2023 Best & Brightest Executive MBA: Mike Misch, Cornell University (Johnson)

Mike Misch

Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management, SC Johnson College of Business, Cornell University

Age: 35

“Change agent bringing together diverse people and ideas, creating value in healthcare for our communities.”

Hometown: Rumson, NJ

Family Members: Wife, Courtney (Interior Designer specializing in landmark projects); Son, Oscar (2); Daughter on the way in September!

Fun fact about yourself: I Once valeted Bruce Springsteen’s car (it was a beat-up Ford Explorer, exactly as you’d picture it).

Undergraduate School and Degree: Rutgers University, Economics, Political Science (double major); Spanish (minor); Pre-Med Studies

Where are you currently working? Sanofi, Associate Director, Market Development, Multiple Myeloma Franchise

Extracurricular Activities, Community Work and Leadership Roles:

BioEntrepreneurship Initiative, Inaugural Fellow: The BioEntrepreneurship Initiative provides PhD, MD, and DVM candidates, as well as postdocs from across Cornell’s campuses and Tri-Institutional partners, with the opportunity to immerse themselves in real-world startup creation. Participants are matched with a dedicated MBA student to design their own life science startup. Along the way, participants gain the tools, training, and connections they need through a certificate program offered by the Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management.

Co-founder and treasurer of Biotech Club at Cornell: The Biotech Club at Cornell is an NYC-based forum focused on networking, professional development and new venture creation in biopharma.

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? Co-founding BioTech Club at Cornell with some classmates from the biopharma industry and academic medicine. We identified an unmet need around a lack of community and future leaders in the New York metro area despite plenty of science, investment, and entrepreneurial spirit. We were able to build an organic following of 600+ people, drawing 100+ people to our live monthly learning and networking events featuring founders and executives from the industry. We drew interest from financiers, academic leaders, and biopharma executives to our forum advancing innovation, and we facilitated many new connections, shared ideas, and new business opportunities to maximize the potential of scientific breakthroughs to help people. Innovation in medicine requires a lot of knowledge from a wide array of stakeholders at the nexus of science and business. I’m very proud to have helped to build something that fosters innovation and brings people from all backgrounds together, all in the spirit of finding new ways to create a healthier world.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? I recently left a job I loved to learn a new function that will help me to build skills and serve at higher levels of leadership. I was the division manager of a team that launched immunotherapy for the treatment of a blood cancer called myeloma. Although I didn’t hire this team, I took over about 6 months into the launch when the prior sales director, who was beloved and built a great culture, left for an external opportunity. This was to be my first official people-leadership job, managing all people with more tenure than me, who were formerly my peers – all in the middle of 2020 launching a challenger IV anti-cancer drug against one of the most successful competitor drugs of all time. In the face of these challenges, I poured my efforts into creating an unparalleled culture of supportive people who constantly challenged themselves and the status quo to serve the team and their customers. I never asked them to do anything I wasn’t willing to do myself. However, I did my best to lead by example and make myself vulnerable and constantly seeking to get better and find ways for the team to be successful. In response, the team constantly challenged themselves and each other to be better, all while being extremely supportive and finding ways to celebrate each other and small wins that added up to big wins.

In the end, they threw a heartfelt surprise going away party, where they presented me with the “Best Boss” award, which was a bit cheesy but also incredibly meaningful. I approached the opportunity to lead the team with something that approached reverence given the respect I had for them as individuals and for the mission at hand. I certainly made plenty of mistakes, but I sought to create an environment where that was okay, but failing to learn from mistakes was not. The fact that this amazing group of people, who I learned so much from, believed that I had cast a vision for the culture that made it incredibly satisfying for them to come to work meant everything to me. It’s not the award that makes me proud, it’s the fact that I was able to play a part as a servant leader who approached maximizing the potential of people to serve a worthy mission that makes me proud. And in going through that experience, I know that we can replicate the model again in our next roles.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? Visiting professor Paul Ingram was my favorite professor. Paul taught the Advanced Strategic Analysis class, which sought to provide a framework for maximizing the impact of strategy on an organization. It was one of the best classes I’ve taken. He commands attention and interest in material that otherwise might fall flat. Paul took a truly integrated, artful approach to conveying knowledge. It included experiences like creating values cards that all of his students carry around in their wallets; bringing in a world-class jazz quartet to “perform” a lesson about teamwork, flat organizations and “listening until you sweat”; and bringing in Captain Matthew Feely, Commanding Officer of the Navy’s Fukushima response, to discuss disaster planning and influencing with and without authority across cultural, geographic, and language barriers in the midst of a crisis. Every concept he brought into class was backed by robust empirical evidence, and he introduced it with crystal clarity and confidence that resonated so much that I would take a new concept and rush to apply it immediately in my daily life.

Why did you choose this school’s executive MBA program? By choosing this program, the Cornell MBA/MS in Healthcare Leadership program, I was essentially “declaring my major” in healthcare. I knew I loved the industry I worked in, helping to fulfill the potential of innovative oncology drugs in biopharma. I wasn’t 100% sure I wanted to stay in it though. I thought this program would be a great immersion into a broad spectrum of healthcare issues as it’s the only dual degree program of its kind in the Ivy League.

It was in talking to a former customer of mine who was a student in the program when I really became intrigued. After a class visit here and another top Ivy League school, I thought the people and the environment were unmatched at Cornell. There is something about people who are trying to make a difference in healthcare that is hard to replicate. I was also really drawn to the “elite, but not elitist” ethos at Cornell, which was reflective of the openness of the vast network to connecting and helping. Before enrolling, I reached out to current students and alumni to connect about the program. Each conversation flowed so easily and every single one responded right away. Without fail, the conversations drifted to various professional healthcare topics, and each one closed with multiple “win-win” follow ups. The biggest differentiator of a school is the network, and this was the final indicator that I’d be making a great choice.

What is the biggest lesson you gained during your MBA and how did you apply it at work? The biggest lesson I learned was a framework for the difficult yet critical mission of aligning around a winning strategy. Paul Ingram’s class went through a wonderful overview of the strategic cycle from the vantage point of mastery of oneself, organizational structure, and interpersonal relationships. By going through fantastic cases of varying degrees of success, we learned to identify and apply empirically validated theories about alignment for performance.

I was surprised how quickly I could apply for this in a new promotion I earned toward the end of my Executive MBA program. I moved from field sales leadership to marketing, and I noticed an opportunity to narrow the focus of our brand and align around a clearer area of unmet need. Being new in role and working in a matrixed organization, I recognized the need to be very strategic and intentional with my approach to take one core message and tailor it to many stakeholders with various perspectives and influencers. It suggested the lessons about persuasion from the case of Gary Tinterow bringing a hedge fund billionaire’s shark to the Met. Persuasion happens best by seeing the world through another person’s eyes and incrementally, jointly solving a problem together. My proposal at work took off, which gave me great exposure and most importantly the chance to lead an initiative that will lead to more patients living longer on my brand’s therapy that treats blood cancer.

Give us a story during your time as an executive MBA on how you were able to juggle work, family and education? It’s got to be a constant priority, and it can be hard to keep all the plates spinning, but the most effective thing I did was to remind myself and my family that this was a “season” of investment. Doing an executive MBA is, of course, a serious investment of time, money and energy. However, I found that because I chose the right program with the right people, I received enough energy to sustain me.

A mentor of mine once told me about the concept of “work-life integration” as opposed to “work-life balance.” Even though life at baseline was hectic, I chose to apply to the inaugural Cornell Bioentrepreneurship Initiative, led by my New Venture Management professor, Greg Ray. The program was very alluring to me, pairing MBAs with PhDs to bring scientific innovations from paper to practice. Once accepted, I partnered up with a PhD student who had discovered two major breakthroughs in the CRISPR gene editing space. I knew very little about this field or entrepreneurship when I started, but I saw enough signals that this could be an incredibly exciting opportunity to attain entrepreneurial judgement and expand my horizons. The problem is that this would come at a price of a third weekend per month. This was occupied by school-related activities, half of which involved a four-hour long journey to Ithaca, NY.

Keeping in mind this concept of “work-life integration,” I invited my wife to join me upstate during the first weekend, and we were able to turn the experience into something that at least resembled a mini-vacation. It was really nice having family with me while I embarked on this exciting chapter, and it was a good reason for them to see a beautiful part of the state that they hadn’t seen before. It wasn’t always perfect, but the more I found ways to integrate my family into my school life, the better things tended to be.

What is the biggest myth about going back to school? The biggest myth I find is that you should be crystal clear about what you want to do with the degree or it’s not worth it. It was my experience that I was very much exploring the idea of a pivot, but I also knew that I really loved what I did and wanted to advance in my current career path. In other words, I was unclear. I was committed to making the most out of the experience, so I kept an open mind while trying to prioritize building lasting relationships, keeping balance at home, and picking a handful of spots for meaningful extracurricular programs. In the end, I made incredible connections with incredible people, stayed married, and created a community from scratch with classmates around biopharma ventures. Ultimately, I figured out that I love my industry and career path and that I have many more options than I thought. I was promoted and appointed to key talent accelerators within my company. So, despite investing in school without a crystal-clear path ahead, the investment is already paying off significantly.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? I most admire my friend Anup Singh, MD, who was in my first-year learning team. A director of Critical Care Pulmonology at Northwell in New York City, he balanced a demanding career as a clinician with being a husband and a father of two school-aged kids. During the height of the pandemic, he was at ground zero at some of the biggest outbreaks in the country. During this scary time and before vaccines, he provided incredible care for patients and inspired his fellow clinicians to do the same in the face of exposure to a deadly virus with limited PPE. During our time working together, there was not one concept or homework assignment that passed him by. His integrity was unparalleled. But the biggest impression he made on me was the fact that he never complained throughout the entire program. He was always the first to find the humor in situations and to have a smile on his face. He’s truly an inspiration, and we are lucky to have him caring for us and our loved ones as a physician in NYC.

What was the main reason you chose an executive MBA program over part-time or online alternatives? My biggest driver for joining the program that I did was the in-person, cohort-based experience. We always live in an age where infinite knowledge rests at our fingertips, for free or cheap. What distinguishes an executive program is the magical combination of motivated professionals bringing tried-and-true general management concepts to life with their real-world business problems and diverse experiences. Going through this type of rigorous experience, together with the same platoon for two years, creates a wonderful opportunity to get to know people on a deep level and learn how to solve problems to create high-performing teams. Those types of intangible challenges and triumphs are invaluable when working with people during and after the program.

What is your ultimate long-term professional goal? My goal is to build the skills to lead successful biopharma organizations with a values-driven approach. We live in an age of incredible abundance and innovation, especially in healthcare. This is a unique industry that deals principally with the one asset that hits home for everyone on earth, your health. Especially in healthcare, because true value is so tangibly linked to helping people in need, I’ve found that there is an abundance of satisfaction that comes from work purpose. The teams that can also create an environment of continuous improvement on a foundation of trust and respect seem to hit that sweet spot where work can have tremendous meaning but can also be incredibly satisfying. These types of cultures are the ones that are more likely to create sustaining enterprise value. My ultimate vision is to lead healthcare organizations that do just that—create solutions that help people live longer and better in a way the brings employees great overall satisfaction and well-being.

What made Mike such an invaluable addition to the Class of 2023?

“During his time at Cornell, Mike has excelled academically and embodied the characteristics of our institution. He is a collaborative, encouraging, and supportive team member who provides meaningful contributions to the class, and does so with a positive energy that transcends him. Mike is an accomplished student and has dedicated his time to leadership opportunities that surpass the classroom. As a co-founder of the Cornell Biotech Club, Mike has helped to create a forum for networking and engagement across the biotech industry that supports the professional growth of students, and the community at large. Additionally, Mike was a fellow of the inaugural BioEntrepreneurship Initiative where he homed in on collaboration skills, working across programs and campuses at Cornell in an experience designed for students to  immerse themselves in real-world startup creation, and develop their entrepreneurial skillset.

Gregory Ray, PhD, director of the BioEntrepreneurship initiative, added that “Mike was a driving force for his team in exploring a novel CRISPR system that is more amenable to adenovirus-mediated gene therapy. He was incredible at connecting the team to experts, researchers, and potential customers. He has an incredible ability to sniff out a compelling value proposition. More than anything, his passion for supporting those how to innovate in research at the human level is a testament to the quality of his character and the collaborative team spirit of the EMBA/MS program.”

Christine Cortalano
Director of Education
Executive MBA/MS in Healthcare Leadership
Weill Cornell Medicine


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