2018 MBAs To Watch: Matt Hillman, University of Michigan (Ross)

Matt Hillman

University of Michigan, Ross School of Business

“I am just like you. I make mistakes. I learn. I grow.”

Age: 29

Hometown: Orlando, Florida

Fun fact about yourself: I’ve never drank a cup of coffee before.

Undergraduate School and Degree: Florida A&M University – B.S. in Economics with a minor in Finance

Where did you work before enrolling in business school? Private Banker (Wealth Management) – Citizens Bank in Philadelphia, PA

Where did you intern during the summer of 2017? Delta Air Lines – Atlanta, GA

Where will you be working after graduation? Sr. Product Manager – Amazon

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School:

Leadership Roles

  • Hospitality and Travel Club – Director of Airline Relations (AY 16-17). President (AY 17-18).
  • Multidisciplinary Action Project (MAP): Hotels.com – Developed new internal processes and organizational recommendations to more effectively conduct and share research across the organization.
  • Michigan Business Challenge (AY 17-18): Top 14 Finalist out of 81 business pitches.
  • Zell Lab Start-Up Entrepreneur – Served as a business development lead for a disruptive travel tech startup that spawned out of the University of Michigan’s College of Electrical and Computer Engineering.
  • Wolverine Angels – In parallel with my classes from September to April, I worked remotely as a venture capital analyst for a California-based angel group. I was responsible for evaluating the investment potential of 15 seed to b-staged companies.
  • Consortium for Graduate Study in Management – Fellowship Recipient

Community Roles

  • Community Consulting Club – Developed a pricing tool and go-to-market strategy for a non-profit organization that provided life skills for young mothers, typically 16-23 years old, who have been victims of some type of traumatic experience.

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school?  I am most proud of a conversation that I had with a highly-ranked Guyanese government official.

During fall break of my second year, I travelled to Georgetown, Guyana to attend an aviation safety seminar. In a private conversation after the conclusion of the seminar, I respectfully challenged the country’s General Director to improve national initiatives and establish specific benchmarks to gauge their success. I was most proud of my ability to engage with him in a meaningful, business-related dialogue using concepts that I learned in business school regarding emerging markets. My remarks were very well received and he planned to implement some of my ideas immediately.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? In 2015, while serving as the director of finance for the Strawberry Mansion Learning Center in north Philadelphia, I helped create and execute a fundraising campaign that raised ~$800k in monetary and in-kind donations. These funds went towards providing improved educational resources to inner city youth.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? Chris White – Social Intrapreneurship: Leading Social Innovation in Organizations.

What was your favorite MBA Course? Social Intrapreneurship: Leading Social Innovation in Organizations.

The overwhelming majority of Ross graduates, including myself, will begin their post-MBA careers working in large corporations. In this class, we learned how to create and scale new initiatives while navigating through layers of red tape and bureaucracy within the walls of a large organization. This summer, as I relaunch my career as a product manager at Amazon, I look forward to using the frameworks from this class to help gain buy-in and mass adoption for my new ideas.

Why did you choose this business school? I never would have guessed that I would be admitted to five Top 20 business schools.  However, when this became my reality, I had to take a step back and discover what I truly wanted to get out of my business school experience. I quickly realized that I would learn the same marketing and finance frameworks at all five schools. I needed another way to evaluate them, so I began to compare their career statistics. While more MBA students go to Amazon from the University of Michigan than any other school, I still believed that I could land my “dream job” from any of these schools that I was considering. However, when I began to compare these schools on their ability to reinforce what I learned in the classroom through quality consulting and leadership opportunities, Michigan Ross stood alone.

As I look back on this experience, I do not feel like I took a two-year hiatus from working at all. In fact, quite the opposite is true. Since enrolling at the University of Michigan, I have gained two years of real world experience to compliment what I’ve learned in the classroom. I’ve done this by consulting a number of organizations with a variety of business challenges, helping to create two startups and working in early-stage investments.

Oh, and being able to go to the Big House with more than 110,000 screaming Michigan football fans is pretty cool too.

What is your best piece advice to an applicant hoping to get into your school’s MBA program? Be vulnerable and transparent about your weaknesses. Spend a good amount of time being introspective in an effort to clearly identify your goals, as well as what’s keeping you from getting there. Try to be as explicit as possible about what these growth areas are and why Ross is the best place for you to address those deficiencies.

What is the biggest myth about your school? I’ve heard that the Ross School of Business is too much fun. While I am thoroughly enjoying my business school experience, I did not have to sacrifice my academics to do so. Being in a collaborative and collegial environment is not mutually exclusive with getting a world-class education. In fact, I have found the academics to be very, very rigorous.

