Michael Stone, E.M. Wasylik Associates

IB’s Professional of the Week is the premier way to meet Dane County’s professionals. This week features Michael Stone, international business developer, E.M. Wasylik Associates.

1. What are the most challenging and rewarding aspects of your job and why?

The variety of the work I do day by day, and many times hour by hour. I remember being in job interviews where hiring managers would say that at their company, no two days are alike. At EMW, no hour is alike, and that is the most rewarding and challenging aspect of my job.

EMW helps companies expand globally by developing and implementing international business strategies. Given that EMW works across industries and regions, any given day involves wearing numerous hats, requiring a level of mental agility every time the phone rings: whether it’s speaking Spanish while promoting industrial equipment in Latin America, switching to French to discuss spa equipment in Europe or European wines in the U.S., or switching back to English while discussing medical products in the Middle East, I’ve learned to wear many hats. We interact more like an internal team member than an outside consultant. EMW’s approach provides small- to medium-sized companies with a “virtual” international business team that helps accelerate global growth.

2. Who do you look up to or admire in business and why?

I look up to my parents, who are successful in business while putting their family first — they never missed one of their kids’ games or events. I will forever strive to emulate the composure with which they both handle the most difficult situations in business and in life.

When I was five years old, my dad broke off from his company to start his own commercial real estate firm. While this leap of faith was very challenging at first, over the last 20 years he has built Stone Real Estate Corp. into a leader in Chicago commercial real estate. He taught me — through his actions more than anything — that to be successful, grit and emotional intelligence are just as important as talent.

My mom started her career in sales for Hallmark Cards, and today she is a managing director at JP Morgan Chase. She has been with JP Morgan for 32 years through ups and downs in the volatile environment that is the finance sector. My mom taught me that through determination, work ethic, and treating people of all levels with equal respect, there are no limits to what you can accomplish.

3. What has been the high point of your career so far?

The high point of my career thus far has been the accelerated progress I’ve made by learning to jump outside of my comfort zone, as well as outstanding mentorship from our Managing Director Ken Wasylik. Having started three years ago as a market research intern, I’ve developed into a dynamic role as an outsourced international business developer for Wisconsin and Midwest companies and beyond. Current responsibilities include developing international distribution networks, managing market research projects, direct and indirect global sales, and driving new business development through conventional and unconventional channels. In the past 12 months, building relationships on behalf of Midwest manufacturers has brought me to Canada (3x), Mexico (3x), Germany (2x), France (2x), Dubai (2x), England, Switzerland, South Africa, and Italy.

4. Thinking back on your career, what advice would you give your 21-year-old self?

Do not let age affect the way you carry yourself. I started as a research intern at EMW my senior year at UW–Madison, but by age 23 I started dealing directly with international customers and distributors for EMW’s clients. Most of the contacts with whom I interacted were at least twice my age.

This was a confidence issue at first. In truth, all the negative stereotypes about millennials can either be a self-fulfilling prophecy or can become a motivating factor to become an exception; I wish I had that latter mentality earlier on.

One instance comes to mind: I was at a global trade show in Germany having a pricing meeting with a client’s Turkish distributor. When we met, my contact looked at me in disbelief, insisting that I couldn’t be Michael Stone from the phone calls and emails. He initially refused to sit down with me because he was offended that a “kid” was sent to meet with a man of his status. That day I learned to stand my ground and I figured out how to immediately earn his trust and respect. That is an example of how personal growth happens outside my comfort zone.

That being said, while I have learned a tremendous amount about international business these last few years, I am reminded every single day about how much I still have to learn. I am keenly aware that it will take many more years for me to become truly seasoned in the ways of the international business world.

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5. What would you say are the best things about living and working in Dane County?

I’ve lived in Madison for seven years and Dane County is truly a special place. From a personal standpoint, I enjoy the balance of a vibrant metropolitan scene that still offers outdoor experiences such as Madison’s lakes and the arboretum. Of course, the winters are tough, but the people make up for it — Dane County has an active, diverse population with a noticeable sense of “Midwestern friendliness.”

From a business standpoint Madison is an emerging tech hub, and it has been exciting to participate in that growth. The university has been a great resource for EMW as we continue to find highly talented researchers for our new projects. As EMW is a virtual company, my home base is 100State, which is Wisconsin’s largest co-working community. I’ve been very lucky to surround myself with such a lively group of entrepreneurially minded people and witness the innovation that comes out of Dane County daily.

6. Do you have any secret talents or abilities that people would be surprised to discover?

Athletics have always been a core part of my life. I competed for four years on the University of Wisconsin varsity men’s rowing team. This mentally and physically grueling training in a highly competitive environment served as valuable preparation for the professional world. Sports also brings forth dedication, leadership, and teamwork, and really instills the trait of never giving up — even when the going is tough. I’m now looking for my next athletic pursuit.

Additionally, the ability to speak Spanish and French. When I was two months old my parents had full work schedules, so a Guatemalan woman named Olga Bolanos took care of me during the day. My parents asked Olga to speak only Spanish with me during the day. Thus, I learned Spanish and English concurrently, and then began taking French courses as early as they were offered. Having fluency in Spanish made the French vocabulary and grammatical structure much easier to grasp, as they’re both Romance languages. While French classes were helpful, spending my last college semester in France made the biggest impact on my speaking ability. Today at EMW, I use both Spanish and French almost every day for various client roles.

7. What are your guilty pleasures?

Food is my favorite way to discover different cultures because enjoying a meal is such a simple way to connect with people, but can transcend differences in language, beliefs, and walks of life. At restaurants outside the U.S., I almost always ask the server for “the most traditional dish,” regardless of how bizarre. Most recently, this approach landed me at a cantina in Central Mexico eating caterpillar tacos.

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