Some go to South Africa for the safaris, some go for the
surfing, and then there’s Mike Messick (MBA ’76), who went as a member of the U.S.
Peace Corps following a 29-year career at IBM in order to serve as an accounting
specialist and teacher-trainer for eight secondary schools in the Jama Circuit
The young student who joined the Darden community straight from undergrad at Northwestern University in 1974 at age 21 probably couldn’t
have envisioned where his career would take him when he first stepped on
Grounds. “I’m not certain, but I believe I was the youngest in our class and
one of the few students in my class with no business experience of any kind,” Messick
Since graduating from Darden in 1976, Messick has put his
business education to work nonstop in various companies and countries. He
served in the Peace Corps through two separate stints from 1976–78 and 2010–15,
with numerous roles at IBM in between.
Tell us about your
Upon my Darden graduation in 1976, I accepted a
position as a small business advisor with the United States Peace Corps in the eastern
Caribbean island nation of St. Lucia. I vividly remember leaving the U.S. for a
month’s training in Bridgetown, Barbados, only six days after I graduated from
Darden. I served in St. Lucia for 24 months, during which time I wore many hats,
including assistant to the Minister of Trade, Industry and Tourism; industrial loan
officer for the St. Lucia Agricultural and Industrial Bank; and small business consultant
for local business in St. Lucia.
Each of these positions was a great experience for
me as a new Darden grad — young and looking to get my feet wet. During my time
in St. Lucia, my responsibilities ranged from working with capitalists from the
U.S., Canada, and England to set up manufacturing operations in St. Lucia to
working with locals on how to manage loan applications and proposals as well as
small business marketing, financing and operations.
What began your
interest in working globally?
My wife, Gail, and I have always been strongly
interested in other countries, cultures and ways of life. Gail graduated from
Ohio State with a degree in Russian and lived in the Soviet Union for several
months in 1972. We both really like to travel and to immerse ourselves in other
cultures. We have always deeply believed that living and working abroad is
exciting, fun and enriching.
How has working overseas impacted your worldview and how has your
Darden education had an impact on your work overseas?
Since graduating from Darden, I have worked overseas
for eight years total. Working in other countries has allowed me to realize
that, at the end of the day, almost everyone has similar ambitions, goals and
desires for their families, their children, their grandchildren. My time at
Darden built the foundation upon which my overseas work could take place. Many,
many times while struggling with my work abroad, I thought about lessons
learned in Monroe Hall from Darden faculty including Almand Coleman, John
Colley, Bob Fair, Chris Gale and others. I traveled with Coleman's “Financial
Accounting” textbook and carried [Professor Louis] “Rader’s Rules” with me
everywhere — and still do to this day! The two rules that I’ve etched into
memory are: “never run out of money or
credit” and “if you don't get the facts, the facts will get you.”
What were some early leadership
lessons you learned?
Both early at Darden and early in my career path, I
learned that reasoned, well-thought out decisions are founded on fact, analysis
and reflection. Sometimes the “right” path is easy and sometimes it’s hard, but
the decision is always sound if it is based on facts, analysis and reflection. That
is another lesson Louis Rader taught us in his rules that I’ve taken to heart.
What do you consider
your greatest achievement? How do you measure success?
I have had a lot of great opportunities since
leaving Darden in May 1976. I think my greatest achievements are appreciating
every challenge, enjoying a little success, learning from a little failure, and
realizing that while scorekeeping is important, it is also important to enjoy
the ride and to be passionate about your mission.
I measure success by looking at how much I am
accomplishing with my time. Everyone needs some “coin of the realm,” as Almand
Coleman would say, but I need to be in a situation where I am doing some good.
Thankfully, I have had the opportunity to earn a few coins and to do a little
good along the way.
Describe a moment when
you realized the true value of your Darden education.
There are too many
moments to describe, but one of them would be the four years I worked at the
Pasture Valley Children’s Home helping to care for AIDS orphans in Swaziland.
When I arrived at Pasture Valley, there were 22 orphans in this private home. By
the end of 2014, we had 44 orphans. I was on board for about one week when I
was asked to serve as general manager/general contractor for several
construction projects on the grounds — work which involved operations,
accounting, finance, project management, labor relations, etc. At the same time,
we were creating internal management systems for all aspects of the children's
home — academic records, medical records, housekeeping, meal planning and more.
We had ideas about what we needed to manage, but we had no templates. My Darden
education was especially valuable to me as the Pasture Valley team and I worked
on these critical projects.What advice would you give new Darden MBA graduates?
This is easy for today’s grads in today’s world: Regardless of your career, your function, or
where you start, think big and think global — the world really is flat.