What was your biggest regret in business school? I wish I would have spent more time in Detroit, specifically in their up-and-coming entrepreneurial communities. When I first moved to Michigan in 2016, I read some statistics about Detroit that stuck with me over the next two years. The article said that approximately 35 percent of all real estate in Detroit (both commercial and residential) was still foreclosed, bank-owned or abandoned. This led to depressed real estate prices, which attracted many local entrepreneurs and techies who used this blank slate as an opportunity to revitalize one of America’s most historic cities. As I look back on my time in business school, I regret not leveraging my education and experiences to help in the revitalization efforts more than I did.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? Ian Bridges moves through life with an incredible and unprecedented amount of purpose. There are several demonstrated examples of this; starting when Ian bypassed a prestigious strategy consulting job to become an educator in his hometown of Detroit, Michigan. In addition to pursuing a second master’s degree in the School of Education and leading the education practice of Ross’ student-led impact investing fund, Ian has also used his time in business school to lead DEI initiatives that helped engage Ross’ underrepresented communities.

Even with that being said, I admire Ian the most for his resilience when faced with personal adversity. His positivity is inspiring and I am very grateful for his friendship.

Who most influenced your decision to pursue business in college? Talent is dispersed equally. but opportunities are not. Fortunately for my family, that is not the end of the story, because education can be used as the great equalizer. Through education one can drastically change the trajectory of their life. I learned this lesson first-hand from my parents. My father used education to transition from a small third world country in South America to becoming one of the most accomplished black pilots in the history of the United States. My mother, who spent more than 25 years in education in a variety of roles, has helped to empower the next generation of leaders that did not come from affluence.

So when I realized that I wanted to pursue a career in business in Mrs. V’s 12th grade Economics class, I knew that I would need a quality education to help me get there. That realization led me to Florida A&M University, which laid a strong foundation for me to pursue my MBA at the University of Michigan, years later.

If I hadn’t gone to business school, I would…still be living a double life. If you would have met me before 2015, you would have either met Matt the banker or Matt the philanthropist. My day job was to help the ‘Top One percent’ grow their accumulated wealth by investing it in the stock market. This left me very unfulfilled, so I would use my spare time to volunteer with a number of organizations in the greater Philadelphia area. These competing interests led me to business school where I could reinvent myself professionally and drive impact in the areas that I felt most passionate about such as travel and technology.”

If you were a dean for a day, what one thing would you change about the MBA experience? I would not trade places with Dean DeRue, even for a day. He’s the right person for the job. I have had the opportunity to speak with him several times over the past two years, and I fully support his vision. I chose the University of Michigan because of its ‘Action-Based Learning’ style, and I look forward to seeing how this continues to evolve under his leadership. Additionally, he has prioritized DEI initiatives that I believe will enhance the educational experience in and out of the classroom while helping Ross to remain the collaborative and collegial learning environment that it is.

What are the top two items on your bucket list?

  1. Shark diving in South Africa.
  2. Go to an Orlando Magic championship parade. If the Cubs, Cavaliers and Eagles can FINALLY win a championship, why can’t my Magic?!

In one sentence, how would you like your peers to remember you? I’d be content knowing that at least one of my classmates said, “I am a better person having met Matt.” Not student, not professional, not philanthropist….but person.

What is your favorite movie about business?

The Pursuit of Happyness. Chris Gardner’s drive, resilience and love for his family is inspiring.

What would your theme song be? One Man Can Change the World” – Big Sean feat. Kanye West and John Legend

Favorite vacation spot: This is a tough one. I’ve been to over 25 states and 25 countries, but the one place that I’m dying to get back to is Chile. The Chilean culture is so rich. I love that within three hours, I can go from the Andes Mountains to Santiago to the Casablanca Wine Valley and then to the Pacific Ocean in Valparaiso. This is especially helpful for me because, I have been known to cram 48 hours worth of activities into one day while on vacation.

Hobbies? Taking long bike rides through Ann Arbor is my favorite way to clear my mind or collect my thoughts.  And yes… I ride my bike year round, even in the winter. Haha.

What made Matt such an invaluable addition to the Class of 2018? (

“I had the pleasure of having Matt Hillman in my New Venture Creation elective course last fall, where he recruited and led a team of four classmates through a 14-week journey of ideating, researching, presenting and documenting a professional-level business plan for an original startup concept. Matt is a quiet leader: one of those folks who uses his words sparingly, but for whom everyone leans forward and listens carefully when he speaks. He leads by example — hard work, professionalism, keen intellect and a team orientation — and builds up those around him. It’s because of those characteristics that Matt is the just the sort of person around whom you build successful, high-performing teams.”

Jim Price

Adjunct Lecturer of Entrepreneurial Studies and Entrepreneur-in-Residence

Zell Lurie Institute at the Stephen M. Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan