2019 Best & Brightest MBAs: Michael Hilfiker, Wisconsin School of Business

Michael Hilfiker

University of Wisconsin-Madison, Wisconsin School of Business

“If at first you don’t succeed, pick yourself up and try again.”

Hometown: Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin

Fun fact about yourself: I’ve been a sous chef, a factory laborer, aerospace propulsion mechanic, and an economic consultant in the past eight years.

Undergraduate School and Degree: University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, B.S. in Economics

Where was the last place you worked before enrolling in business school? NERA Economic Consulting

Where did you intern during the summer of 2018? Cornerstone Research in Chicago

Where will you be working after graduation? Cornerstone Research as an Associate

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School:

  • Awards and Honors: Finalist in first-year Integrated Company Analysis consulting course; Finalist in Associate for Corporate Growth Investment Banking Competition
  • Thought Leadership (extracurricular presentations to students, professors, and alumni): What a CFO Needs to Know About the Evolving Multinational Tax Landscape, Quantifying the Impact of Chinese Tariffs on Amazon, and Antitrust Regulatory Review Process and AT&T / Time Warner Case Study
  • Leadership Roles: President, MBA Consulting Club; Wisconsin MBA student ambassador

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? As part of our second-year curriculum, we are required to enroll in consulting courses. In the Fall 2018 semester, my team and I were tasked to consult Amazon on how to value recently enacted U.S. tariffs vis-à-vis Amazon’s value chain. As part of my work on the project, I developed a proprietary and dynamic model in R and Excel that produced creative insights to inform our strategic recommendation to Amazon. I am particularly proud of this model because there were no other publicly available models or reports that were able to provide a comparable level of detail and analysis. Amazon was thoroughly impressed with our detailed quantified results using only publicly available data – so much so that Amazon followed up with me to learn more and leverage the model for in-house use and estimation purposes.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? In my first few months at NERA Economic Consulting, I was engaged on a project on behalf of the Internal Revenue Service’s Large Business and International division as part of IRS Counsel’s trial against Eaton Corporation. As a junior consultant, I was given autonomy not common in my role and tasked to work under forensic accounting and transfer pricing experts. Before this project, I had no experience in transfer pricing. By the time the trial came, I was the leading junior analyst and go-to person at NERA Economic Consulting for any data or analysis questions from the IRS team. I was then asked to participate in the trial to support NERA’s experts and for cross-examination of opposing experts where I provided real-time insights in my role. After the trial, 16 months after my time on the project began, I was recognized by NERA’s experts and IRS counsel as an integral contributor to the team.

I am proud of this moment because, during this project, four things happened: I) I became an expert in transfer pricing; II) learned R, SAS, and Stata (and even some COBOL); III) strengthened my upward management skills by working directly with two very different experts; IV) proved my worth as a brand new junior consultant which led to elevated roles immediately thereafter.

What was your favorite MBA Course? A History of Financial Market Fraud: A Forensic Approach taught by well-known short-seller Jim Chanos. As I transition into my career at Cornerstone Research, I will continue to work on litigious projects concerning financial and accounting forensics, and Mr. Chanos’ course provided an opportunity to learn from the best. We evaluated examples of financial fraud dating back to the early 1500’s and worked our way to contemporaneous fraud mechanisms. The biggest insight I gained in this course was a set of tools that provide a systematic way of evaluating a firm’s quality of earnings on its own and within a macro-environment.

Why did you choose this business school? I was particularly intrigued with the Wisconsin School of Business because of the following: I) the specialization programs offered (I enrolled in Nicholas Center for Investment Banking and Corporate Finance program); II) an environment that allowed for intimate relationships with top faculty and researchers not just within the Wisconsin School of Business, but in other schools and programs across campus (e.g., law school and public policy program); III) and because I was enamored with the Madison community after having been enlisted in the Wisconsin Air National Guard for six years in Madison.

What is your best advice to an applicant hoping to get into your school’s MBA program? The Wisconsin School of Business specialization set-up is the “real deal.” Be sure to understand the tangible careers that students in a given specialization are entering upon graduation. With that, I would recommend that students hoping to get into the Wisconsin School of Business be able to understand and communicate how they can combine their past experience and skills with the specialization program to get to a tangible career path within the respective specialization.

