is your ultimate long-term professional goal? After the EMBA program, I learned to stop limiting my thinking and to be excited about possibilities. Everything now seems possible! My ultimate goal is to lead an organization as a member of the C-Suite, empowered by a team that I am proud to lead.

In one sentence, how would you like your peers to remember you? A trusted, hard-working, ambitious friend who served as an example that anything is possible.

What are the top two items on your bucket list?

  • To explore a new career path
  • To pay it forward and help other veterans transition into a top-tier EMBA program

What made Michael such an invaluable addition to the Class of 2020?

“The admissions committee was very impressed by how well Michael defended his case study presentation, demonstrating a very strong business acumen. He picked up most of the relevant points and managed to convince the jury on his thinking behind his decisions. His motivation and passion for INSEAD were rated as the highest ever seen on a panel. His positiveness, strong desire to give back and his past international experience in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Sierra Leone also contributed to his straightforward acceptance.”

Teresa Peiro-Camaro
Associate Director
INSEAD Executive MBA Admissions


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