2024 Best & Brightest MBA: Michael Wilgus, University of Maryland (Smith)

Michael Wilgus

University of Maryland, Robert H. Smith Business School

“I’m a graduating MBA student at University of Maryland.”

Hometown: Fairfax, Virginia

Fun fact about yourself: My daughter was born two months prior to our first day of class.

Undergraduate School and Degree:

James Madison University, Master’s in Accounting

James Madison University, Bachelor’s in Accounting and Economics

Where was the last place you worked before enrolling in business school? I was a proprietary trader at Kershner Trading Group, where I focused on merger arbitrage and event-driven trading.

Where did you intern during the summer of 2023? I interned as an Investment Banking Summer Associate at Wells Fargo in Charlotte, NC.

Where will you be working after graduation? I will be returning as an Investment Banking Associate at Wells Fargo in Charlotte, NC in their industrials coverage group.

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School: My classmates were kind enough to award me with two distinctions at the end of our first year. The first is the Smith Rising Star Award, which is given to a first-year student who exemplified outstanding performance in leadership, engagement and academics over their 1st year in the MBA program. The second is the Smith Impact Award, which is given to the ‘first-year’ who has influenced the school from behind the scenes with a positive attitude, willingness to help, and a commitment to excellence. For community work and leadership roles in the business school, I have tried to drive finance recruiting and I have served as a Teacher’s Assistant for the first-year core finance classes.

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? Getting a good career outcome was my top priority. I went to business school to get a job in investment banking, and I was able to achieve that. The academic and extracurricular achievements followed naturally from that.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? I accomplished a lot in my professional career prior to business school. I came out of undergrad with a master’s degree in accounting, a CPA license, and a job as an asset manager. It was a great first experience, but not the location I wanted. I moved to Manhattan and took a job at a prop trading firm, where I eventually worked to build the firm’s merger arbitrage and event-driven trading desk. When I was starting to build that desk, the firm had a lot of excellent trading tools and software, but no one was applying them to mergers in a cohesive manner. I spent months building out investment grade research and proved we could compete in the risk arbitrage markets. That success helped sustain my own and many other people’s careers for a long time.

Why did you choose this business school? After seven years in New York City, I found myself back in the DC region, working remotely. I saw a slow-down in merger activity developing in early 2022 and thought that was the best natural break in my career to take two years off and attend business school. I didn’t want to travel for the MBA, so timing and location were the most important factors. I had some personal and professional connections to the university, which helped seal the decision.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? Rich Mathews teaches the first-year core finance classes. He does a great job blending theory with his professional experience and making the class enjoyable for everyone.

What was your favorite course as an MBA? With apologies to the Mayer Fund, which is an excellent and irreplaceable hands-on equity research class, my favorite course was Financial Restructuring, which is a case-heavy course covering financial modeling for mergers, spin-offs, and other corporate transactions. Our final project was a pitchbook on a merger between a pair of medical device companies. I thought we identified some great strategic logic for a potentially industry defining combination.

What was your favorite MBA event or tradition at your business school? My favorite events early on were the events held by the Office of Career Services (OCS), where all the ‘first-years’ learned about the resources we have to help find jobs. I’m glad Maryland put that information out early and often, and I was able to build some meaningful and helpful relationships with the OCS staff. I recommend everyone make heavy use of those services.

Looking back over your MBA experience, what is the one thing you’d do differently and why? The seven years I spent in New York City gave me a good idea of what I would need to compete for MBA finance internships and full-time jobs. Looking back, that experience was critical for me and it’s something I would repeat as a lead-in to my MBA. There isn’t really anything I would do differently.

What is the biggest myth about your school? There are no myths that I would like to comment about, but I would like to state that the University of Maryland is a fantastic platform that you can use to achieve your personal and professional goals, and we have everything you need to be great.

What did you love most about your business school’s town?  College Park, Maryland is just north of Washington D.C., and that gives us unique access to a lot of opportunities, but I personally enjoyed the time being back in my hometown and spending time with family the most.

What surprised you the most about business school? The University of Maryland is a very strong research university and the quality of scientific research done here is very impressive.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? Shreyas Rao is a charismatic, thoughtful, and natural leader. It’s been great watching him work these last two years and I look forward to seeing what he’ll accomplish in the future.

What are the top two items on your professional bucket list? Taking care of my family is my top over-arching goal and everything else will fall into place, but I would like to move up the ranks at my bank.

What made Michael such an invaluable addition to the Class of 2024?

“Michael has been an invaluable member of his MBA cohort, showing outstanding leadership in both academics and career development initiatives. He came to my attention as the “star” student in my Financial Management course in the first semester of the program. He regularly contributed real-world insights from his past industry experience, and generously shared his knowledge and expertise with his classmates. This convinced me to hire him as my TA the next fall, and he spent many hours with the

subsequent MBA cohort helping them learn Finance. I regularly heard from those students that they found Michael’s review sessions invaluable to their learning experiences. Michael’s peers also awarded him the Smith Rising Star Award for excellence in leadership, engagement and academics in the first year of the program, as well as the Smith Impact Award for influencing the school from behind the scenes with a positive attitude, willingness to help and a commitment to excellence. As president of the Finance and Venture Capital club during his second year, Michael has been instrumental in driving finance recruiting and helping his peers be successful in their career searches. Michael came into the MBA with a clear personal goal of transitioning from his previous trading role to investment banking, and he landed an internship with the Investment Banking group at Wells Fargo, where he has also accepted a full-time job post-graduation. Overall, Michael has successfully used his time at Smith to meet his personal career goals while simultaneously giving generously of his time and talents to improve outcomes for his peers.”

Richmond D. Mathews
Associate Professor of Finance

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