What is the biggest myth about your school? That because Wisconsin School of Business is placed in the center of the Midwest, there is a tendency for some to think our students are from the Midwest and stay in the Midwest. When I arrived at Wisconsin, I was blown away with the diverse backgrounds that my peers brought to the program. It is those backgrounds (from coast-to-coast and across the world) and experiences (from banking to the arts) that make this program so special.

MBA Alumni often describe business school as transformative. Looking back over the past two years, how has business school been transformative for you? Business school has been transformative for me in that it gave me the confidence to know that I can solve complex problems. While I was a technical specialist in consulting previous to Wisconsin, I have been able to pair those technical skills with a set of frameworks and further exposure to different markets that allow me to dive into complex problems with much more purpose and direction.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? This is a tough question because so many of my classmates bring such different and valuable skills to the table that I admire. I have to say that I admire my fellow Nicholas Center classmate Michael Bauder. When we began our program, Michael didn’t have any experience in investment banking, but I was taken by his determination and resilience. It was that determination that led Michael to successfully obtain a Summer Associate role at a prestigious investment bank.

Recently, Michael and I were on the same team for a week-long investment banking case competition. Throughout the week, Michael was incredibly positive and motivating, while also demonstrating the dedication needed for our team to move to the regional round.

Who most influenced your decision to pursue business in college? My stepfather, Frank. While my family was going through hardships during the global financial crisis, it was my stepfather that helped me to understand what was going on around us (i.e., macroeconomic indicators). My discussions with him are what sparked my interest in economics and further interest in solving complex business problems.

What is your favorite movie about business? Too Big to Fail. During the global financial crisis, I became captivated by economics and Too Big to Fail gave me my first glimpse into how policymakers and the private sector must work together to solve problems.

If I hadn’t gone to business school, I would be…in law school angling to work in the public sector.”

What dollar value would you place on your MBA education? Was it worth what you paid for it – worth more or worth less? I was going to do a discounted cash flow analysis of projected earnings for this (just kidding)…but I’ll go with a more pragmatic approach of saying that these past 18 months have been priceless. Coming to Wisconsin was the best financial decision I have made (surely, my highest return on investment), but the network and friendships gained are truly priceless and it was worth infinitely more than I paid for.

What are the top two items on your bucket list? 1) Travel to Japan (which I am doing with my fiancée during our honeymoon this summer!); 2) Learning French for both personal and professional reasons.

In one sentence, how would you like your peers to remember you? I’d like my peers to remember me as someone who is genuine, thoughtful, and determined.

Hobbies? Cooking, reading, traveling, and finding the best cocktail bar in every city I travel to.

What made Michael such an invaluable addition to the Class of 2019?

“Michael is an ideal nominee because of his innate intelligence, strong work ethic, desire to master

complex subjects and take on big challenges, leadership skills, willingness to help others, and

overall positive attitude. Inside the classroom, Michael is the type of student that is curious, pushes

you each day to be your best and teaches you something about the subject matter you’ve studied

for years.

Michael’s key accomplishments during his MBA program include:

Academic excellence – a cumulative GPA of 3.8 in challenging courses.

Recruiting excellence – secured a highly selective internship and full-time position at

Cornerstone Research (a leading consulting firm for attorneys involved in complex litigation and regulatory proceedings).

Extraordinary contribution to our academic content

  • During his first semester on campus, he gave a talk entitled “What a CFO Needs to Know About the Changing International Tax Landscape,” which was attended by faculty, students and businesses (even some with no connection to UW).
  • Upcoming talk this semester entitled “The Antitrust Regulatory Review Process and the AT&T / Time Warner ”
  • During our first class on blockchain technology, he authored a paper that was published by the University in a thought‐leadership

Extraordinary contribution to a consulting project for Amazon

  • Last semester, he developed an original model in R and Excel for analyzing the impact of the Chinese tariffs on Amazon’s S. retail platform and customers. Amazon was so impressed, they asked to review and utilize his model internally.

Student leadership

  • President of the Consulting Club where he significantly upgraded the programming to include talks from alumni in a wide range of consulting
  • Key team member on the winning UW team for the ACG Investment Banking Competition (which will now compete in the finals in the coming months).

Brad Chandler

Director, Nicholas Center for Corporate Finance and Investment Banking Wisconsin School of Business



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