Just ‘Crush It’

September 10th, 2019 Posted in From Our Alumni
Alumnus Mike Steel offers advice on carefully navigating the career ladder

By Laurie B. Davis

Before Mike Steel (Bus ’05) enrolled at The University of Toledo, he aspired to become a professional athlete. “I thought I was going to be a professional football player or basketball player,” says Steel, who came to UToledo from Cincinnati. “My scope was very limited.” That didn’t last long once Steel set his sights on the business world.

Mike Steel hosted several of American Express’ most strategic clients in Washington D.C., for an evening of food, music and discussion.

For someone with nearly nine years with American Express, who has successfully navigated three career moves up the Amex ladder — four, counting his internship — Steel has a lot of knowledge to share with business professionals who want to advance. Now, as vice president for sales and account management in global commercial services, he oversees the southeast U.S. region, New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

Steel and his staff of 40-plus people manage about 300 accounts, totaling $8.6 billion. His portfolio comprises companies with revenues of $300 million to $1.5 billion.

‘Think Bigger’

Mike Steel became an intern for American Express after attending the National Black MBA conference in New Orleans. “I had a conversation with a guy at the Amex booth, where I was offered an internship. From there, the rest is history,” says Steel.

When Steel arrived at UToledo, he knew he would have to choose a major and a career path. After some self-discoveries about what he didn’t want to do, Steel heard about the Edward H. Schmidt School of Professional Sales and thought he might be a good fit. He also found a mentor in Deirdre Jones, an instructor and director of the school, who helped Steel build his confidence and see in himself what she already could see: an ability to sell.

When making decisions about career direction, Steel believes it helps to think like Bruce Lee, who once said, “Be like water, be fluid and agile to see where things lead.” He offers his own perspective for someone interested in sports. “Think bigger and broader than just actual sports. Think of the business aspect of the sport, or the marketing aspect of the sport, or the merchandising or sponsorship aspect. Do something that would walk you toward that particular area. If you get that far, the world will open up to give you the people, the resources, or whatever you need to be successful,” says Steel, a recipient of UToledo’s Edward Kinsey Determination Scholarship, created by alumnus Edward Kinsey (Bus ’79).

“What I haven’t mentioned that is critically important, is that you’ve got to perform at a flawless level,” Steel adds. “You’ve got to have results. Whatever you step into, I don’t care how big or small the job, just crush it, and do it as best as you possibly can. And if you do that, you will evolve.”

‘I Know I Can Sell’

Steel started out in the unit he now oversees. He was a global client manager looking after merchants within luxury lodging that accepted American Express. “That was a phenomenal experience,” says Steel, who traveled globally and worked strategically on negotiations and marketing.

Mike Steel married his high school sweetheart, his wife, Shelby, 12 years ago. He says they also were together for 18 years before they wed.

His first shift into commercial payments was a lateral move to diversify his skills, he says. From that point, Steel then directed five managers. Even as a director, he continued to use his best professional asset: selling. “I’ve got to have my foundation, even when I move into a new role; I know I can sell. As you make transitions up, I would strongly encourage you to have some transferable skill that will immediately apply in that new business. You build confidence within yourself and credibility with the people you are leading,” he says.

Steel’s next goal was to seek a vice president opportunity, and one did open up within his own business unit. “I believe God had a tremendous hand in my trajectory,” says Steel. “A little bit of it is also luck in terms of timing. I had one of my best years ever and the guy ahead of me was retiring. I couldn’t have scripted that any better.”

A little faith, good timing and results go a long way, and relationships developed through internal networking also add to successes, he says. “If you foster relationships when you don’t need them, they become valuable when you do need them.”

Steel says he’s “big on opportunities,” and it’s clear that since his first days at UToledo, he’s widened his scope to allow for new possibilities. “I’m definitely blessed in my career and there’s still so much further I want to go. I’ve got a great team, a great organization that definitely has put me in some strong positions to perform, tell my story, and try to recruit and retain some talent, so it’s been good so far.”

Mike Steel currently lives in Atlanta with his wife, Shelby, and their two sons, Neiko, 6, and Noah, 2. Steel earned his MBA from Howard University after working at Pfizer and at 3M, where he also interned. In March 2019, the Department of Marketing and International Business in The University of Toledo College of Business and Innovation, honored Steel with an Outstanding Alumni Award.

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